How The Bra Has Changed Over The Last 100 Years

Through time the bra has shaped and supported women’s breasts and even though the construction is pretty much the same today as back in the days, fashion trends and society have been a huge part of the design and look.

By Sigrid Rosendahl
18 September, 2020

Brassiere, bandeau, shapewear, undergarment – is just a few, of many names of the design that we love and know today as, the bra. A design that consists of complex pieces of garment and has a big meaning. There are more than 140 words for it and loads of different types, but what is the story behind the design that is worn in various different shapes and styles? 

Right up until the beginning of the 20th century the corset was worn by women to shape the coveted wasp waist. That was until the innovative socialiter from New York, Mary Phelps Jacobs, in 1913 became exasperated with the antiquated corsets after she found out it was impossible to prevent the support rods from the corsets from poking out from underneath the fabric of her evening gown. Mary Phleps Jacob was determined to create something more comfortable to wear and decided to throw away the uncomfortable corset and instead had her French maid help her sew two silk handkerchiefs together using some pink ribbon and cord, making the result of her undergarment soft and light. 

Photo: Pinterest

Soon friends. family and even strangers wanted to purchase the new accessory making Mary Phleps Jacob realize the potential of her creative design, so she quickly patented the ‘Backless Brassiere’ and started selling the new type of bra design under the name ‘Caresse Crosby’ and this was the beginning of the bra as we know it today. 

Just two years after Mary Phelps Jacobs handkerchief trick, changes were happening in the women’s fashion industry, and by the 1920s most women had adopted the brassiere and companies such as Lovable and Maiden Form catered for the demands for bras. The evolution of the bra shows how much the design of two handkerchiefs have come. 

1920s – The flat boyish look.
After the corset was totally ditched, women opted for tight bandeau tops that flattered womens breasts to give them a more boyish shape and androgynous look.

1940s – The torpedo style.
Women were working at factories during World War II and the bullet/torpedo-shaped bra gained popularity because it offered added protection for gals. 

1950s – The sweater-girl look.
The populair Sweater Girl look, was a busty and wholesome ‘girl next door’ with pointy breast was in particular made popular by actresses like Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe, whose tight-fitting garments accentuated their enhanced curves.  

1960s – Hello push up bra.
The push up bra was first designed in Canada by a lingerie company, The Wonderbra. The first company to lift and push bustlines together. 

1970s – The decade that gave us the sports bra and Victory Secret.
In 1977 to be exact, the ‘Jogbra’, became the first sports bra for women as exercising and fitness became more popular. Alongside with that, there was a clear need for something to support women’s breasts.

While the jogbra hit the scene, another megabrand hit the stage in California in 1977 – Victoria Secret – The lingerie company who would be a women’s lingerie-only shop. 

1980s – The wear or tear decade.
Getting into the 1980s women were asserting their feminism. They were either not wearing a bra or were wearing lingerie that didn’t show. 

1990s – Welcome back cleavage.
About 30 years after the original design, the push-up bra had a comeback, and Wonderbra had its moment, skyrocketing to popularity among women.

2000s – Million dollar bra, baby.
The economy changed, and so did the prices of lingerie. Victoria Secret had supermodel Giselle Bündchen wear a $15 Million ‘Red Hot Fantasy Bra’. Besides million dollar bras, the 2000s also brought a range of new designs like, strapless, one strap and even a new take on the corset – a corset bra.

2010 – Foam it.
Comfort and sexiness now goes hand in hand, thanks to memory foam that is used in the 10s bras, that helps shape women’s breasts with underwire, lace, bustier, bullet or corset – all optional.

2020s – What’s next.
Going through the evolution of lingerie design shows how many options we have today, it’s pretty exciting to see what’s next. One thing is for sure, the bra will be an item that comes and goes in popularity with many women. Look below on what different kind of bras that strolled down the catwalk to be in style for 2020.