Three types of bras sit on a white background.

Image: Shutterstock

You may have noticed an influx in pink products recently, and you know what that means! October is breast cancer awareness month, and pink water bottles, clothing, and football turfs are popping up everywhere. I thought this might be a good time to delve into some history to investigate those that have been supporting women for many, many years: bras. They’ve changed quite a lot over the past several centuries, from simple handkerchiefs to some of the more intimidating contraptions on the market today.

Supposedly, the very first bra likely came from ancient Greece, where women wrapped their breasts in wool or linen and pinned the fabric to their backs, and it’s likely that other cultures had similar ideas. The modern corset as we know it didn’t appear in literature until about 1500, whereupon it quickly became a fashion necessity and standard for women in Western societies.

But it didn’t take long before doctors began to point out the many physical ills that came with wearing a corset: muscle atrophy, restricted breathing, and bruised internal organs (a problem on the rise today with the advent of shapewear and Spanx).

The first modern American bra was patented by Caresse Crosby in 1914. Crosby she created a simple bra made from handkerchiefs to wear over the corset that poked through her sheer evening gown. People were excited about her invention, and she eventually sold a patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Company for $1,500.

At the start of World War I, ladies’ undergarments changed again to allow for more comfort for working women as well as a reduction on unnecessary material which could be put toward wartime efforts. After excess material was discarded, bras began to take on other shapes with nods to current fashions: bandeau bras saw their glory in the 1920s when women sought to flatten their chests, and then 10 years later bras evolved when the adjustable clasp and padded cups were introduced.

Currently, bras and women’s lingerie are an industry worth billions of dollars. Each generation of bras seeks to appeal to its customers: now, lingerie companies have expanded their range of sizes to accommodate the population who will be wearing them, and minimal bras—not ones with those awfully pointy cups of the 50s and 60s—are sought after.

Some people, of course, still want to do away with bras altogether, and for those who choose not to wear a bra, that is just fine. But bras will continue to evolve and change as the population does—so who knows what’s next?