It’s time to say thanks for the mammaries and all the support – Wednesday marks the 100th birthday of the bra.

It was a century ago that New York socialite Mary Phelps Jacob invented the first modern brassiere after finding she had no suitable undergarments for a recently purchased sheer evening gown.

Unhappy with how the dress looked over a chunky whalebone corset, the 19-year-old improvised with a pair of silk handkerchiefs and a length of pink ribbon, and lo, the bra was born.


Over-the-shoulder-boulder-holders are a century old

Lingerie maker Simone Pérèle points out that the modern version of the bra as we know it did not appear until the 1930s, with the gradual addition of cup sizes, strapless models, and cone shapes as the industry wheels turned, but mighty oaks from little acorns did most certainly grow.

The momentous day was marked in Britain today with a segment on Lorraine Kelly’s ITV show, er, along the revelation that the host wears her own bra in bed every night ('I thought everybody did', she protested).

Stylist Tabitha Somerset-Webb showcased the best bras on the market and pointed out one in two British women are wearing the wrong size.

mary phelps bra

The patent for Mary Phelps Jacob's invention

She also urged women to be re-measured every six months.

The advice comes as it emerged British breasts are getting bigger – with ladies living in the North, the Midlands and Ireland leading the charge.


Busts have grown by three sizes in just two years, with the best-selling bra size going up from a 34B to a 34DD. And our cups are truly running over in Wales – with the most popular size being an E.

HuffPost UK Lifestyle spoke to Nicola Adams from Tallulah Lingerie to find out why bras have changed in the past 100 years.

"Bras has evolved over time to suit fashion trends," she explained. "Outerwear influences the style of lingerie women want and need for their foundations, plus lingerie will give different shapes depending on style."

Nicola said that above all modern women want comfort and support from their bras.

She told HuffPost UK Lifestyle: "There are so many collections on offer today that bras don't need to be ugly to be supportive. As long as women are in the correct bra size, then their bra will be comfortable whatever the style."

(FYI for anyone who feels like getting pedantic, Jacobs' invention was the first to be patented, scraps of ancient lingerie from the 1400s were discovered by archaeologists in an Austrian castle last year.)

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  • Barbara Collection of the 1950s, Barbara Patrimony

  • Advertisement for Lou Bras, 1950s

  • Advertisement for Lou Bras, 1950s

  • Chantelle, photo of Deval 1956

  • Perele’s photo campaign 1986

  • “Ocyane” model, Barbara patrimony

  • Model Chantelle, 2004, photo by Thierry Desmarquet, Chantelle patrimony

  • Advertisement for Simone Perele bras, 1956-1957

  • Corset in boned, stretch knit, with elastic, adjustable garters. Around 1910. CHANTELLE ARCHIVES Panty in embroidered lace. F/W 2012. LISE CHARMEL ARCHIVES

  • "Maintien-gorge" (bust supporter) in stretch knit, fastening in front with mother-of-pearl buttons, a laced back, and ribboned straps in cotton sateen. Around 1905-1910. CHANTELLE ARCHIVES Waist-cincher with garter belt, in boned stretch knit. Around 1905-1910. CHANTELLE ARCHIVES

  • Bust-supporter with open cups, in cotton sateen and fleshtoned lace. 1930’s. LEJABY ARCHIVES Brassiere without underwire in flesh-toned cotton sateen. Adjustable straps. 1939. LEJABY ARCHIVES High-waisted girdle in "fully-fashioned" stretch knit, with reinforced stitching, boning at the hip level, and garters. 1940’s. CHANTELLE ARCHIVES "Pregnancy belt", in stretch knit, with adjustable panel and garters. Fastening in front. 1930’s. CHANTELLE ARCHIVES

  • Bustier without underwire in flesh-toned cotton sateen. 1955/60. LISE CHARMEL ARCHIVES Bra with underwire, in flesh-toned cotton sateen. 1955/60. LISE CHARMEL ARCHIVES Girdle in stretch jacquard tulle, reinforced with cotton sateen, without boning, with removable garters. 1949. CHANTELLE ARCHIVES

  • Bra with underwire in navy blue nylon, with upper cup in pleated white nylon. Adjustable back and straps. 1950’s. LOU ARCHIVES Boned bustier in white nylon, including an underwire bra, with stretch back and adjustable straps. 1950’s. LEJABY ARCHIVES Garter belt in navy blue nylon lace, edged with white « perforated » embroidery and navy blue ribbon. Late 1950’s/early 1960’s. EMPREINTE ARCHIVES Garter belt in navy blue nylon lace. 1960. SIMONE PERELE ARCHIVES Merry-widow in navy blue nylon lace on a white ground, and underwire bra. Garter belt underneath the skirt. 1960. SIMONE PERELE ARCHIVES

  • Balconnet bra in white and silver (lurex) striped cotton, with adjustable straps. 1973. SIMONE PERELE ARCHIVES Underwire bra in grey and pink nylon with flower print. 1960’s. EMPREINTE ARCHIVES Girdle-Garter Belt in floral-printed fabric with doublereinforced front panel. 1960’s. EMPREINTE ARCHIVES Girdle-panty-garter belt in coral-toned jacquard tulle, with scalloped, reinforced front panel. 1950’s. LOU ARCHIVES Open girdle with integrated garter belt, in floral-motif tulle, with white satin insert and boning in front panel reinforcement. Removable garters. 1959. BARBARA ARCHIVES Girdle-garter belt in grey and pink nylon, with front panel reinforcement in grey nylon lace. 1963. LOU ARCHIVES

  • Underwire bra in pink and white striped cotton. 1988/89. PRINCESSE tam.tam ARCHIVES Bouffant panty in pink and white striped nylon. Early 1960’s. EMPREINTE ARCHIVES Bra without underwire, in pink gingham (cotton), with adjustable straps. 1960’s. AUBADE ARCHIVES Garter belt in pink and white striped nylon. Early 1960’s. EMPREINTE ARCHIVES Panty in pink gingham (cotton), matched with the aforementioned bra. 1960’s. AUBADE ARCHIVES

  • Underwire bra in printed polyamide, with adjustable straps. Late 1960’s. LOU ARCHIVES Slimming longline panty in stretch polyamide. 1970. CHANTELLE ARCHIVES Combination longline panty, backless, with underwire bra, in nylon lace. 1960’s. EMPREINTE ARCHIVES Ivory-toned romper. 1960’s. BARBARA ARCHIVES

  • Bra in brown jacquard tulle, with adjustable straps. Early 1970’s. LOU ARCHIVES Shaping panty-girdle, with removable garters, in flesh-toned stretch polyamide. Early 1970’s. AUBADE ARCHIVES Shaping panty-girdle with double-reinforced front insert panel in embroidered satin, with removable garters, in white stretch polyamide. Early 1970’s. BARBARA ARCHIVES

  • Bra without underwire, backless, in Nile green nylon lace. Early 1970’s. AUBADE ARCHIVES Bra without underwire in yellow nylon lace. Early 1970’s. LEJABY ARCHIVES Bra without underwire in turquoise nylon lace. Early 1970’s. EMPREINTE ARCHIVES Bra without underwire, backless, in "mother-of-pearl" nylon lace. Early 1970’s. AUBADE ARCHIVES

  • Black bodysuit in polyamide and Lycra® fiber. 1980’s. AUBADE ARCHIVES Underwire bra in molded Noyon lace. 2012. BARBARA ARCHIVES Bodysuit in cotton and Lycra® fiber, with integrated underwire bra. F/W 1989/90. PRINCESSE tam.tam ARCHIVES Bodysuit in Lycra® fiber knit. S/S 2012. IMPLICITE ARCHIVES

  • Flower Push-up strapless bra in microfiber and lace. 2006. PASSIONATA ARCHIVES Bustier, in white cotton and lace. 1980’s. LOU ARCHIVES Camisole in absinthe-green embroidered tulle. 2005. PASSIONATA ARCHIVES White panty in lace and Lycra® fiber. 1980’s. AUBADE ARCHIVES Romper in white lace. 1980’s. AUBADE ARCHIVES

  • From left to right, and from top to bottom: Balconnet bra with dot-print cups and upper-cups edged in Calais lace. 2011. LEJABY ARCHIVES Balconnet bra in white kidskin. LISE CHARMEL ARCHIVES Underwire bra in white cotton with black dots. S/S 1989. PRINCESSE tam.tam ARCHIVES Balconnet bra in black cotton with white stripes. 2010. PASSIONATA ARCHIVES Tap pant in ivory-toned silk with dot and stripe print. 1980’s. LOU ARCHIVES Black garter belt. S/S 2011. IMPLICITE ARCHIVES

  • From left to right and top to bottom: Flesh-toned, invisible thong. CHANTELLE ARCHIVES Anthracite-toned thong. S/S 2012. IMPLICITE ARCHIVES Thong from the "Attitude" line. 2005. LOU ARCHIVES Seamless thong. 2012. BARBARA ARCHIVES Thong in striped cotton. 2002. LOU ARCHIVES Thong in striped cotton. 2007. LOU ARCHIVES Thong in brown polyamide and harlequin stripes. 2004. LOU ARCHIVES

  • Flesh-toned bra with pre-formed cups and transparent straps. 2001. PASSIONATA ARCHIVES Invisible, flesh-toned bra with molded cups. S/S 2010. IMPLICITE ARCHIVES Flesh-toned bra in polyamide and Lycra®, with soft, preformed cups. 1972. CHANTELLE ARCHIVES Bra in white microfiber. 1980’s. BARBARA ARCHIVES Flesh-toned bra with soft, pre-formed cups. 1995. LEJABY ARCHIVES

  • Balconnet bra in embroidered tulle (embroidery from Gian Luigi Locatelli). 2005. CHANTELLE ARCHIVES Molded balconnet bra with appliqué tattoo-effect lace. 2001. LEJABY ARCHIVES Shorty in plain tulle with color-matched embroidery that is then printed with different colors for a tattoo effect. 2011. CHANTELLE ARCHIVES

  • Bra with molded cups and exclusive lace design. 2012. LISE CHARMEL ARCHIVES Bra with molded cups and exclusive lace design shot through with silvered metallic pieces. 2012. LISE CHARMEL ARCHIVES Two-piece Merry-widow in brown and black polyamide, polyurethane, polyester and elastane. 2008. SIMONE PERELE ARCHIVES

  • Bra with molded cups and exclusive lace design shot through with silvered metallic pieces. 2012. LISE CHARMEL ARCHIVES Balconnet bra in embroidered lace emulating Tweed. 2012. LEJABY ARCHIVES Underwire bra in "Nightfall" shades of inky blue and black. F/W 2011. IMPLICITE ARCHIVES

  • Underwire bra in cardinal red. 2012. SIMONE PERELE ARCHIVES Shorty in white lace. Still in production since 2008. BARBARA ARCHIVE Bra with printed, molded cups, covered in multicolored, embroidered tulle. 2002. LEJABY ARCHIVES Shorty in embroidered lace. F/W 2007/08. BARBARA ARCHIVES

  • Underwire bra in Royal Blue lace. 2012. BARBARA ARCHIVES Bra with molded cups and invisible straps, embroidered with white lozenges, creating a tattoo effect. 2002. LEJABY ARCHIVES Bandeau bra with hidden underwire in microfiber stretch knit and Textronic lace. F/W 2011/12. PRINCESSE tam.tam ARCHIVES Shaping Brief in polyamide with lace inserts. Late 1990’s. PASSIONATA ARCHIVES