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How the bra was invented | Moments of Vision 1 - Jessica Oreck


TEDEd Animation

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Lingerie has existed for hundreds of years, but it wasn't until the 1920s that a standardized cup sizing system was invented that changed underwear forever. In the first installment of our ‘Moments of Vision’ series, Jessica Oreck traces the ‘uplifting’ origin of the modern brassiere.

Additional Resources for you to Explore

Bras have appeared in multiple forms through the ages to support, enhance or conceal– this infographic provides an overview of women’s undergarments from ancient to modern times. You can also visit fashion encyclopedia to learn more about the evolution of the bra.

Over time bras have represented glamour and practicality, liberation and oppression. Ida Rosenthal’s design innovations helped popularize a more “womanly” shape than the fashionable flapper look of the 1920’s, which idealized a flat-chested silhouette. Indeed, the choice of Maiden Form as the company’s name was in deliberate contrast to the name of a competitor, Boyishform. Click here for more on Rosenthal’s early business strategies.

Large-scale production and standardized sizing made the bra accessible to the public. During the second world war, bras gained popularity as sturdy support for working women, as well as a sensual item. Learn more about the bra as an item inextricably linked to the social history of women in Uplift: The Bra in America.

The term “bra burning” has become something of a dismissive term for feminism, and references the alleged public displays of bra burning at the beginning of campaigns for women’s equal rights during the 1960's. Listen to this podcast for the story behind the myth.

These days, it’s easy to associate bras with lots of different brands and marketing campaigns – but in the past, advertising standards were more conservative. You can find a selection of quirky past bra adverts here.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Jessica Oreck
  • Director Jessica Oreck
  • Animator Jessica Oreck
  • Composer Eli Janney, Nate Shaw
  • Narrator Jessica Oreck

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