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17 old photos of strange and uncomfortable women’s underwear

The bra turns 100 this year. Here are some of the awkward, impractical, unusual and ill-advised varieties of nethergarment worn in that time.

Vibrating bra, anyone?
Vibrating bra, anyone?

ONE HUNDRED YEARS ago this year, a young socialite in the US invented the bra as we know it.

In the years before 1913, upper-class women had traditionally used stiff corseting made of whalebone to support (and/or painfully constrain) their chests, and narrow their waists.

But one night 19-year-old Mary Phelps Jacob was dressing for a ball (or so the story goes) when she discovered her pesky corset was poking out of her dress.

So she cobbled together two silk handkerchiefs and some pink ribbon, and presto! A year later, she’d patented her design:

Wikimedia Commons

It almost certainly wasn’t the first bra ever, but it was the first design to be widely used after Jacob put them into production with a new company, Caresse Crosby.

That didn’t stop many, many people since trying to improve on it. Some of them may have been successful. Others were less so.

Here we look at 100 years of awkward, impractical, unusual and downright uncomfortable-looking women’s underwear:

17 old photos of strange and uncomfortable women’s underwear
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  • Bra made of hair, 1969

  • Suspender gun holster, 1965

  • Playtex "Wow" Bra, 1986

  • Vibrating bra, 1971

  • 'Braided wire bust forms', 1887

  • Overcomplicated underwear, 1988

  • Irish-made bra and panty-girdle, 1977

  • Corsets, 1954

  • Frill-o-rama, 1989

  • Inflatable bra, 1952

  • Lace-trimmed bloomers, 1957

  • 'Net tunic with linen bra', 1968

  • Making a home-made suspender belt, 1947

  • The patent that changed it all

  • Girdles, 1955

  • Corset set, 1987

  • Button-together bra and pants, 1948

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About the author:

Michael Freeman

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