I read a funny article recently about the reason we humans have “two boobs” and it got me thinking. Glad there are only two 😊 And only one would be awkward in so many ways. So, the history and origins of brassieres is where it took me next.
In Greece, in the 5th and 4th century BC, women often wore bands that went over the clothing, giving some support while also lifting and separating. Aphrodite was depicted wearing her own version, called the kestos.
Then, we have Roman bras or “mamillare” — pieces of cloth that women wrapped tightly around their chests to cover their breasts.
The Bikini Girls, a famous mosaic shown above, from the Villa Romana del Casale in Sicily, depicts women playing sports while wearing tight bandeaus, likely to keep things from bouncing around too much. Young girls sometimes used breast bands, called strophium, in an attempt to prevent sagging, which the Romans associated with old age and unattractiveness.
So here it began. Males putting their stamp on attractiveness or the lack thereof. ☹
There are also medieval bras. At least four types of them were found in 2012 by a group of archeologists in the Lengberg Castle, Austria. Two of them looked like shirts with bags without cup support. The third one had basically two “breast bags” supported by shoulder straps, and the last one looked more like a modern longline bra, with two cups and thinner shoulder straps.
Henri de Mondeville, the surgeon to Philip the Fair of France and his successor Louis X, wrote in 1312–20, “Some women… insert two bags in their dresses, adjusted to the breasts, fitting tight, and they put them [the breasts] into them [the bags] every morning and fasten them when possible with a matching band.”
The history of the bra momentarily changes direction in the 16th century AD when women in the Western world adopted the corset. This garment lifted up her breasts and shrank the waist to width and shape that was considered a feminine beauty ideal at the time. The dissemination 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 during the 1550s.
But during the dress reform, or rational dress, movement in the late Victorian era, corsets were accused of posing several health risks, such as the rearrangement of internal organs due to the tight-lacing practice. They suggested the corset be replaced with looser fitting garments, and many women, literally, breathed a sigh of relief.
The corset went out of fashion rather slowly, but World War I accelerated the process due to the metal shortage it caused. All the metal available was to be used in war production, so it couldn’t be used in corsetry.
At the same time, women had started to work and become more active outside the home, the corset was no longer comfortable or practical.
Here’s where the industrial revolution comes into play. Lots of inventions before better solutions came about. And new fashions played their part in liberating women from what was expected. This is how far it’s come since then, choices and comfort.
Today, women have many different bra choices, such as padded bras with or without underwires, bralettes, lace bras, nursing bras for women who are breastfeeding, the NuBra adhesive bra made of silicon (which came out in 2002), and other strapless options. Gone are the days of binding our breasts, or the “pointy bras” of the 40’s/50’s, or the braless hippies, or the red rubber fat burning atrocities (there was such a thing). There is no surprise that sports bras have become the most popular choice today for every size and shape and more than just underwear.
Are Bras even necessary? Even this is debatable among scientists. I can say there’s a reason and a time and place they are favorable. But also, that they are way overrated for most everyday life.