In the one hundred years since its invention the bra has had many incarnations. Shaping, lifting, flattening and enhancing its way into fashions history books. From humble beginnings to gravity-defying feats of engineering, the brassiere has revealed as much as it's concealed. The Dream Catcher, the Over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder - here's a look at some of the bras greatest moments.
1913: The invention of the bra is popularly accredited to Mary Phelps Jacob. A young New York socialite who became so frustrated with corsets that she sewed together two handkerchiefs and some ribbon to create the first over-the-shoulder bra. An instant hit with her friends because it could be worn under sheer evening dresses, Mary patented the design and set up shop. She sold her 'Backless Brassiere' patent to Warner Brothers in 1915 for $US1500. The company has since made around $US15 million from her invention.
1914-18: During World War I women moved into the workforce. Corsets weren't practical for factory labour and in a bid to conserve metal for the war effort the government urged women to stop buying them. It's estimated that the decrease in corset sales conserved around 30,000 tonnes of metal and no doubt saved women double that in discomfort.
1922: The Great Gatsby era saw the development of the first commercially successful bra. The 'Kestos' was made from two triangular pieces of fabric with elastic shoulders and fastening buttons at the front that created two separate cups.
1928: Russian dressmakers Ida and William Rosenthal invented the bra cup measurement system that we use today. The Rosenthal's were pioneers in the bra market and under the 'Maidenform' brand they developed the first life-stage bras including training bras, maternity and breast-feeding. They later patented the bra strap fastener which is still standard issue eighty years later.
1940s: Bras became sexier as Hollywood became more glamourous. Lana Turner was the first starlet to wear a bra that accentuated the shape of her bust. The pointy ended bras earned her the nickname 'Sweater Girl' and made her the most popular pin-up of the period. Billionaire Howard Hughes created the first under wire bra crafting it out of curved, structured steel in an effort to make Jane Russell's breast to look bigger in his 1943 movie The Outlaw.
1950s: The pointy bra gave way to a more rounded Betty Draper look and the market exploded with new styles, padding and functions. The 'Sweet Dreams' model was advertised as the bra you wore to bed to stop your breasts from sagging. Brigitte Bardot's French influence trickled over into the mainstream with her low-cut bras and bikinis and strapless bras becoming increasingly popular.
1968: Protestors at the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City filled a trash can with bras, high heels and lipstick with plans to set it on fire as a symbol of gender oppression. The protestors were never granted a fire permit but several journalists reported that the trash can was alight and thus the burning bra myth was born. A few years later, author Germaine Greer said: "Bras are a ludicrous invention, but if you make bralessness a rule, you're just subjecting yourself to yet another repression."
1974: In direct response to the feminist movement came the 'Wonderbra'. It was the beginning of '80s excess and the first bra that was made to push breasts up and out of clothes.
1977: Twenty-eight year old Lisa Lindahl sewed together two jock straps so she could go for a run without hurting her breasts. It was the first sports bra.
1990: Madonna and Jean Paul Gaultier turned undergarments into fashion when he designed the conical bras that she wore on her Blonde Ambition tour. It was the beginning of bras worn as outerwear and Madonna hasn't put a top back on since.
1994: Car accidents increased when billboard advertisements featuring supermodel Eva Herzigova wearing just a Wonderbra were placed on major motorways. The campaign created "divide and lift" fever with record sales globally.
2000s: This decade saw the rise of the 'lifestyle' bra with the emergence of companies such La Perla and Elle Macpherson Intimates who began marketing bras to suit a woman's lifestyle - not just cup sizes. The decade also saw growth in the wilder side of the business with the establishment of fetish-based brands like Agent Provocateur.
2001: The 'Heavenly Star Bra' by Victoria Secret set the record as the world's most expensive bra. It features 1,200 pink sapphires and a 90-carat emerald cut diamond. The bra is worth $US12.5 million.
2004: During her half-time Super Bowl performance with Justin Timberlake, Janet had the most famous 'wardrobe malfunction' in recent history. He ripped open her corset to reveal that she'd forgotten to wear a bra opting for a nipple shield instead.
2007: Britney makes her comeback with a performance at the MTV Awards that featured bad lip-syncing and the worlds most ill-fitting bra and under pants.
2010: Katy Perry turns bras into art wearing everything from film canisters to cupcakes on her breasts.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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