“A friend is like a good bra: hard to find, comfortable, supportive, always lifts you up, makes you look better, never lets you down or leaves you hanging, and always close to your heart.” Unknown
The word brassiere, which has been shortened to bra, was first used in the English language in 1893 when a US patent was granted to Marie Tucek. The patent described a breast-supporting device that used a rigid plate under the breasts for stability. It was covered with silk, canvas, or other fabric, which extended above the plate to form a pocket for each breast and was strapped around the shoulders with shoulder straps.
The invention of the modern bra, however, is credited to Herminie Cadolle, who in Paris in 1889 invented a two-piece undergarment called le bien- être (the wellbeing). The upper piece was sold as a soutien-gorge (literally meaning support for the throat, but gorge in old French meant breast), the name by which bras are still known in France.
Although the word bra was not used until the 19th century, the use of wearing a specialized apparel to support women´s breasts goes back a long time. Some 3,000 years ago, Ancient Greek women wore a band of wool or linen that was wrapped around the breasts and pinned or tied at the back and was called an ἀπόδεσμος, apodesmos (breast-band).
The apodesmos was adopted by women in Ancient Rome, where it was called a strophium or mamillare.
During the Middle Ages women´s breasts were minimized in dresses with straight bodices when the ideal was a small-breasted and full-figures woman.
During the Renaissance women´s curve s and cleavage were fashionable and women wore corsets to show of their assets. Corsets were very tight at the women´s waist and often made it difficult to breathe. They were so constraining that by the late 1800´s health professionals and feminists were speaking out against them.
In the US a patent was issued to Mary Phelps Jacobs in 1914 for her Backless Brassiere, which she sold under the name “Caresse Crosby”. This bra was very soft and lightweight and separated the breasts naturally, which made it the most practical and comfortable bra so far. It gained huge popularity among women tired of having to wear tight corsets, but very quickly, Mary lost interest in the garment business and sold her patent to Warner Brothers Corset Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for USD 1,500. They reportedly made over USD 15 million over the next 30 years from the patent.
In the 1920´s William & Ida Rosenthal introduced a sizing system that is still in use today (other claim it was S.H. Camp and Co. who introduced this system). The size consists of the measurement around the rib cage and the cup size of the breast. They called their company Maidenform, which is still today one of the biggest bra makers in the world. Maidenform sold bras that accented and lifted rather than flattened the breasts.
In the 1950´s the cone-shaped bullet bra became popular, influenced by Hollywood fashion and glamour.
During the 1960´s feminists stated that false eyelashes, high heels, bras and other female items reduced women to sex objects. On September 7, 1968, during the Miss America pageant a demonstration was held and a Freedom Trash Can was placed in which these items were thrown.
Now the majority of women wear a bra in Western society and it is a USD16 billion industry worldwide.
a piece of clothing that is worn by women under other clothes to cover and support the breasts (source: Merriam Webster).
English bra, is short of brassiere (French for baby´s vest/bra), from Old French braciere, arm guard, from bras, arm, from Latin brachium, arm.
Dutch beha is an abbreviation of bustehouder (the letters B and H are pronounced bay haa), literally meaning a thing that holds up one´s breast. Buste derives from Italian busto, upperbody/bust, from Latin bustum, tomb/funeral pyre, coming from the tradition of putting busts at graves and tombs. Houder comes from Proto-Germanic *haldan, originally to keep/tend/watch over, later to have.
Spanish sujetador comes from the verb sujetar, to hold/secure/fasten, from Latin subjectare, to throw up from below.
Italian reggiseno is composed of the words reggere and seno.
Bra in other languages:
Dutch: de beha/BH
Spanish: el sujetador
Italian: il reggiseno