The other day, I don’t remember why, but my sister was ranting about bras. That’s when I learned that it was invented just a century ago, and I’m like… What? Only a century? But…
Who Invented the Bra?
The invention of the bra is technically a century old, but not really. Once again, it’s a case of patents. The oldest “bra” found is as old as ancient Greece. For as long as we know, women had their ways of binding and supporting their breasts. But we are here to talk about the modern bra.
Paris, 1889. Herminie Cadolle (born Eugénie Sardon), the founder of the Cadolle Lingerie House just came back from a short exile in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she already had opened a similar lingerie workshop. She came to Paris to introduce her creation at The Exposition Universelle of 1889, the “corselet-gorge”—also called “maintien-gorge.”
Herminie Cadolle’s idea was to cut the traditional corset into two parts in order to free the body and to add an underwire. She patented it in 1898. She still worked on her creation for years to refine it. In 1905, the “soutien-gorge” (the top half) started to be sold separately from the bottom half.
In the US, in 1914, New York socialite Caresse Crosby (born Mary Phelps Jacob) patented the first modern bra in America, called the “Backless Brassiere*.” Four years earlier, as she was preparing to attend a ball, she had to add her personal touch to her corset to gain back the liberty of movement—sewing two pocket handkerchiefs and pink ribbons—and that led her to create a new undergarment. The result was popular with her friends and soon it became the base of a new business, and she finally applied for a patent for her invention. She later sold the bra patent for $1,500 to the Warners Brothers Corset Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, who made millions with it.
* American Vogue coined the word “brassiere” in 1907, referring to Herminie Cadolle’s corselet-gorge. It was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1911.
Who Invented Bra Cup Sizes?
In the 1930s, as brassieres became known as bras and were mass-produced, a new feature was added: the size! The term “cup” was first used in 1916, but it was the S.H. Camp and Company who introduced the use of letters to differentiate the sizes, in 1932—or was it William and Ida Rosenthal of Maidenform? There’s a debate here that probably will never end. But it was the end of the one-size-fits-all bras.
In 1947, Frederick Mellinger added a new feature with the first padded bra, before releasing a year later the first push-up bra. The world of fashion was never the same after that.
The bra never ceased to evolve. In 1964, designer Louise Poirier for the Canadian company Canadelle invented the Wonderbra, the “miraculous” bra that became famous in the 1990s. In 1977, the “jockbra” was invented by Lisa Lindahl. She and her sister loved running, but it was uncomfortable. They joked about it, and it led to a brilliant idea—known today as the Sports Bra. Lindahl started working on it with Polly Smith and Hinda Miller. They created a prototype that worked and started selling their creations—now called the Jogbra—to small running stores. After their first sporting goods show in Chicago, everything blew up and they sold their company 12 years later to Playtex Apparel.
Also in 1977, Roy Raymond who felt uncomfortable shopping for his wife in department stores came up (with his wide) with the idea of a women’s lingerie-only shop, Victoria’s Secret. The first opened up in Palo Alto, California.
Since then, what changed are the materials used. For example, in 2009, the first memory foam bra, the “Smart Memory Bra,” was introduced.
You may also be interested in the history behind the creation of the jeans.