Fashionista: Important Underpinnings Throughout History

The brassiere has received a lot of press recently with the discovery of four bras that are believed to be 600 years old. The find made in an Austrian castle surprised fashion historians because it was thought the bra was invented 150 years ago when it replaced the woman's corset. The medieval bras look very much like the modern version with distinct cups and broad straps and a possible back strap. This "ultra vintage" linen lingerie was not only functional, but decorated with intricate lace and ornamentation.

The bra has gone through an evolution since the 1400's, as wearing one or not has been reflective of women's status, fashion and views of the female body. Women wear bras for lots of reasons. They cover, bind, restrain, push up, separate, enhance, and support. It’s interesting that the basic bra has not changed much since Luman L. Chapman patented the modern version in 1863 as a corset substitute. Cup sizing started in 1928 by husband and wife duo William and Ida Rosenthal, who later created the A to D system that remains the industry standard used today.

Studies show that 80% of women wear the wrong bra size, which creates bad form in how clothing fits as well as possible spine and chest discomfort. I was in my 50's before I was properly fitted, and was appalled by the difference in the new size, but happy with the right fit.

Some noteworthy Bra moments include:

1943: Famous billionaire Howard Hughes designed a cantilevered bra to show off Jane Russell's cleavage in the movie The Outlaw.

1947: Frederick Mellinger, founder of Frederick's of Hollywood, began selling intimate apparel in his Los Angeles stores.

1949: Maidenform introduced its famous "I dreamed" advertising campaign that Advertising Age named No. 28 of the top 100 most memorable of the 20th century. Tag lines included, 'I was an Eskimo in my Maidenform bra’ and 'I dreamed I had the world on a string in my Maidenform bra.’

1959: Lycra as a contributing fabric was introduced by Maidenform, which gave the bras movement and comfort.

1968: A pivotal moment in pop culture—the women's lib movement occurred during the Miss America beauty pageant when 400 women organized a bra burning demonstration outside the Atlantic City Convention Hall.

1977: The sports bra was created by Lisa Lindahl and Polly Smith, who sewed two jockstraps together and named it the Jogbra.

1990s: The bra industry focused on cleavage by utilizing water, air and silicone pads. Improvements in these developments take us into the 21st century with breast management and enhancement.

In 2012, does a woman wear a bra like a security blanket?

Recently, I came down with Shingles that attacked my waist and bra line. For 6 weeks, I had to go braless, which proved to be challenging since the need for a bra has changed with several milestone birthdays. Gone are the braless 1960's, 70's and 80's when I wore tube tops, halters and strapless clothing. Now I feel nearly naked without the proper undergarments. During my recovery, I ended up wearing loose fitting tops made of lightweight fabrics that were both camouflaging and comforting next to the burning skin.

I have recovered from this fashion-altering virus, and realize that a bra is much more than a social statement, but a genetic need for women dating back 600 years.

Categories: Arts + Culture, Miscellaneous
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