Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

February 1, 2014

The bra: Friend or foe?

Hugh Neeld
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — This is a nod to Women Inventors Month; not the best-known observance on the calendar, but worthy of recognition nevertheless.         Throughout history, woman's body has been squeezed and contorted into many different forms. The bust is no exception.

The female bust has gone in and out of style, more times than John Travolta. Sometimes minimized to be hidden from view.

Other times maximized to the fullest extent.

If we look back to 2500 B.C., we find that the Minoan women that lived on the Greek isle of Crete wore a bra-like garment that actually lifted their breasts out of their clothes. In later years, ancient Roman and Greek women took the opposite approach. They strapped on a breast band to reduce their bust size.

But where did the modern bra come from?

The first modern bra was invented by a New York socialite named Mary Phelps Jacob way back in 1913. (I'm sure that a lot of women want to believe that a man invented this torturous device, but it was a woman.)

Mary had just purchased a sheer evening gown for one of her social events, but it presented a problem.

At that time, corsets stiffened with whaleback bones were the accepted undergarment.

Unfortunately, whaleback corsets and sheer evening gowns just don't go together well.

In one of those great flashes of genius, Mary came up with a great solution. Together with her French maid, Mary took two handkerchiefs, ribbon, and some cord and devised a simple backless brassiere.

Mary was the hit of the party, of course, but the real hit among the women in attendance was her newfangled brassiere.

Mary was happy to sew up a bra for all family and friends that were interested.

One day, she received a request for one of her contraptions from a stranger, who had happened to enclose a dollar for her efforts.

Mary Jacobs ran to the patent office with her sketches. In November, 1914, she was awarded a patent for the "Backless Brassiere."

Mary made several hundred of the devices (marketed under the name Caresse), but due to lack of publicity, the business collapsed.

You’d think that this would have been the end of the bra, but it managed to live on. Mary sold the rights to the brassiere to the Warner Brothers Corset Company in Bridgeport, Ct., for a mere $1,500. Just think what it would be worth today.

Of course, many innovations were later made to the brassiere: Use of elastic, standard cup sizes, and the development of the strapless bra.

During the 1920's, the flat-chested "flappers" that my mother always reminisced about were the rage.

A Russian immigrant named Ida Rosenthal decided to buck the trend. With the help of her husband William, they founded Maidenform.

Ida was responsible for grouping women into bust size categories and developed bras for every stage of life from puberty to maturity.

The 1960's were famous for bra-burning, remember? You’d think that this would have been the end of the bra, but it wasn't.

Gravity and aging were on the side of the brassiere manufacturers, and as far as can be seen today, always will be.

A question to ponder:

If you’re 39 and holding, how old will you be before you let go?