New York Magazine ran a great feature this week on the 100th anniversary of the brassiere – or at least, the anniversary of the first time the word appeared in Vogue Magazine. Apparently, that bastion of sartorial critique had the final say in whether or not something officially existed, more so than a patent, even – Marie Tucek’s 1893 patent for a garment with cups, straps and hooks in the back didn’t cut it, though it looks like a bra to me.
But rather than split hairs over the timeline, let’s talk about the intention of “breast supporters” throughout the ages. 4500 years ago, Ancient Greeks began to strap those puppies down to keep them from moving around. For hundreds of years, the French propped them up in corsets, creating the appearance of higher, fuller breasts over a teeny, tiny waist. The philosophy of Pain for Fashion ruled an era. The aforementioned bra patent emerged in response to corset fatigue, and a shortage of metal during the First World War further contributed to the decline of the corset’s popularity. Flappers of the 20s again strapped their breasts down in favor of a more boyish silhouette, with a flat bust and a long, lean torso. Large scale commercial production, the development of new materials and the emergence of a standardized cup size in the 30s resulted in the first bras that actually support the bust- you know, the kind your Grandma wore? Feminists burned their bras in the 60s and 70s to assert their freedom from this “symbol of oppression.” Shortly thereafter, one woman came to her senses and invented the sports bra to liberate breasts from the repression of flopping around whist exercising. Madonna’s conical boobs caused a brief sensation in 1990, and the Push-up bra reigned throughout the rest of that decade. But where are we now?
Thankfully, the expectation to adhere to a specific silhouette is an outdated concept. Sure, we look to Vogue to tell us what trends are “hot” this season, but we won’t be arrested for not following them (various undergarments have been outlawed in the past – can you imagine?) We’ve come a long way, baby, but why, then, do we still bother with Padded Bras, Strapless Bras, or any Bras at all, for that matter? Hopefully, it’s not out of any sense of social obligation or desire to please anyone other than ourselves. The incredible array of options in the Brassiere market is truly staggering when you really think about it. Let’s revel in our freedom to choose – be it a demi, full-cup, bralette, push-up, molded, strapless, bustier, or otherwise!