Great Moments in Bra History

Bras have had a remarkable history, from their origin as a pair of hankies stitched together, to today’s high-tech marvels costing hundreds of dollars. Here’s an abbreviated timeline of great moments in the history of bras:


  • 1907 – Vogue magazine publishes the first concept of a brassiere.
  • 1911 – The Oxford English Dictionary first publishes the word brassiere.
  • 1913 – Mary Phelps Jacob, 19, creates the first concept of a bra using two handkerchiefs and a pink ribbon. Her bra concept is patented in 1914, after which she sells the idea to Warner’s Corset Company for $1,500. That patent would later be valued at $15 million.


  • Women’s suffrage movement and the vote enable women to rethink the corset. New bras are designed to flatten breasts, creating a new symbol of independence.
  • 1923 – Maidenform brand is established by Russian immigrant Ida Rosenthal and her husband William. Years later Ida ponders the idea of different cup sizes for different women, and patents a bra strap fastener.
  • 1935 – Bras designed to separate and support the breasts are developed. Warner’s brand creates the cup sizing system from A, B, C and D – nicknamed egg cup, teacup, coffee cup and challenge cup.
  • 1937 – Nylon fibers are added to help with practicality of bras. Until then, they were made using just padding and wiring.
  • 1939 – Actress Judy Garland wears a breast-binding device in The Wizard of Oz, to shrink her breasts and make her appear more child-like.

Bras have evolved since this early push-up model.

  • Pretty pink bras, the norm of the 1930s, were pushed aside and replaced with bullet-shaped bras and target stitching during World War II.
  • 1943 – Howard Hughes designs a push-up bra for actress Jane Russell to wear under a tight silk blouse in the film The Outlaw. Russell later claims she never wore it.
  • 1945-7 – During wartime, women take on major roles in the hostilities. Bra fashions become more utilitarian and ugly. As the war ends, lingerie becomes lacier and racier.


  • Known as the sweater era, breasts were getting more attention than ever. Many bra options such as push-up, strapless, padded, spiral stitched and front closure were widely available.
  • 1959 – Lycra is invented by scientists at DuPont. Adding this stretchy man-made fiber to bra fabrics leaves them fitting more comfortably.


  • Much like the 1920s all over again, women were throwing away bras altogether, rather than simply switching from corsets to bras.
  • 1967 – Actress Janet Leigh’s black bra was seen as being too indecent for audiences in the 1960 movie Psycho. By 1967, opinions change. Anne Bancroft reveals her lace bra in The Graduate, as a generation smiles.
  • 1968 – Demonstrations at the Miss America pageant lead to one of the most famous urban myths – the burning of the bra. No bras are actually burned; instead they are dumped into a garbage bin in protest. A newspaper reports bra burning and the image sticks.


  • Women entered the 70s with a new motto: sexy could be empowering, especially if you kept fit and had a toned body.
  • 1977 – The first sports bra is created when Hinda Miller, Lisa Lindahl and Polly Smith sew two jockstraps together and call it the “Jogbra”.


  • Bras were no longer for wearing solely under clothes. Rather, they became outer clothes themselves. In 1990, designer Jean Paul Gaultier creates a bra for outerwear during Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour.
  • 1997 – An Italian manufacturer develops a circular knitting machine that gives the bra the ability to be sewn in one motion. This leads to today’s seamless, tagless bras we all know and love.


  • 2007 – Lingerie finally designs environmentally friendly options. Brands such as Hanro, Chantelle and Ballet offer bras in eco-friendly bamboo-blend and organic cotton fabrics.