Women have used fabric to support their breasts since ancient times. Wall paintings in Ancient Greece depict female athletes, otherwise nude, wearing what resembles a bandeau or bikini top, likely to support their breasts during physical activity. This is essentially an early version of a sports bra, worn for the same purposes.
These and other supportive garments weren’t necessarily considered an undergarment. They may have been worn over or uncovered by other clothing. In various Mediterranean cultures, women may have regularly had their breasts exposed, but others may have worn an early breast band depending on fashion and occasion at that particular time.
In medieval times (despite the orders of an edict in the Holy Roman Empire saying no woman could support her breasts via a tight dress or blouse), women wore bras. Archeologists found lace decorated bras dating back to 1390 made of linen and string. These bras didn’t generally have the same effect as modern bras as the idea of a fashionable figure has changed over time. For most of the middle ages, dresses were cut to minimize the figure although this was generally considered more pragmatic than aesthetic.
Corsets grew popular among the upper classes in the early sixteenth century. These garments were very restrictive and only worn by upper class women. Part of wearing one was a status symbol as they implied you could afford servants to do physical work for you. Women of the lower classes who had to do much more physical labor wore much less restrictive undergarments. The fashion continued to evolve into the Victorian era when the focus was on a tiny waist with a full bust and hips. There were concerns about the ill health effects of tight laced corsets, but it was often seen as normal for women to be physically weak and pale — unfashionable advice wasn’t heeded by society.
The Advent of the Bra
Toward the end of the 19th century, women started to rebel against corsets and started favoring less restrictive garments — early modern bras. These were ideal for women wishing to engage in more physical activity. Metal shortages during World War I further encouraged women to adapt to bras over corsets and by the end of the war, most American and European women were wearing them.
The Twentieth Century And Today
Modern bras have fluctuated with the times, with styles designed to augment the shape according to whatever look was currently in fashion, whether it be the boyish figure of flappers or the more curvaceous look popular in the midcentury, characterized by actresses like Marilyn Monroe. In the late 1960s, feminists held protests in which they would burn traditional feminine commodities. Some erroneously claimed that bras were a part of this but there is little evidence that bras were ever actually burned, despite the popularity of the the phrase “burn your bras!”
Own A Piece of Lingerie Heritage
Some historical bra-makers are still in business today. The Anita brand has been in business for over 130 years, specializing in nursing and maternity bras for full figured women. These bras are designed to be both fashionable and functional, supporting you while also featuring flaps that make breastfeeding easier.
Over time Anita has branched out to offer more products that you can purchase from Hourglass Lingerie. If you’d like an Anita bra of your own, come visit us behind the blue door.