Friday, March 16, 2018

Fun Friday Facts #135: The History of Bras, Part 2

So, here we are with Part 2 of the history of bras. I have to apologize because, yet again, it’s been a couple of weeks since I blogged. I have a good reason for not having blogged the Friday before last. I was traveling all day, as I had been in Seattle visiting a sick friend, and when I finally got back to the Pittsburgh International Airport, it was to discover that I’d left a light on in my car and drained the battery. It was completely dead. I couldn’t even use the fob to unlock the door. When I got off the shuttle, I did what I always do when I’ve lost my car in a large parking lot – I pressed the panic button, because everything knows the word PANIC in this context means, “Help, I’ve lost my car!” But the panic alarm didn’t go off, and that’s when I panicked. It was colder than a cast-iron commode on the far side of an iceberg, and I had lost one of my gloves in Seattle (I would later find it in the bottom of my bag, only to discover that I had lost the other, previously-unlost glove, somewhere in transit), and I was alone at night in a massive parking lot, walking back and forth with my big wheely duffel bag, and muttering, “I know I left it here somewhere, I clearly remember parking it in this section,” but for once in my life I hadn’t taken a picture of the sign, so I couldn’t be certain. I did eventually find my cold, dark, lifeless car, which I recognized by the alligator foot I have hanging from my rearview mirror, to protect me from voodoo curses. Thankfully I was able to huddle in it for the two hours it took for AAA to arrive, at which point the tow driver informed me that I could have called airport customer service and gotten a jump right away. I guess I’ll know that for the next time I leave a dome light on in my car while it’s parked at the airport for two weeks.

As for last Friday, I don’t have an excuse. I just forgot. Sorry.

But, I digress. After centuries of corsets, halter tops, cloth bands, and, um, nothing, women finally started getting modern bras in the 20th century. While Mary Phelps Jacob is credited with inventing the first bra by sewing two handkerchiefs together with some ribbon and string in 1910, the first mass-produced bra was developed in Germany in 1912. Many things perished in the Great War, and the corset was one of them. By the end of the war, women throughout Europe were wearing bras, and I recall reading somewhere that the food shortages caused by the war contributed to the flapper fashions of the Roaring Twenties by starving most women half to death. But that’s neither here nor there. When the U.S. got involved in the war in 1917, the U.S. War Industries Board asked American women, too, to stop buying corsets, which is said to have freed up enough metal to build two battleships.
While some credit the war with the bra’s boom in popularity, others point out that corsets were already getting shorter by the time the war started, and shorter corsets provided less support to the bust. Early bras were of the bandeau style, which flattens the breasts and pushes them down, leading to the flapper styles of 1920s. If you were a small-chested woman in the Flapper era, you might wear a bandeau bra, a camisole, or no bra at all under your step-in, a short, slip-like undergarment that buttoned between the legs. But, if you were a curvy girl, you’d strap those puppies down with a Symington side lacer, a minimizer bra with laces down the sides that allowed busty women to literally calm their tits.

This early minimizer bra had laces in the front, back, and sides. I think. I'm not so great at interpreting patent diagrams.

But it didn’t take long for innovators to lift and separate the competition. In 1922, Russian immigrants Ida and William Rosenthal founded Maiden Form, a company built on the radical idea that women should appear to have breasts. Women liked the idea, and throughout the 1930s, multiple companies started producing bras, including nursing bras, full-figured bras, and “uplift” bras. Innovations of this decade included adjustable bands with multiple sets of hooks and eyes, and the introduction of cup sizes, adjustable shoulder sizes, padded bras for smaller-chested women, and the use of elastic.

Porn was really boring back then.

The 1940s saw women enlisting in the military for the first time, and donning uniform bras. Female factory workers had the indubitable privilege of wearing the SAF-T-BRA, which is a hard hat for your tits. I’m serious, it was a plastic bra, because back then, people thought of bras and girdles as protective gear, and factory dress codes required women to wear bras for the sake of “good taste, anatomical support, and morale,” because nothing discourages a production line like nip slip.

A female factory worker displays her SAF-T-BRA for posterity.

It was at this time that bras because weaponized, or at least their names did – the torpedo bra and bullet bra offered the eras Sweater Girls “maximum projection” and pointyness. 
The cantilever bra, as worn by Jane Russell in The Outlaw, employed underwire technology for the first time. By the 1950s, women were routinely wearing cone-shaped bullet bras, and by the 1960s, marketing campaigns tried to convince women to wear their bras 24 hours a day. Try wearing a bullet bra to bed tonight, and let us know if you stab your bed partner to death in your sleep.