Blouse Cleavage Biography
The history of brassieres is inextricably intertwined with the social history of the status of women, including the evolution of fashion and changing views of the body.
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.
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.
Throughout recorded history, women have used a variety of garments and devices to cover, restrain, or elevate their breasts. Brassiere or bikini-like garments are depicted on some female athletes in the 14th century BC during the Minoan civilization era.
From the 16th century onwards, the undergarments of wealthier women in the Western world were dominated by the corset, which pushed the breasts upwards. In the latter part of the 19th century, clothing designers began experimenting with various alternatives to the corset, trying things like splitting the corset into multiple parts: a girdle-like restraining device for the lower torso, and devices that suspended the breasts from the shoulder for the upper torso.
Garments which more closely resembling contemporary bras emerged by the early 20th century, although large-scale commercial production did not occur until the 1930s. With metal shortages, World War II encouraged the end of the corset. By the time the war ended, most fashion-conscious women in Europe and North America were wearing brassieres. From there the brassiere was adopted by women in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Like other clothing, brassieres were initially sewn by small production companies and supplied to various retailers. The term "cup" was not used to describe bras until 1916, and manufacturers relied on stretchable cups to accommodate different sized breasts.:73 Women with larger or pendulous breasts had the choice of long-line bras, built-up backs, wedge-shaped inserts between the cups, wider straps, power Lastex, firm bands under the cup, and even light boning.
In October 1932, the S.H. Camp and Company correlated the size and pendulousness of a woman's breasts to letters of the alphabet, A through D. Camp's advertising featured letter-labeled profiles of breasts in the February 1933 issue of Corset and Underwear Review. In 1937, Warner began to feature cup sizing in its products. Adjustable bands were introduced using multiple eye and hook positions in the 1930s.:101
Since then, bras have replaced corsets and bra manufacture and sale has become a multi-billion-dollar industry. Over time, the emphasis on bras has largely shifted from functionality to fashion.:33
There is an urban legend that the brassiere was invented by a man named Otto Titzling ("tit sling") who lost a lawsuit with Phillip de Brassiere ("fill up the brassiere"). This originated with the 1971 book Bust-Up: The Uplifting Tale of Otto Titzling and the Development of the Bra and was propagated in a comedic song from the movie Beaches.
Wearing a specialized garment designed to restrain a woman's breasts may date back to ancient Greece. Wall paintings in Crete, the centre of the Minoan civilization, show what has been described as a "bikini", apparently a woman performing in athletics. Minoan women on the island of Crete 3,000 years ago apparently wore garments that partially supported and also revealed their bare breasts; the best known example of this style is the Snake Goddess. Their clothing look somewhat like modern fitted and laced corsets or a corselette. The support device was worn outside other clothing and supported and exposed the breasts, pushing them upwards and making them more visible. The succeeding Mycenaean civilization emphasized the breast, which had a special cultural and religious significance.
Women in Classical Greece are often depicted loosely draped in diaphanous garments, or with one breast exposed. Women wore an apodesmos (Greek: ἀπόδεσμος), later stethodesmē (Gr: στηθοδέσμη), mastodesmos (Gr: μαστόδεσμος) and mastodeton (Gr: μαστόδετον), all meaning "breast-band", a band of wool or linen that was wrapped across the breasts that was tied or pinned at the back.
Criss-crossed breast bands on a bronze statue of Artemis (mid-4th century BC)
A belt could also be fastened over a simple tunic-like garment or undergarment, just below the breasts or over the breasts. When the apodesmos was worn under the breasts, it accentuated them. Another word for a breast-band or belt was strophion (Gr: στρόφιον). The basic item of classical Greek costume was the peplos, later the chiton (two rectangular pieces of cloth partially sewn together on both sides, with a 12" to 15" overfold or apotygma), which evolved into the chemise, the commonest item of under clothing worn by men and women for hundreds of years, also variously known as a smock or shift. In Sparta, women usually wore the chiton completely open on the left side.
In the Middle Ages it was exceptional for women to restrict or support their breasts, and if they did, they probably used something like a cloth binder, as evidence suggests in descriptions of the time. A widely quoted statement is that an edict of Strasbourg in the Holy Roman Empire, dated 1370 states, "No woman will support the bust by the disposition of a blouse or by tightened dress." However, an exact source has not been located. By the time of Charles VII of France (1403–1461), a gauze drape was used over the bust.
Generally, in the Middle Ages the breasts were minimized in dresses with straight bodices, full skirts and high necklines, designed primarily for function rather than emphasis on form. Late medieval dresses are fitted precisely and snuggly to the body and function as breast support. Depictions of women in 14th and 15th century art show a high, rounded breast silhouette on women old and young, full-busted and small. This look is not possible without support. The 15th century ideal form was small-breasted and full-figured, symbolizing abundance of fertility.
By the time of the Renaissance, décolletage became very fashionable. There was some status to firm breasts in the upper classes, the women of which did not breast feed. Infants were given to wet nurses to breast feed, since nursing was bad if a woman wanted to maintain an ideal form. Among the wealthier classes, the corset was beginning to appear by the mid-15th century.
Catherine de' Medici (1519–1589, wife of King Henry II of France) is widely, and wrongly, blamed for the corset. She was reported to have prohibited wide waists at court in the 1550s, legend suggesting she made them wear steel framework corsets. While it was originally thought that the corset predated the modern-designed bra, a 2008 archaeological dig unearthed four linen bras that have been described as "a missing link" that firmly establishes the bra as the predecessor to the corset.
Elaborate constraints placed on women's figures over the years were not universal. Corsetry made it virtually impossible to work, so simpler functional garments were worn by women who worked inside or outside the home. Support for the breasts was often provided by a simple tie under the breast line, in the bodice.
Early corsets of the 16th century consisted of paste-stiffened linen and a primitive busk at the front, but later included iron supports at the side and back. The emphasis now was on form, with compression of the breasts forcing them upwards to the point of almost spilling out, so a considerable part of the breast was exposed. The ideal form was a flat torso, which inevitably pushed the breasts upwards and out. The labouring class by contrast wore a simple front-lacing cotte.
The only period in which women were "liberated" was the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, during which any garment associated with the aristocracy was frowned upon, including those with visible décolletage. The breasts were often supported by a tie below the bust, and extant bust-support garments range from soft stays to wrap-front items similar to sports bras. In 1814, the court and the corset returned.
Some degree of emphasis of the bra's form can be traced back to Greece, where a leather band style "corset" could be worn to give definition to the hips and bust under the chiton. Early "stays", as used in the 17th century, did not involve the bodice directly, but concentrated on constricting the waist, indirectly thrusting up the upper body parts. With time the stay came to involve support in the upper front part of the body as well. These supported and raised the breasts. The term "corset" gradually replaced the stay. The décolletage was always visible, but until the 1920s breasts were always treated en masse (monobosom). While the breasts were pushed out, they still essentially remained loose, or were flattened by overlying garments, unlike the modern encompassing constraints
The evolution of the bra from the corset was driven by two parallel movements: health professionals' concerns about the cruelly constraining effects of the corset, and the clothing-reform movement of feminists, who saw that greater participation of women in society would require emancipation from corsetry. Prominent amongst these were the Rational Dress Society, the National Dress Reform Association, and the Reform Dress Association.
Although there were a number of voices warning about the considerable health risks of corsets, the health professions were generally muted, and in any case women ignored "unfashionable" advice. The health professions concentrated more on psychosomatic complaints, which were in fact probably related to corsetry. Ill health was considered synonymous with femininity, and a pale and sickly demeanour, normative. (Fictional heroines often died from tuberculosis, or "consumption". This made them pale and kept them immobile.) Corsets were supposed to provide both physical and moral support.
Some physicians ignored colleagues who felt corsets were a medical necessity because of women's biology and the needs of civilized order. The physicians who raised the alarm pointed to nausea, bowel disturbances, eating disorders, breathlessness, flushing, fainting, and gynecological problems. Bed rest was a common prescription for the "weaker sex", which of course implied relief from corsetry.
Women's interest in sport, particularly bicycling, forced a rethinking, and women's groups called for "emancipation garments". Elizabeth Stuart Phelps urged women to "burn the corsets!" in 1874. Indirectly and directly, sports empowered women in other social climates.
Not surprisingly, corsetieres fought back, embellishing their products to be frilly and feminine in the 1870s. Advertising took on overtones of erotic imagery, even if in practice they acted as a deterrent to sexuality, especially when they started appearing in men's magazines, stressing cleavage and bare arms (then taboo). It is not clear whether parents actively corseted their children to prevent them exploring their own sexuality. Dolls assumed the corseted image, implanting an image of the "ideal" female form. Corsets certainly reinforced the image of a weaker sex, unable to defend themselves, and a challenge to disrobe.
In practice, early brassieres made little market penetration. They were expensive, and only educated wealthy reformers wore them to any extent.
American women who made important contributions included Amelia Bloomer (1818–1894) ("When you find a burden in belief or apparel, cast it off.") and Dr. Mary Edwards Walker (1832–1919).
What is regarded as the world's oldest push-up bra was discovered in storage at the Science Museum in London. Designed to enhance cleavage, the brassiere is said to be from the early 19th century.
There are considerable differences of opinion as to who "invented" the brassière or bra. Patents indicate some of the landmark developments of the period. A large number of patents for bra-like devices were granted in the 19th century.
A bra-like device that gave a symmetrical rotundity to the wearer's breasts was patented in 1859 by Henry S. Lesher of Brooklyn, New York. In 1863, a "corset substitute" was patented by Luman L. Chapman of Camden, New Jersey. Historians refer to it as a "proto-brassiere".
In 1876, dressmaker Olivia Flynt was granted four patents covering the "true Corset" or "Flynt Waist". It was aimed at the larger-breasted woman. Reformers stimulated demand for and probably purchased these early garments on "hygienic" grounds because of their concerns about the corset. Initially Flynt's garments were only available by mail order, but they eventually appeared in department and clothing stores and catalogues. Her designs won a bronze medal at the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association in 1878, at the Cotton Centennial Expoostion in Atlanta in 1884–5, and at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.:171
According to Life magazine, in 1889 Herminie Cadolle of France invented the first modern bra. It appeared in a corset catalogue as a two-piece undergarment, which she originally called the corselet gorge, and later le bien-être (or "the well-being"). Her garment effectively cut the traditional corset in two. The lower part was a corset for the waist, the upper supporting the breasts by means of shoulder straps. Her description reads "designed to sustain the bosom and supported by the shoulders". She patented her invention and showed it at the Great Exhibition of 1889. The company, still family-owned, claims today that Herminie "freed women by inventing the first Bra." Her garment was probably more comfortable than the original corsets. By 1905, the upper half was being sold separately as a soutien-gorge, the name by which bras are still known in France. She also introduced the use of "rubber thread" or elastic.
In 1893, Marie Tucek received a U.S. patent for a device that consisted of separate pockets for each breast above a metal supporting plate and shoulder straps fastened by hook-and-eye. This invention more closely resembled the modern bra known today, and was a precursor to the underwire bra. Apparently she failed to successfully market it.
Since women's magazines printed patterns, home-sewn garments competed with factory-made ready-to-wear garments. The brassiere was at first an alternative to the corset, for negligée or at-home wear, or was worn by those women who had medical issues with corsets. After the straight-fronted corset became fashionable in the early 20th century, a brassiere or "bust supporter" became a necessity for full-busted women, as the straight-fronted corset did not offer as much support and containment as the Victorian styles. Early brassieres were either wrap-around bodices or boned, close-fitting camisoles (both worn over the corset).They were designed to hold the bust in and down against the corset, which provided upward support.
Advertising of the times, typically in periodicals, stressed the advantages of bras in health and comfort over corsets, and portrayed garments with shoulder supports, in a mono-bosom style and with limited adaptability. Their major appeal was to those for whom lung function and mobility were priorities, rather than outer appearance.
In 1910, Mary Phelps Jacob (known later in life as Caresse Crosby), a 19-year-old New York socialite, purchased a sheer evening gown for a debutante ball. At that time, the only acceptable undergarment was a corset stiffened with whalebone. Mary had large breasts and found that the whalebone visibly poked out around her plunging neckline and from under the sheer fabric. Dissatisfied with this arrangement, she worked with her maid to fashion two silk handkerchiefs together with some pink ribbon and cord.:7  Her innovation drew immediate attention that evening and, at the request of family and friends, she made more of her new device. When she received a request for one from a stranger, who offered a dollar for her efforts, she realized that her device could turn into a viable business.
On 3 November 1914, the U.S. Patent Office issued the first U.S. patent:54 for the "Backless Brassiere". Her patent was for a device that was lightweight, soft, comfortable to wear, and naturally separated the breasts, unlike the corset, which was heavy, stiff, uncomfortable, and had the effect of creating a "monobosom".
She managed to secure a few orders from department stores, but her business never took off. Her husband Harry Crosby discouraged her from pursuing the business and persuaded her to close it. She later sold the brassiere patent to the Warners Brothers Corset Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for US$1,500 (roughly equivalent to $20,574 in current dollars). Warner manufactured the "Crosby" bra for a while, but it did not become a popular style and eventually was discontinued. Warner went on to earn more than $15 million from the bra patent over the next thirty years.
Bras became more common and more widely promoted over the course of the 1910s, aided by the continuing trend towards lighter, shorter corsets that offered increasingly less bust support and containment. In 1917, the U.S. War Industries Board asked women to stop buying corsets to free up metal for war production. This was said to have saved some 28,000 tons of metal, enough to build two battleships.
It has been said that the bra took off the way it did in large part because of the first World War, which shook up gender roles, putting many women to work in factories and uniforms for the first time. The war also influenced social attitudes toward women and helped to liberate them from corsets. But women were already moving into the retail and clerical sectors. Thus the bra "came out", from something ("bust girdle") discreetly tucked into the back pages of women's magazines in the 1890s, to prominent display in department stores such as Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward by 1918. Advertising was now promoting the shaping of the bust to contemporary fashion demands, and sales reflected this.
In 1964, Danish Fashion historian Rudolf Kristian Albert Broby-Johansen wrote that that the topless look, which liberated breasts from bras, should be treated seriously. He asserted that it was a way for a new generation of women to express themselves. In 1969, he wrote an article titled "Obituary for the Bra" in which he predicted the imminent demise of bras.
Brassieres are worn by the great majority of women in Western society. Estimates about what proportion of Western women wear bras varies, but most surveys report from 75% to 95%. About 90% of Australian women wear a bra as of 2006. There are now an unprecedented array of styles and models, including full-coverage bras, balconette cup bras that expose the aerolas and nipples, and sports bras that can sometimes be worn as outerwear. Women, health professionals, feminists and fashion writers appear to be increasingly questioning its place and function, and asking whether it will go the way of pantyhose, garter belts and stockings.
It is now commonplace to see models and other celebrities who do not wear bras in public, including Britney Spears, Claire Danes, Lindsay Lohan, and Nadine Coyle Many outergarments like sundresses, tank tops, and formal evening wear are designed to be worn without bras. Fashion writers continue to suggest alternatives to bras or ways of dressing without bras, emphasising that wearing a bra is a matter of choice and not a requirement. Given the discomfort women experience with ill-fitting bras, an increasing number of women, once they are home, are switching to undershirts, jogbras, or nothing at all. Unhappy bra owners have donated thousands of bras to the Braball Sculpture, a collection of 18,085 bras. The organizer, Emily Duffy, wears a 42B and switched to stretch undershirts with built-in bras because standard bras cut her midsection.