A bra-like garment was worn by the Minoan women, on the island of Crete, way back in 2500 BC, unfortunately they forgot to patent the idea! Marie Tucek was the first person to do this, in 1893, but the name she devised lacked style – she called it a ‘breast supporter’- and, as such, it didn’t quite catch the imagination of the fashion conscious of the day. It wasn’t until 1914 that New York socialite, Mary Phelps Jacob, patented the modern brassiere that was the forerunner of the garment women wear today.
In 1913, Mary had bought a new sheer evening gown, but when she tried it on with her wale-boned corsets, the bones poked out of the plunging neckline. Desperate to wear the dress, she designed an alternative undergarment with two handkerchiefs, a ribbon and some cord. Her ‘backless brassiere’ was an instant hit and she found herself making them for all her friends. Eventually she patented the idea and marketed the garments under the name Caresse Crosby, but she wasn’t much of a businesswoman and eventually sold the patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Company in Bridgeport Connecticut for $1,500.
Mary’s Brassiere was not without its faults, it flattened the chest rather than supported it and was a ‘one size fits all’, which, as all women know, is an impossibility. A Russian immigrant named Ida Rosenthal rectified this. She founded Maidenform and had the idea of grouping women into cup sizes with different types of support for different stages of their lives. From there, the modern bra never looked back. There was a time in the sixties when its future looked bleak, as this symbol of womanhood was burned, but it survived and flourished as the myriad styles and colours of today testify. From the first training bra to the final ‘firm hold’, the brassiere continues to contribute to the development of women everywhere.