Corsets to Bralettes - Bras Through the Ages

What’s the one thing Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Coco Chanel, Jackie Kennedy, and Diana Ross have in common with all of us (besides being perhaps some of most iconic fashion superstars in history… which is totally just like us)? All of these women have publicly embraced their own personal femininity by celebrating it in its absolute most sacred form - the bra.

Although each bra worn by these beauties was as different as the lady wearing them,  each woman embraced (or even set) a trend for their time. Times are always changing, and bras are always changing with it. Don’t believe me yet? I’ll give you a quick history lesson. 

1.    Corsets - Because Why Should Women Breathe or Anything?!

Why women forced themselves to cram their beautiful bodies into criss cross ties that should only be used for running sneakers, I’ll never understand. Regardless, that’s exactly what happened. Most popular in the Victorian Era (I greatly prefer the Victoria Secret Era), the term “corset” derives directly from its French namesake meaning “a kind of laced bodice.” Coincidentally, the old French word “confort” enabled the the word “uncomfortable” to exist, and wow, that is all I feel when I look at these things.

2.    The Brassiere - Sweet Relief

Sometimes it takes a village, sometimes it takes an uncomfortable 19-year-old girl to kick ass. When Mary Phelps Jacob was getting ready to go to a Debutante Ball and (God help her) couldn’t face having to wear her corset, she sewed together two handkerchiefs and wore this new “brassiere” instead! Everyone loved it, and eventually she patented it (you go boss lady!).

3.    Maidenform - Anti-Boyish Form

Maidenform was started in 1927 with the intention of infusing more femininity into the bra market at the time (the company was ACTUALLY originally named “Boyishform Company”. Gross). This coincided with health professionals acknowledging that breast safety and comfort are essential to motherhood and lactation, and young women enthusiastically welcomed the change.

4.    Bullet Bra - Exactly What it Sounds Like

World War II saw the enlistment of women for the first time in the lower ranks. On the battlefield, women wore “SAF-T-BRA”s for protection. Off the battlefield, the idea that bras were meant for protection quickly circulated. Enter the Bullet Bra. Those lame dress codes you used to have in high school? You can blame World War II for that… sort of. For the first time, it was expected and sometimes even dress-code enforced, that women were to wear bras for business! And when “Sweater Girls” everywhere started to emerge, a new sexy bullet-sweater combo was born. P.S.- Madonna totally brought these back in the 90s!

5.    Underwire - Cup Sizes!

The problem with the bullet bras? No lift or separation. Enter Jane Russell. Russell was the QUEEN of underwire. In her breakout film, The Outlaw directed by Howard Hughes, Hughes had bras custom made to her form. When the movie was released and everyone saw how amazing she looked, they quickly began to adopt the style. It wasn’t long until cup sizes followed suit!

6.    Sports Bra - #BlessedBreasts

Post-60s feminist movement, the active, agile female was here to play - quite literally. In 1977, the first “Jockbra” or sports bra was released to the public to prevent sore and chafing breasts (thank God, btw - if I had to do my cardio in a brassiere? Or a CORSET? I - well, I wouldn’t).

The “Jockbra” got its name from being the female equivalent to a jockstrap. Two women actually sewed together two jockstraps and wore them! Playtex purchased their patent in 1990 and thus, the sports bra was born.

7.    The Wonderbra - (Finally)

Although they were originally designed in the 50s/60s, the Wonderbra gained prominence in the late 90s/early 2000s. Lingerie, as we now know it, came to be. Bras were allowed to be versatile and sexy. The “plunge-style” neckline for bras took off. Wonderbra’s “Hello Boys” campaign shocked consumers with a very direct approach to sexuality (and sparked an infamous debate over whether the “boys” were actually male admirers or her breasts).

8.    The Bralette - AKA My Best Friend

ATTENTION TO ANYONE LIVING IN THE DARK: I provide to you the light at the end of the tunnel (at least in the undergarments department). Forget the bra, forget the bandeau (which will only sag and shift), and lo and behold - the bralette!

For clarification, bralettes are just like bras only without underwire and with just as much support! Bralettes use softer, kinder-on-your-skin and lighter-on-your-back fabrics that make you look and feel fantastic. Not only are they super comfortable, but they’re so hot right now. My favorite way to wear a bralette is under a skin-baring sexy top. Now that’s something to wear while making history.

Scarlett Olivia