Archaeologists have unearthed several 600-year-old bras that experts say could rewrite fashion history. While they’ll hardly send pulses racing by today’s standards, the lace-and-linen underpinnings predate the invention of the modern brassiere by hundreds of years. Found hidden under the floorboards of Lengberg Castle in Austria’s East Tyrol, along with some 2,700 textile remains and one completely preserved pair of (presumably male) linen underpants, the four intact and two fragmented specimens are believed to date to the 15th century, a hypothesis scientists later confirmed through carbon-dating.
Unlike female undergarments, male underpants are frequently depicted in medieval imagery.
Want to know how and where lingerie originated? Then look no further, as we have compiled a concise, yet detailed, history for you of how lingerie has developed through the ages into what it is today. My how it has changed.
In one form or another, women have worn garments to support, suppress or accentuate their breasts as far back as 3000BC. Therefore, the modern day bra has developed from Cretan women who wore a hip corset beneath their ceremonial dress, the surcoate worn over the clothes in the middle ages. Depending on the fashions of the time the corset has aided to give shape and definition to the woman’s figure, such as the boyish shape of the Elizabethan & 1920’s.
By the 1500’s the corset elongated the body, flattened and raised the bust while hiding the stomach and hips. When worn with the ‘farthingale’ the wearer had to walk in a sedate gliding fashion. This is also the era of the iron corset - some say worn by Catherine D’Medici’s court as there were strict regulations which correlated a woman’s position in court by her waist size, others say it was for correcting bone deformities.
The corset, commonly known as a ‘stay’, was made of linen with boning and stiffened with paste. Women were then ‘straight-laced’ into them, and the term became synonymous with the pious Puritan women of the 17th century. By the latter part of this century the corsets were more elaborate and it was fashionable to wear them on the outside as in medieval times.
The flamboyant dresses of the 18th century gave way to the simple empire line frock after the French Revolution of 1789. The look did not require heavy corsetry as it kept a more natural shape. The stay was lengthened to shape the hips and thighs, although it is said some ladies wore no corset at all.
By 1825 the high waistline of the Regency style had dropped to a more natural level and corsets became essential to show off an hourglass figure with a desired waist of 18 inches (or less). The Victorian era was the heyday of the corset and advances in design were made through out the century. New metallic eyelets ensured that the tight lacing required to achieve the hourglass figure need not damage the corset. The invention of the sewing machine meant the corset could be produced more quickly than with hand stitching and corsets could be sold ready made. A huge variety of fashion corsets were made and also corsets for maternity, safari, sports, golfing and riding, even for these activities lacing and boning was still used. As corsets were in such demand whalebone became scarce, leading to the use of buffalo-bone, cane, steel, and steam moulding in corsetry.
By the beginning of the 20th century a bust bodices could be worn as an alternative to the corset and this supported the entire bosom as a whole. It was in 1914 when American Mary Phelps-Jacobs, patented her design in the name of Caresse-Crosby. It consisted of two silk handkerchiefs tied together with ribbon to make straps and a seam in the centre front, due to lack of interest, a few years later she sold her idea to Warner’s for $1500-. In 1935 Warner’s introduced the first cup sizing with only A, B &C. Britain continued to use the junior and medium sizing until the 50’s. In 1939 the word bra was added to the English dictionary, it is worth noting the brassiere in French means an infant’s bodice or harness, therefore soutien-gorge is the correct French term for bra.
Throughout the twentieth century the bra has been developed by advancements of man made fabrics such as, nylon, Du ponts’s Lycra, polyester, Elastane microfibres etc. These new fabrics have enabled garments to be lightweight, supportive, flexible and seamless, to have colourful prints and to be easier to wash.
The bra has taken many shapes through out the century. From the conical looks of the 1950’s sweater girls, maximum cleavage bras, sexy lace bras and of course the ‘burn your bra’ ethos of the Women’s Liberation Movement. It is estimated that the lingerie market was worth half a billion pounds at the end of the 1990’s.
The new millennium has seen further advancements in design and fabrics, with many innovative designs now in the market. There are also a number of celebrities who have their own lingerie range. Our own styles have developed and now offer a variety of styles for all occasions from 28-52 back B-K cup sizes.