clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Before There Were Bras, There Were ‘Breastbags’

‘History Of’ tackles the long, fraught journey of the modern bra.

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

Bras generally suck. Even when they get the job done, they’re often uncomfortable, especially if you’ve got to deal with pokey underwire.

But the bras worn today are a lot less terrible than what women had to put up with in the past. In ancient Greece, for example, women tightly pinned bands of wool cloth around their torsos. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that women got an actual garment for their chests, the ugliest-named piece of clothing in history: the breastbag.

It got worse before it got better, as the Renaissance brought the introduction of the corset. Only thanks to Polly Phelps, an enterprising teen in the early 20th century, did we get the modern bra, originally fashioned out of two silk handkerchiefs stitched together with pink ribbon. Phelps applied for a patent in 1914 and the next year sold her design to the Warner Brothers Corset Company. The rest — the conical “bullet bra,” sports bras, push-ups, bralettes, and more — is history.

Follow Racked on YouTube for more videos | Like Racked on Facebook to never miss a video