When did women start to wear bras?

Bras, as a word, is only used in modern times. Yet bras as women's undergarments have iterated numerous times. Long since it is called bras, women used various fabrics or devices to try to support, cover, contain, reveal or reshape their bosom throughout history.

Ancient times

The earliest evidence that shows women wearing coverings for their bosom is in a mosaic piece of art, in which the women athletes are sporting with strips around their upper part during the Minoan civilization in the 14th-century bc.

Middle age

No specific dates are known, but it is believed that in middle age, women have already worn bra-like garments. There were writers who mentioned breasts bags or shirts with bags in their literary works.

There is no physical evidence until 2008, four fragments of underclothing were found in a castle in Austria, they are carbon-dated to the 15th century. They are in different styles and one of them has a structure that looks much like a modern bra.

16th century onward-

No one knows who invented the corset, but this specific item is widely used by women from the upper class in the western world. It is a piece that extends from below the chest to the hip and is framed by first whalebone, later, metal.

The corset is mainly used to shape the waist to a very small extent. some women would even pass out or take hours to just get in the garment.

As time went by, more and more voices publicly criticized the use of corsets. There were health professionals who were concerned with the constraining effect on women's bodies, causing inhaling problems and organ failure.

And there are clothing reform activists who believe women should be set free from the corset with their increasing participation in social affairs.

19th century

With the use of corsets getting controversial, it is only natural that people seek alternatives. This period saw a great number of patents for bras-like devices being granted. People actually hold different opinions as to who invented the first modern bras.

Among them, there was this French designer Herminie Cadolle. He cut the corset into two separate pieces, calling it the "corset gorge". The upper part is suspended from the shoulders, and the other half serves like a girdle that shapes the waist. The two of them were first sold together as a two-piece item. In 1905, the upper part was sold separately.

Herminie was proud of her invention. These days, her family-owned company still claims that she "freed women by inventing the first bra". She even introduced the use of elastic used in bras.

20th century

Entering 20 century, more individuals and companies joined the trend of inventing and marketing bras. It was a developing process.

In 1910, Mary Phelps Jacob (known later in life as Caresse Crosby) became unsatisfied with the corset she wore underneath her new dress. The corset was poking out around her plunging neckline and causing a bulging look on the sheer fabric of the dress.

She then asked her maid to bring her two silk handkerchiefs, pink ribbons, and some cord to sew a makeshift bra that turned out to fit her perfectly. She wore it to the party. people immediately notice her new look and the free dancing move and words spread out.

The new form of bras was popular among Jacob's friends. There was even a stranger who asked Mary to sell her one and was willing to pay her one dollar. That's when she realized she could make it into a business. She went ahead and patented her creation and set up a company. But her business never took off. She later sold the patent to Warners Brothers Corset Company for 1500 dollars.

The new type of bra got more popular as the United States got involved in world war I in 1917. At the time, resources of all kinds were tight. The government uses a rationing policy to get through. U.S. War Industries Board appealed to women not to buy corsets since corsets use up a lot of metal material. women were motivated by patriotism and turned to other alternatives. It is said that it saved up 28000 tons of metal, enough to build two battleships.

However, people think the reason the use of bras really took off is that women were taking new roles in public. They started to work in the war industry and other private sectors. The new roles help women to adopt new outfits and get rid of the rigid corset at the same time.

The 1920s

The corset was further discarded in the 1920s. The flappers and channel company champion a flat-chested fashion. The trend went from the craze for an hourglass figure to a boyish silhouette. The fashion-conscious women wear a bandeau bra to flatten their breasts. It is easier for small-busted women to conform to the androgynous look of the flapper era.

Later in the 1920s, there appeared an opposite trend that emphasizes the natural curves of women. Instead of flattening or minimizing the boobs, they choose to uplift and enhance them.

The 1930s

Brassiere was shortened to bra in the 1930s, and the word was coined in the oxford dictionary.

It only came to people during this period that women need different sizes for their bras. The sizing system we are now using dates back to 1932. the S.H. Camp and Company correspond the size and volume of women's breasts to letters of the alphabet, from A to D. Other companies follow and feature cup size in their products.

The adjustable band with hook and eye closure was also introduced during this period.

With the success of advertising and marketing, bras became a major industry. women have more options as to bras' fabrics, colors, and patterns. With prices being more affordable, homemade competition dwindled.

The 1940 and 1950s

During World War Two, military women were enlisted for the first time. And bras became part of the uniform. Women were encouraged to wear bras and girdles as a way of protection during work time. Military terms were also used in bras like the torpedo or bullet bras.

This type of bra was spirally stitched and has a cone shape. Small-busted women could gain an extra cup size wearing it. Later its popularity was greatly increased by Hollywood fashion and glamour. At the time,  "Sweater Girl" Patti Page, Marilyn Monroe, and Lana Turner wore bullet bras under tight-fitted sweaters, presenting sexy pointy curves that enchanted girls all over the world.

The baby boom after world war two also created a demand for maternity and nursing bras. The appearance of TV provides a new promoting tool and quickens the iteration rate of new products. Women were provided with the newest styles of bras.

The 1960s

Contrary to the heavy bullet bras, a new concept of "no bras" emerged. lightweight, soft, and simply designed bras were getting popular.

Bras with a "no back" design, featuring a contoured waistband, allowed women to wear a backless dress.

It is easy to understand that as undergarments evolved, so was the outfit. So new types of bras were invented to pair with trendy outfits.

Wonderbra, which has a push-up effect, was also getting popular.

The 1970s

As exercising became part of a new lifestyle, demand for bras that reduce bouncing showed. The first exercise bra was nicknamed "jockbras" at first because it was made with two jockstraps.

This type of bra was a much better choice than normal bras when wearing to jog or doing other types of sports. It has a stable structure, and better coverage, reducing chafing and other uncomfortable experiences brought about by a normal bra.

The  2000s

Entering into the 21st century. women have an increasing desire for bras that can pair with different types of outfits and create a smooth overall look.

At the same time, women's breasts were getting fuller. common size used to be 34b, now turning to 36c.

Form cups become the solution for all. They could be made into different styles, suitable for big busts and small ones with smooth surfaces. They are now ubiquitously worn.


Now women embrace a more natural look of their breasts. Push-up bras and thickly-padded bras went a bit old-fashioned nowadays.  

Women seem to care more about health and comfort than being sexy. You can feel the market shift with sales of Victoria's secret significantly going down.

Women want to be more of themselves instead of meeting the "male gaze".