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Before There Were Bras, There Were ‘Breastbags’

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

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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.

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