On October 22, 1964, Rudi Gernreich launched the “No-Bra Bra.” Made of sheer nylon, it featured triangle cups with a single dart in each and thin elastic straps. It came in nude, white and black and wasn’t available in sizes larger than 34B. Rudi released the No-Bra Bra just four months after the monokini debuted, which caused quite the stir because of its bare-chest silhouette. Because of the monokini’s popularity, Exquisite Form, the lingerie company Rudi worked for, pushed him to create another barely-there bra. Its purpose was to provide smaller-chested women a bra that was supportive but also celebrated the breast’s natural shape sans underwires and molding. Sales prove that there was a large market for such a product – the No-Bra Bra became best seller and three more similar designs came out the following spring. If I were alive then and I didn’t know how to sew, I would have been a customer. All of the above reasons are why Nina Warner has become my favorite bra.
The No-Bra Bra wasn’t the first soft bra. Rudi’s design piggybacked off of several ideas from the early 20th century. One was that of Mary Phelps-Jacobs, who created the first “brassieres” in 1914. The term “brassiere” is important because it wasn’t the first bra invented. Made of two handkerchiefs sewn together at the center front and a string of ribbon as the straps and back band/closure, it was a bra in its most basic form. Mary even obtained a patent for her design – no. 1,115,674 – under the name Caresse Crosby. Some suggest that it was her French maid that came up with the idea and provided the sewing. She later sold the rights to Warners, a corset making company that is still open today, for $1500. With a little R&D, Mary’s initial idea was worth 15 million dollars in a few short years.
Another soft bra from the same time period was the Kestos, launched in the 1930s. Women didn’t just wear a bra – they wore a Kestos! It was the first commercially produced bra to have 2 separate and defined cups. In many ways, it was the first convertible bra as the wrapped bands allowed women to wear low back dresses and blouses that were popular during that time.
As I make more soft bras, it’s important for me to become knowledgeable about its history. The future is in the past. I can learn from their designs and use them as inspiration, taking what I like and adding what I think was missed. I hope you enjoyed the history lesson as much as I did!
Who is your favorite soft bra designer – current or passed? Do you have any other soft bra history knowledge to share? I’d love to know!