In Florence during the Renaissance, Catherine de Medici decreed it bad manners to have a thick waist and designed a hinged corset that narrowed the waist to 13 inches.
Corsets and girdles were first worn outside of clothing. This is evident in many European national costumes, such as that of Bavaria.
The ancient Greeks were the first to wear girdles. They called them zones. A band of linen or soft leather was bound around a woman's waist and lower torso to shape and control her mid-body.
The iron corset was devised in 1579 and was worn by women for about 10 years. The first modern corset was made in Britain in the 1700s. A short and light corset was made in America in 1911 for women to have the freedom of movement to dance the tango.
Statues dating from 2500 BC have been found on the Greek island of Crete that show women wearing bra-like corsets that lifted their breasts out of their clothing. It was called a mastoeides (“shaped like a breast”).
Bust improvers or padded bras were popular in 1840. These bras have been called falsies, cuties, bosom friends, waxen bosoms, lemon loves, and pneumatic breasts.
American Marie Tucek patented the first bra, which she called a "breast supporter," in 1893. It had two supportive cups and shoulder straps.
In 1913, New Yorker Marie Phelps Jacob fashioned a flattening bra from two handkerchiefs and some ribbon. The following year she patented her invention.
In the 1920s, women wore bras that pressed down their chests for the then-popular flat-chest look.
During the same time, a Russian immigrant named Ida Rosenthal founded the Maidenform lingerie company with her husband William. They made bras for women of every size and introduced the cup system (A, B, C, D).
It wasn't until 1935 that bras were made with both cup and band sizes. The British called the cup measures junior, medium, full, and full with wide waist.
Strapless bras were introduced in 1938. They were popularized in the 1950s.
The sweater girl bra was made in the 1950s. Its cups were shaped to points and looked a lot like cones.
The push-up bra was introduced in the 1990s. It makes women's breasts look larger that they are.
In recent years bras have been sold that include little pillows of gel or water to make the chest look larger. Others can be pumped up with a little air pump.
Today, the average American woman owns six bras. White is the best-selling color for bras.