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In the 1800s, women wore corsets, as opposed to bras.[1]

Bra history is about how bra fitting methods, patterns, styles, and materials have evolved over time, and different concepts of bras have fallen in and out of fashion.[2]


Women used to wear corsets, and girls were forced to wear them for the entirety of the day from a very young age. While corsets themselves are not inherently unhealthy, wearing them too tight is, and they caused a great deal of problems. Thus, bras were first invented as a healthier option[3] and for convenience.[4]


Patent photo of the 'Breast-pad and perspiration-shield'.

Beginning of the bra[]

In 1859, a man from New York named Henry S. Lesher filed a patent for a "Breast-pad and perspiration-shield", stating it "shall prevent the arm-pits of their dresses from becoming saturated and stained by perspiration, give a symmetrical rotundity to their breasts and a more comfortable and graceful support to the skirts of their dress than heretofore."[5] It is this patent that is referred to as the original prototype of the modern-day bra.[6][7]

Bien-être - Herminie Cadolle

A drawing of the bien-être.[8]

In 1889, Herminie Cadolle, a corsetiere from France, invented a two-piece corset-like garment called the le bien-être.[9] The bottom piece was a corset, while the top piece had cup-like holders and arm straps for support. The top piece later was sold separately as the soutien-gorge. Cadolle is the person most-often credited as the "true inventor" of the modern-day bra.[10]


Patent photo of the 'Breast Supporter'.

In 1893, Marie Tucek of New York filed a patent in the United States for the "Tucek Breast Supporter".[4] It had two separate cups that lifted the bottom of the breasts, and a front band beneath that was made of sheet metal or cardboard bent to the shape of the body and covered in fabric. This was the first brassiere-like invention to start looking like the modern-day bra.

Beginning of cup sizes[]

In the 1930s, cup sizes were invented by Formfit, who created "small", "medium" and "full size" bras. The early A-D system was created by S.H. Camp and Company, and it was still basically small to extra-large sizing; it had nothing to do with breast volume.[11] One who would have been a 38D and one who would have been a 34D would be in the same sized bras. In advertisements from the company, they related cup size to pendulousness more than breast size, with the main difference between "B", "C", and "D" breasts being nothing but their amount of pendulousness. However, while these early cup sizes were a far stretch from where we are today, they bear the previous bras, which only had one cup size. Later in the 1930s, adjustable bands and straps were also invented.[12][13]

It is also worth noting that half of all bra patents were held by women during this time. Women played important roles in the early years of the bra industry, even though they were left out of other industries and professions at that time.[13][12]

Decline in fitter quality[]

In the decades that followed, however, there was a decline in the quality of training of store fitters, due to costs and the fact that bras were made more "ready to wear" than previously, when they would often be altered.[13][12]

Modern bra-fitting method[]

The Calgary Herald-Mar 5, 1975-page 76

A newspaper article about the new bra-sizing method.[14]

In 1975, the European Common Market handed down a new regulation that changed the standard method of determining bra size from using a bust measurement as the number-half of a size (e.g. the 34 in a 34C), to the underbust measurement now equaling the bra size's number. The change did not come without criticism.[14]

DD myth[]

It is commonly believed that bra sizing changed due to the invention of elastic, but this is untrue. Elastic has been available and widely used in bra making since the early days. The underbust plus inches method , meant to be a transitional system, no longer made sense. In the 1990s, cup sizes above DD were finally invented to deal with this.[15][16] Now, more and more companies are making bras that fit most women, and the contemporary fitting method is catching on, and women are becoming more comfortable in and getting more support from bras than ever.

See also[]


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