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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

What’s thong with corsets?

Photo by The Collegian staff
Photo by The Collegian staff

By Susan Tallant/editor-in-chief

Photo by The Collegian staff
Photo by The Collegian staff

From fig leaves to the Wonderbra, women’s undergarments have changed dramatically throughout time. Here is a brief history of unmentionables that have helped shape American women.

Cretan: The first recorded corset came from Crete. Cretan women would usually wear a corset on the waist and hip but remain bare breasted.

Greek women wore a leather band style corset to give definition to hips and bust. From birth through six months the girls were swaddled in cloth that would restrict their movement and keep limbs straight. Teenage Greek girls were required to keep trim. Their mothers would wrap them in bands to keep their developing bodies slim.

Middle Ages: 
People of this era believed the body to be sinful, so women were covered from head to toe. Toward the end of this period, clothes were cut and shaped to the body. In the 13th and 14th centuries corsets were worn, sometimes over the clothing.

Iron corsets: 
Corsets made out of iron and resembling armour were worn in the 16th century to flatten the body and give a smooth outline beneath gowns. Queen Elizabeth I wore this type of corset. It was so heavy that only ladies not required to do heavy work could wear this sort of shaper. Later versions were made out of bone, wood and flexible steel.

Named after a popular Spanish farthingale, this style of petticoat was worn with the corset. Hoops made of wood, wire or bone would give the cloth its shape. The first petticoats were very heavy and uncomfortable but would make the wearer look as if she were gliding in an elegant way while walking. Lighter weight varieties were made during the 1800s. 

This big donut-shaped apparatus would sit over the farthingale to add more width to the body. A flat-front version, developed by the French, made women appear as if they were wearing a tray at the hips.

1907: The first reports of a bra appeared in an American Vogue magazine even though bras can be dated back to the Cretan woman thousands of years ago. The original French meaning was “support.”

Two silk handkerchiefs tied together and ribbon sewn in for straps became the first bra to be patented by Mary Phelps-Jacobs. With minimal sales and not much interest, she sold the rights to Warner’s for $1,500. A few years later that $1,500 patent value turned into $15 million for Warner’s, who has been in the bra business ever since. Within one year, breasts were measured in inches instead of small, medium or large.

Warner’s introduced four cup sizes: A, B, C and D. Britain did not follow the American standard until the ’50s; before then, they continued using small, medium and large for descriptions.

Utility bras were made with minimal fabric because of material shortages during the war. Supplies were very limited and best ordered from Twilfit, the household name that manufactured the utility bra.

After being deprived during the war, women wanted their fashion back. Girls longed for the same curves as film stars Lana Turner and Jane Russell, so the conical bra was born. Bra history changed when manufacturers began using nylon, making the bras prettier and easier to wash.

 Yves St. Laurent designed a sheer blouse worn without a bra so feminists demanded women burn their bras, but few women were brave enough to wear the sheer top without support.
Many older women during this period had worn bras to bed, believing breasts had to be supported during sleep. But old habits were easy for women of the ’60s to break. Women no longer wanted to be told what to do. Some abandoned the night support; some abandoned the bra altogether.

1968: Gossard launched its Wonderbra campaign. The tagline “makes 34 look 36, makes 36 look pow … ” still holds true today. The Wonderbra was a huge success and bestseller again in the 1990s when silicone breast implants caused medical scares. Gossard eventually sold the rights to the name.

1950s: Women who wanted the same curves seen on the big screen would take a deep breath and squeeze into a girdle—an elasticized, flexible undergarment worn over the waist and hips—designed to give the breasts a lift and make the waist look tiny.

1970s: Garments other than white became accepted. Seamless underwear worn under T-shirts and natural flesh tones became popular. Manufacturers became adventurous offering prints and different colors such as purple and pinks and days-of-the-week panties were all the rave for little girls.
Teddies and Camisoles

]1980s: Shows such as Dallas and Dynasty started the trend of wearing erotic lingerie underneath masculine suits. With more women pumping iron and getting enhancements, satin teddies with high cut legs became popular.

1990s: Madonna brought fame to the cone shaped bra after sporting the ice cream coned circular stitched cups of her corset in her Blonde Ambition tour. Sexy lace bras and exquisite matching briefs or thongs became popular, making Victoria’s Secret a household name.

Now a billion dollar industry, bras are big business. Shoppers can find backless bras, strapless bras, sports bras, push-up bras, camouflage bras, nursing bras, silicone bras, under-wire or no wire in any color desired.

Unfortunately, a comfortable fit is still hard to find amid all of the new styles. In 2003, artist Emily Duffy finished a project using bras as the art medium. More than 18 thousand uncomfortable bras were donated to the project, which now stands 5 feet tall and weighs more than 1,800 pounds.


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