100 Years Of Fashion: Bras
1910s: Beginnings
The patent for the first “backless brassiere” was secured in 1914 by Mary Phelps Jacobs, which she first made herself using two handkerchiefs sewn to a length of ribbon. Lingerie giant Warner bought the patent in 1915, and the backless brassiere rose in popularity thanks in part to the decline of corsets during WWI.
1920s: Bras Still In Training
At the dawn of the 1920s, the modern bra was still in its infancy; for example, bras were only available in one size throughout most of the decade (per NPR). Bras weren’t about support so much as about coverage and smooth lines, so women seeking bust support usually just strapped down their breasts with fabric.
1930s: The Bra Takes Shape
Bras during the ‘30s still tended to be wireless but were beginning to offer more support and shaping, including separating the breasts into cups, per the National Museum of American History. Other widespread bra innovations from the decade include adjustable elastic straps, padded cups, and the cup size system.
1940s: Pointed & Separated
The 1940s saw the earliest iteration of the bullet bra, which aimed not only to lift and support the breasts but also to enhance and project them outward. Bras of the 1940s tended to be full coverage and “longline,” meaning the bottom of the band was well past the bottom of the bust; these bras focused on separating the breasts.
1950s: New Prominence
Moving into the 1950s, the natural look in bras was gradually losing its allure, with bullet bras evolving to focus on pushing the breast together to create cleavage. The ‘50s also saw the addition of bows, lace, and trim to bras, as well as the mass production of maternity and nursing bras — though they weren’t yet totally functional.