The History of the Bra: Why Its Future is Adaptive

Here at Liberare, we’re obviously all about bras. Not just any bras, but the ones that are the easiest to put on, and the cutest! Adaptive apparel has just recently become widespread and big brands are finally beginning to get with the program. However, adaptive lingerie and bras are very rare in the market. Somehow these easy dressing comfortable options seemed to not exist until very recently.

It made us wonder, why are bras made for women yet have so many design flaws when it comes to wearing them? Why is the apparel market so limited in scope? Why are they made to close in the back when it’s so hard for so many women to move their arms like that? We have to suffer underwire that jabs at our ribs and blindly trying to secure hook-and-eye closures behind our back while we maneuver our arms in uncomfortable ways. At Liberare we're finally trying to change it and make adaptive bras for everyone, but let's take a look at how we got here.

So this week we’re diving into the history of bras and learning about everything related to their design, and how we have gotten to where we are today.

The idea of the bra may date back to Ancient Greece, when in Homer’s Iliad he references Aphrodite’s ‘girdle’. During the 14th century there are references to it in ancient art and drawings. You can see here a Minoan athlete wearing what resembles a bandeau bra.

There’s also some references to it in Ancient Rome, however what we know about the bra really begins in the Middle Ages, when arguably the most infamous undergarment, the corset, was designed. There’s not actually a lot of information about who designed the corset but its introduction to France is widely credited to Queen Catherine de’ Medici, who married King Henry in 1533 (come on Catherine, why must you do this to women?). This began hundreds of years of discomfort and serious health issues due to the terrible design of undergarments for women.

Corsets are far from the ideal garment for women. They were designed in order to create what those at the time believed was the ideal body shape. It pushed their breasts up almost to the point where they were falling out of their dresses, and were constructed of wood and whalebone (no thank you, we’ll take real fabric please!). They were often secured so tightly that women had a very difficult time breathing, but this was the least of their problems.

Another issue about the tightness of corsets was that they restricted the abdominal organs responsible for the digestive functions of the body. Additionally, over time extreme muscular atrophy would occur and women had a hard time going about their daily lives without extreme pain. Long time users of corsets also found that their ribs began to deform and by the end of their lives they were so deformed that they would push their organs down and cause serious health issues. This happened very often as children as young as 8 to older women were expected to wear corsets all their lives.

All this to say, the origins of the bra were clearly not designed with women’s comfort (or even health!) in mind. Many modern bras still use underwire that jabs into our chest and lace that rubs against the skin and causes a rash. And spoiler alert, it will be many centuries from this point in history until we see any adaptive apparel, let alone bras.

The end of the corset was finally sped up by World War I, as metal shortages were a huge issue in the production of equipment for soldiers. Finally in 1910 a woman named Mary Phelps Jacobs after finding herself dissatisfied with how corsets fit her body, she decided to fashion a new device together with some string and two handkerchiefs. Women at the party were so excited at the idea of not having to wear a corset that they all wanted their own.

Throughout the years after the brassiere finally separated from the corset and designs started to develop for the new product. In 1907 the term ‘brassiere’ is first coined.

In the 1920s as body ideals changed, flat breasts were the new standard and so bras had very little padding and were often bandeaus that wrapped so tight around their chest it would appear more flat.

In the 1930s bras rapidly became a booming industry and their use became widespread. Bra sizing was developed in 1932 and new innovations like the use of elastic and new closures changed the concept of the bra.

During the 1940s more and more women were working in factories due to the absence of men because of World War II. A new style of bra nicknamed the ‘torpedo’ was bullet shaped and gained popularity because of claims that it would add protection for women working on the lines.

Once the 50s came the typical body ideal changed yet again and the style icon Marilyn Monroe popularized bigger breasts. This leads to bras with more padding to give off the appearance of a bigger size.

Of course we cannot forget about the pushup bra which was first developed in 1964. The Canadian line that developed it gave it the name of the ‘wonderbra’.

Finally in 1977 the first sports bra hits the market and millions of female athletes around the world are forever grateful. It’s hard to believe only 40 years ago women didn’t have sports bras for athletics. 1977 wasn’t only a big year because of the sports bra, it’s also the year when Victoria’s Secret made their debut, after the founder felt uncomfortable shopping for his wife in department stores and wanted a separate store for women’s undergarments.

Today our bras have thankfully evolved greatly even since the early 2000s, and we're diving into adaptive bras for the first time in history. Although there have been so many great inventions for bras there really has been an extreme lack in evolution of accessible bras or adaptive lingerie. Here at Liberare, the evolution of the bra doesn’t stop here. We’re ready to write the next part of history with comfort and innovation that has never been seen before… stay tuned!