Egypt[ edit ] In ancient Egypt , women were generally bare breasted. The most common items of female attire were the skirt and the sheath dress, also described as a tunic or kalasiris,  a rectangular piece of cloth that was folded once and sewn down the edge to make a tube.
The kalasiris might cover one or both shoulders or be worn with shoulder straps. While the top could reach anywhere from below the breast to the neck, the bottom hem generally touched the ankles.
A variant was a single cross strap, partially over the left breast. The shorter kalasiris was mostly worn by common women or slaves, to be more comfortable when working.
India[ edit ] Although the majority of female figures in ancient Indian sculptures are devoid of a blouse, there are several instances of ancient Indian women wearing bras. The first historical reference to bras in India is found during the rule of King Harshavardhana 1st century AD. Sewn bras and blouses were very much in vogue during the Vijayanagara empire and the cities brimmed with tailors who specialized in tight fitting of these garments. The half-sleeved tight bodice or kanchuka figures prominently in the literature of the period, especially Basavapurana AD , which says kanchukas were worn by young girls as well.
Wall paintings in Crete, the center of the Minoan civilization , show a woman performing athletics in what has been described as a "bikini". Their clothing looked 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 Mycenae civilization emphasized the breast, which had a special cultural and religious significance, associating the mature figure with fertility and procreation. Women wore an apodesmos Greek: When the apodesmos was worn under the breasts, it accentuated them. Another word for a breast-band or belt was strophion Gr: In view of its association with the love goddess, this type of garment probably had an erotic connotation because of its effect to accentuate the breast.
In Sparta, women usually wore the chiton completely open on the left side. Since the Romans regarded large breasts as comical, or characteristic of aging or unattractive women,  young girls wore breast bands fascia secured tightly in the belief that doing so would prevent overly large, sagging breasts.
The settings in which the paintings are found indicate that the women depicted may be prostitutes. Middle Ages[ edit ] In Europe, 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 is suggested in descriptions of the time[ citation needed ]. A widely quoted statement is that an edict of Strasbourg in the Holy Roman Empire , dated states, "No woman will support the bust by the disposition of a blouse or by tightened dress.
Four lace-decorated bras were found among 3, textile fragments during a renovation project in an Austrian castle. Late medieval dresses are fitted precisely and snugly 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.
There was some status to firm breasts in upper class women, who did not breast feed. Infants were given to wet nurses to breast feed, since nursing was considered bad if a woman wanted to maintain an ideal form.
She was reported to have prohibited wide waists at court in the s, legend suggesting she made them wear steel framework corsets. 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 breasts were often supported by a tie below the bust, and extant bust-support garments ranged from soft stays to wrap-front items similar to sports bras. In , the court and the corset returned.
During this era, "fashion-conscious women Victorian era in Britain[ edit ] In the Victorian era , despite contemporary ideas about morality, women's clothing was paradoxically designed to emphasize both the breasts and hips by tightlacing the waist.
Victorian women were encumbered with many layers of clothing, including a chemise with a drawstring neckline, usually drawers , then the corset and corset cover, the under petticoat , the hoop skirt, the over petticoat, and finally the dress. According to the social expectations of the times, even the lowest-cut evening gown should dip no lower than three finger breadths below the clavicles.
For those who instead wore a one-piece undershift unionsuit , this separated into the camisole and drawers. These were not designed for support but merely coverage. In the late 19th century and early 20th century the bosom could still be displayed. Victorian dress reform The evolution of the bra from the corset was driven by two parallel movements: 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 demeanor was normative. Fictional heroines often died from tuberculosis, or "consumption. Corsets were supposed to provide both physical and moral support. 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.
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.
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 also made it a challenge to disrobe. They were expensive, and only educated wealthy reformers wore them to any extent. Mary Edwards Walker — Patent dates indicate some of the landmark developments; a large number of patents for bra-like devices were granted in the 19th century.
However, 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 bra is said to be from the early 19th century. Lesher of Brooklyn, New York. In , a "corset substitute" was patented by Luman L. Chapman of Camden, New Jersey. Historians refer to it as a "proto-bra. 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 , at the Cotton Centennial Exposition in Atlanta in —5, and at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in Her garment effectively cut the traditional corset in two: The lower part was a corset for the waist and the upper part supported the breasts with shoulder straps.
Her description reads "designed to sustain the bosom and supported by the shoulders. The company, still family-owned, claims today that Herminie "freed women by inventing the first Bra. She also introduced the use of "rubber thread" or elastic. In , Marie Tucek received a U. This invention more closely resembled the modern bra known today, and was a precursor to the underwire bra. After the straight-fronted corset became fashionable in the early 20th century, a bra or "bust supporter" became a necessity for full-busted women because the straight-fronted corset did not offer as much support and containment as the Victorian styles.
Early bras 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. The first modern bra was patented by the German Christine Hardt in By the time the war ended, most fashion-conscious women in Europe and North America were wearing bras. From there the bra was adopted by women in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
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. 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.
Patent Office issued the first U. Her husband Harry Crosby discouraged her from pursuing the business and persuaded her to close it. Warner manufactured the "Crosby" bra for a while, but it did not become a popular style and eventually was discontinued.
In at the beginning of the U. War Industries Board asked women to stop buying corsets to free up metal for war production. This was said to have saved some 28, tons of metal, enough to build two battleships. 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 emerged from something that was once discreetly tucked into the back pages of women's magazines in the s, to prominent display in department stores such as Sears, Roebuck, and Montgomery Ward by Advertising was now promoting the shaping of the bust to contemporary fashion demands, and sales reflected this. By the corset started at the waist, and bust containment yielded entirely to the bra. A low, sloping bustline became more fashionable.