The bra—a staple in every woman’s wardrobe and an essential undergarment—has a history as intriguing and diverse as the women who wear it.

From ancient civilizations to modern fashion runways, the bra has evolved to reflect changing societal norms, fashion trends, and women’s liberation.

We’ll take a journey through time to explore the captivating history of the bra, from its humble beginnings to its transformative impact on fashion and female empowerment.

Ancient greek statues of women to talk about the history of the bra.

Ancient Beginnings: The origins of the bra can be traced back to ancient civilizations. In ancient Greece, women wore a band of cloth, known as a ‘strophion’ or ‘apodesmos,’ to provide minimal breast support during physical activities. In ancient Rome, the ‘fascia’ was a similar breast-binding garment used by women.

A corset to talk about the history of the bra.

The Corset Era: Fast forward to the Renaissance and the Victorian era, and we see the rise of the corset. This structured undergarment, typically made of whalebone or steel, was designed to shape the waist and provide support for the breasts. Corsets were not only used for fashion but also to conform to societal beauty standards of the time.

The Brassiere Emerges: The early 20th century saw the emergence of the “brassiere,” a term derived from the French word “brassière,” meaning a child’s bodice or underbodice. In 1914, Mary Phelps Jacob, a young socialite, received a patent for her invention—a bra made from two silk handkerchiefs and ribbon. This marked the beginning of the modern bra as we know it today.

A 1920's flapper to talk about the history of the bra.

The 1920s — The Flapper Era: The roaring 1920s brought significant changes to women’s fashion and society. The “flapper” style, characterized by dropped waistlines and a more boyish figure, led to a demand for lighter, less restrictive undergarments. The bra, with its focus on comfort and support, gained popularity, liberating women from the constraints of corsets.

The 1930s to 1940s — The Structured Bra: As fashion evolved in the 1930s and 1940s, so did the bra. The structured bra with separate cups and adjustable straps became a symbol of femininity and sophistication. During World War II, bras were even made from parachute materials due to fabric shortages.

The 1960s — The Bra Burners: The 1960s brought about the women’s liberation movement, and with it, protests against societal expectations and restrictions. The feminist movement of the time saw symbolic bra burnings as a rejection of oppressive beauty standards and gender norms. This era marked a significant shift in attitudes towards women’s undergarments.

A bralette to talk about the history of the bra.

The 1970s — The Bralette Era: In the 1970s, the bralette gained popularity. This unstructured, lightweight bra offered a more relaxed and natural shape, reflecting the changing attitudes towards beauty and comfort.

Push up bras to talk about the history of the bra.

The 1990s — The Push-Up Bra: The 1990s saw the rise of the push-up bra, popularized by supermodels and Hollywood icons. This bra style accentuated cleavage and provided a boost of confidence for many women.

The 21st Century — Diversity and Inclusivity: In recent years, the bra industry has embraced diversity and inclusivity. Brands have expanded their size ranges, offering options for a variety of body types. Wireless bras and bralettes have gained popularity, catering to women seeking both comfort and style.

The history of the bra is a captivating tale of fashion evolution and women’s liberation. From ancient breast-binding practices to the modern bralette era, this undergarment has transformed to reflect changing societal norms, fashion trends, and women’s empowerment. The bra has not only supported women physically but also symbolically—signifying liberation, self-expression, and the ongoing quest for equality.

If you’re interested in more history behind our feminist objects, here’s our article about how period products evolved over time.

As we celebrate the rich history of the bra, let’s also embrace the diversity of women’s choices and individuality. Whether we opt for the structured support of a push-up bra or the comfort of a wireless bralette, we have the power to shape our own narratives. The bra is more than just an undergarment; it’s a symbol of strength, confidence, and the endless possibilities of fashion and self-expression. So, as we continue to break barriers and challenge norms, let’s celebrate the evolution of the bra—a supportive tale of fashion and female empowerment.

About the author

Alice Cash is the Marketing Manager for Jubilance by day and an award winning Theatre Director by night.  Leading the podcast Weekly Woman, she loves her candid conversations with women from all over the world about how they live and the amazing things they are doing to make a difference. Alice is also the editor of the bi-monthly newsletter the Jubilee, a blog dedicated to the power of female wellness especially concerning menstruation.  She’s worked in France creating theatre pieces and taught drama and filmmaking to women and children in Haiti.  She graduated from Georgetown University and holds two master degrees from NYU and The New School.  Alice has traveled to  40+ countries, including Tibet.  She is a New Yorker and can often be found in Central Park, searching out the best bubble tea, or directing a play, you never know where she’ll show up. @alicesadventuresinwonderworld
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