Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

The Bra

Posted in The bra by sheelanagigcomedienne on January 14, 2013

I have found out why most bras are not front closing. I got one when I attended an Ann Summers party hosted by Laura, my daughter-in-law, who also happens to do training for Ann Summers staff. It became unfastened very easily on me.  So, I decided to research bras.  It immediately struck me how males got their porn images before the  internet  from catalogues!

 A bra from Ann Summers catalogue.  Bra ann summers

 The history of brassieres is inextricably intertwined with the social history status of women, including the evolution of fashion and changing views of the body. Apparently, the Romans regarded large breasts as comical, or characteristic of ageing or unattractive women.

According to Caitlin Moran:  The bra is, perhaps, the rudest item of women’s clothing. If you do not doubt this, try this simple test: throw a bra at a nine-year-old boy. He will react as if he has had a live rat wanged at his head. He will run, screaming, away from you – like that Vietnamese kid covered in napalm. He cannot handle the rudeness of bras.bra 2

Women have used a variety of garments and devices to cover, restrain, or modify the appearance of breasts. From the 14th century onwards, the undergarments of wealthier women in the West were dominated by the corset which pushed the breasts upwards. In the latter part of the 19th century, various alternatives were experimented with, splitting the corset into a girdle-like restraining device for the lower torso, and transferring the upper part to devices suspended from the shoulder.bra 1

In the late 19th century, bras replaced the corset as the most widely used means of breast support. By the early 20th century, garments more closely resembling contemporary bras had emerged, although large-scale commercial production did not occur till the 1930s. Since then bras have replaced corsets (although some women prefer camisoles and a minority go without. During the 20th century, greater emphasis has been given to the fashion aspects of brassieres. Brassiere manufacture is a multi-billion-dollar industry dominated by large multinational corporations.

According to an inventors website The History of the Brassiere – Mary Phelps Jacob the first modern brassiere to receive a patent was the one invented in 1913 by a New York socialite named Mary Phelps Jacob. Mary Phelps Jacob had just purchased a sheer evening gown for one of her social events. At that time, the only acceptable undergarment was a corset stiffened with whaleback bones. Mary found that the whalebones poked out visible around the plunging neckline and under the sheer fabric. Two silk handkerchiefs and some pink ribbon later, Mary had designed an alternative to the corset. The corset’s reign was starting to topple.  (An unhealthy and painful device designed to narrow an adult women’s waist to 13, 12, 11 and even 10 or less inches, the invention of the corset is attributed to Catherine de Médicis, wife of King Henri II of France. She enforced a ban on thick waists at court attendance’s (1550’s) and started over 350 years of whalebones, steel rods and midriff torture).

bra 4

Mary Phelps Jacob’s new undergarment complimented the new fashions introduced at the time and demands from friends and family were high for the new brassiere. On November 3, 1914, a U.S. patent for the “Backless Brassiere” was issued.


Caresse Crosby was the business name Mary Phelps Jacob used for her brassiere production. However, running a business was not enjoyable to Jacob and she soon sold the patent t the Warner Brothers Corset Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for $1,500. Warner ( not the movie-makers) made over fifteen million dollars from the bra patent over the next thirty years.

Bra m&s

Mary Phelps Jacob was the first to patent an undergarment named ‘Brassiere’ derived from the old French word for ‘upper arm’. Her patent was for a device that was lightweight, soft and separated the breasts naturally.

Other points in the history of the brassiere worth mentioning:

  • In 1875, manufacturers George Frost and George Phelps patented the ‘Union Under-Flannel’, a no bones, no eyelets, and no laces or pulleys under-outfit.
  • In 1893, a woman named Marie Tucek patented the ‘breast supporter’; the device included separate pockets for the breasts and straps that went over the shoulder, fastened by hook-and-eye closures.
  • In 1889, corset-maker Herminie Cadolle invented the ‘Well-Being’ or ‘Bien-être’, a bra-like device sold as a health aid. The corset’s support for the breasts squeezed up from below. Cadolle changed breast support to the shoulders down.
  • World War I dealt the corset a fatal blow when the U.S. War Industries Board called on women to stop buying corsets in 1917. It freed up some 28,000 tons of metal!
  • In 1928, a Russian immigrant named Ida Rosenthal founded Maidenform.
  •  Black lace bra

In Esperanto it is called a mamzono (breast-belt). Despite the large number of nicknames for breasts themselves, there are only a couple of nicknames for bras, including “over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder” and “upper-decker flopper-stopper”.

This A Social History of the Bra | Alternet was written by John Walsh who was a neighbour of ours in 60s when his father was out GP.! He quotes the spoof urban myth from  1971 history by Wallace Reyburn about a court case between an engineer Otto Titzling and Phillip De Brassiere which is just one of many about the history of the small double-dome of cloth that encases the female chest.

Types of bras List of brassiere designs – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Size does matter when it comes to getting the correct fitting bra. Apparently lots of women are wearing the wrong size bra. It does surprise me that women are walking around in ill-fitting bras that are so uncomfortable that it is a relief to take them off just like excruciating stilettos  ‘The relief of taking off a bad bra is immeasurable  says Caitlin Moran. Even she was daft enough to wear one that caused masochistic pain!

Bra fitting – how to find your right bra size? According to this website: Finding the right size bra is often a trouble for many women; estimates are that about 80% of women wear the wrong size bra. This is not healthy for your breasts – especially if the breasts are in a too tight bra.

bra_bandeaubra_plungeYou will all have heard about feminists bra burning – another urban myth propagated by male journalists and misogynists.. But according to   Bra-Burning Feminists: NOT – Women’s History –   As far as any serious scholar has been able to determine, NO EARLY FEMINIST DEMONSTRATION BURNED BRAS!

One very telling website Diversity Is More Than a Bra Size: What It’s Like to Be a Woman of which is written by a black American women who writes about how white the lingerie industry/modelling etc. is. Her website is called The Lingerie Addict – There’s  is no 12 step program for this.

It is quite fascinating and revealing to reasearch this particular item of women’s underwear compared to researching men’s underpants – knickers in a twist and all that. Try this  one  International Jock – The History of Underwear In a nutshell, we’ ll take a look as to how loincloths, codpieces, long johns and doublets evolved into briefs, boxers, shorts, trunks, thongs, athletic supporters, jockstraps, t-shirts and all the other items of mens underwear that are available to us today.  Here is another Fig Leaves vs. Loincloths History of Mens Underwear | – aah the way the internet sucks us in to its lair.  


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