From Corsets to Bralettes
The history of lingerie, much like the history of all fashion, is intricately tied to the sociopolitical context of the times. Its evolution has seen a profound transformation from functional and restrictive garments to symbols of female liberation and self-expression.
In the beginning, undergarments were more about function than form. The earliest recorded lingerie-like clothing dates back to Ancient Greece, where women would wear a band of cloth across their chest to support the breasts, called an apodesme.
Fast forward to the Renaissance period and we enter the era of the corset. These boned and laced pieces were designed to shape a woman’s body to fit the societal ideal of the time — a small, cinched waist. However, corsets were often uncomfortable and impractical, hindering movement and even breathing.
The Victorian era witnessed the evolution of the corset into a more elongated shape, extending beyond the waist to shape the hips, reflecting the fashion of voluminous gowns of the time. However, the discomfort and health concerns surrounding corsets spurred on innovations.
The dawn of the 20th century marked a significant turning point in lingerie history. With the flapper style in the 1920s came the need for a flattened chest, leading to the creation of bandeaus. The freedom of movement these offered was a stark contrast to the restrictiveness of corsets.
The invention of the first true bra can be credited to Mary Phelps Jacob in 1914. Her design, made from two handkerchiefs sewn together, was the first to separate the breasts, unlike the corsets and bandeaus of the past. This invention was patented and sold to the Warner Brothers Corset Company.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the conical bra or bullet bra, made famous by Hollywood stars like Marilyn Monroe, became popular. This was a reflection of the style and aesthetic of the time, focusing on a woman’s silhouette.
With the sexual revolution of the 1970s, lingerie began to take on a new role as a symbol of sexuality and empowerment. The push-up bra, padded bra, and thong became popular during this time, offering women more choices than ever before.
The rise of the bralette, a soft, often lacey, wire-free alternative to traditional bras, in the late 2010s was an indication of the increasing focus on comfort, body positivity, and inclusivity in the lingerie industry. Bralettes are designed to celebrate all body types and emphasize natural shape over creating the ‘perfect’ silhouette.
Today, the lingerie market is more diverse and inclusive than ever before, featuring everything from the most simplistic bralettes to the most intricate, luxury pieces. Lingerie now is not just about achieving a particular look, but it’s also about providing comfort, empowering women, and catering to a range of different body types and personal styles.
The evolution of lingerie, from corsets to bralettes, reflects broader shifts in societal attitudes towards women’s bodies, femininity, and sexuality. As we move forward, one can only anticipate how these pieces of intimate apparel will continue to evolve in the fabric of women’s lives.