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The History of the Brassiere

Mary Phelps Jacob and the Brassiere

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History of the Brassiere

History of the Brassiere

Mary Bellis
The first modern brassiere to receive a patent was the one invented in 1913 by a New York socialite named Mary Phelps Jacob. Mary Phelps Jacob had just purchased a sheer evening gown for one of her social events. At that time, the only acceptable undergarment was a corset stiffened with whaleback bones. Mary found that the whalebones poked out visible around the plunging neckline and under the sheer fabric. Two silk handkerchiefs and some pink ribbon later, Mary had designed an alternative to the corset. The corset's reign was starting to topple.

An unhealthy and painful device designed to narrow an adult women's waist to 13, 12, 11 and even 10 or less inches, the invention of the corset is attributed to Catherine de Médicis, wife of King Henri II of France. She enforced a ban on thick waists at court attendance's (1550's) and started over 350 years of whalebones, steel rods and midriff torture.

Mary Phelps Jacob's new undergarment complimented the new fashions introduced at the time and demands from friends and family were high for the new brassiere. On November 3, 1914, a U.S. patent for the "Backless Brassiere" was issued.

Caresse Crosby Brassieres

Caresse Crosby was the business name Mary Phelps Jacob used for her brassiere production. However, running a business was not enjoyable to Jacob and she soon sold the brassiere patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for $1,500. Warner (the bra-makers, not the movie-makers) made over fifteen million dollars from the bra patent over the next thirty years.

Mary Phelps Jacob was the first to patent an undergarment named 'Brassiere' derived from the old French word for 'upper arm'. Her patent was for a device that was lightweight, soft and separated the breasts naturally.

Other points in the history of the brassiere worth mentioning:

  • In 1875, manufacturers George Frost and George Phelps patented the 'Union Under-Flannel', a no bones, no eyelets, and no laces or pulleys under-outfit.
  • In 1893, a woman named Marie Tucek patented the 'breast supporter’; the device included separate pockets for the breasts and straps that went over the shoulder, fastened by hook-and-eye closures.
  • In 1889, corset-maker Herminie Cadolle invented the 'Well-Being' or 'Bien-être', a bra-like device sold as a health aid. The corset's support for the breasts squeezed up from below. Cadolle changed breast support to the shoulders down.
  • World War I dealt the corset a fatal blow when the U.S. War Industries Board called on women to stop buying corsets in 1917. It freed up some 28,000 tons of metal!
  • In 1928, a Russian immigrant named Ida Rosenthal founded Maidenform. Ida was responsible for grouping women into bust-size categories (cup sizes).

Continue > WonderBra and Other Brands of Brassieres

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