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A Short History of the Soft Bra

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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.

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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.

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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!

6 Comments

  1. Reply

    symondezyn

    Interesting – I weep for the women of larger cup sizes who were excluded from soft bra territory; no wonder bra burning was a thing – they probably revolted! 🙂 I remember CK had a soft bra (maybe late nineties or early 2000’s?) somewhat similar to that sheer one Rudi did, and they were super comfy 🙂 I’m looking forward to learning more about bra construction so I can potentially figure out a way to make a soft bra that is both supportive AND comfortable; such bras in my size tend to be very difficult to find, and expensive when you do 😉

    • Reply

      maddie

      As I was writing this post, Calvin Klein came to mind and I’m currently researching more about the brand, especially their popularity in the 90s.

      I can’t attest to it since I’m small chested, but I believe soft bras can be supportive for larger breasted women. There are many C, D and larger women in the Bra Making Forum Facebook group I started who have made the Watson and are happy with the fit. It’s all about using the right fabric in the right ways (i.e. using two layers of powernet with the stretch going in the opposite direction).

      • Reply

        symondezyn

        I used to wear a ton of CK – they had great fabrics, very soft and always in simple designs and chic neutrals – just my aesthetic 🙂 I haven’t seen as much of them lately; certainly not the types of styles I used to see back then at any rate, which is sort of a shame, but I suppose I have just enough skill and audacity to attempt to make whatever I can’t find anyway, so perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise 🙂

        I’ve actually got Watson in my queue; my pattern is cut out and all my supplies gathered; just finishing up some other stuff first 🙂 Thanks for the tip about using the right fabrics, particularly two layers powernet for more support – good idea! 🙂 Will be blogging about the fit and support results of Watson for sure! ^__^

  2. Reply

    Erika Arens

    You might want to add that the post contains nudity or is NSFW…my bosses would be less than impressed if they spotted this blog post on my computer.

  3. Reply

    Sewing Belle

    Great post – I’m a fan of the soft bra for both comfort and style and recently finished sewing my first. Can’t wait to play with fabrics and styles.

    Steph
    sewingbelle.wordpress.com

  4. Reply

    frenie

    It looks so great. Just what I want… Great sewing patterns.

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