Tag Archives: Uplift: The Bra in America by Jane Farrell-Beck and Colleen Gau

Underneath Those Twenties’ Fashions

Fashions for May, 1924. Undergarments flattened the bust and hips and eliminated the waist. Delineator, May 1924, p. 27.

[This is another post in a series offering links to posts some followers may have missed, while I take time to visit the library and collect more photos.]

Some of the most exciting discoveries I made when I started reading old magazines from the 1920’s had to do with underwear. In addition to fashion advice about what to wear to achieve that “boyish” figure, I found dozens of advertisements — a veritable window into the past. In one article I read,

“To be smart this season one must be more than slim. The figure must defy nature and be as flat as the proverbial flounder, as straight as a lead pencil, and boneless and spineless as a string-bean. One must be straight like a boy and narrow like a lady in a Japanese print.” – Delineator magazine, February 1924.

I happened to read a 1925 article by Evelyn Dodge about the new, boneless corselets: “Not all women need corsets. Women with young, slender figures find that the corselet, which is a combination brassière and hip-confiner, is sufficient. It is unboned and is therefore as soft and flexible as the natural figure.”  I was delighted to find this one illustrated in an ad:

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/1925-may-treo-corset-corselet-p-82-ad-girdle.jpg

Treo “Brassiere Girdle — a combination garment” ad from Delineator, May 1925. The Treo brand was sold through Sears catalogs, as well as in stores.

You can read more about it in “Underpinning the Twenties: Corsets and Corselets.”  Click here.

These corselets reshape a woman to look like a tube (or maybe a sausage?) https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/1925-corselette-pattern-1925-bien-jolie-corsette.jpg

Another thing that struck me while reading so many 1920’s ads was that the boyish silhouette meant that women aspired to be flat in back and flat in front. This was actually a feature of the “tubular Twenties,” not the late nineteen twenties.

Women shaped like test tubes, probably thanks to their corselets. A blouse (left) and a tunic blouse, right, from the “tubular twenties.” Delineator, 1924. I used to wonder how a thin young woman (right) could possibly have a bust that low! [It was mashed by her undergarment.]

If you didn’t want to wear a corselet, you could opt for a separate girdle, worn with or without a bandeau to flatten your breasts. Corsets and girdles of the 1920s were designed to flatten your posterior: “Underpinning  Twenties Fashions: Girdles and Corsets.” Click here to read.

If you are curious about “bust flatteners” or “bound breasts” in the nineteen twenties,  click here for “Underpinning the Twenties: Brassieres, Bandeaux, and Bust Flatteners.”  It has lots of illustrations.

If  you are curious about what 20th century women wore before the modern brassiere, these two posts give  a quick review of brassieres, and their transition from the 1910’s to the 1920’s.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/sears-1917-spring-catalog-brassieres-with-boning500.jpg

The fact that women have two, separate breasts was hidden by these “monobosom” brassieres. WW I Era. Older women probably continued to wear these in the 1920s.

To read Part 1, “Uplift Changes Brassieres: 1917 to 1929, Part 1” click here.

For Part 2, “Uplift Changes Brassieres: Late 1920s Brassieres,” click here.

The monobosom of the early 1900s slowly gave way to the more natural look — with support — of the 1930s:

From a Maiden Form brassiere ad, Womans’ Home Companion, 1936. “For that all-important line of separation.”

The Book, “Uplift: The Bra in America,” by Jane Farrell-Beck and Colleen Gau covers other decades in addition to the Twenties.  Learn more about this fascinating book here.

Of course, not all women were “bound” to be boyish. Click here to read “Not All Flappers Wanted to Be Flat in the 1920s.”

Between the dress and the flattening girdle, corset, bandeau, or corselet, — or between one’s skin and the dress — were sometimes very delectable silk or rayon undergarments.

Trousseau lingerie from Paris, the house of Doeuillet- Doucet. Illustrated for Delineator, June 1929.

There were also some very awkward looking combination garments. See: Envelope Chemises, Step-ins and Other Lingerie. That post elicited wonderful comments about vocabulary and links for further research.

My mother models her one piece camiknickers and her rolled stockings. About 1918.

Butterick “cami-knickers” 5124 with “envelope chemise” 5059. Delineator, April 1924.

Women also wore some not very sexy drawers or knickers….

Right, knickers for 1924. You can often get a glimpse of these in silent movies — especially in comedies, when a woman does a pratfall or climbs into a vehicle. These knickers have elastic at the waist and above the knees — for undergarments, the words “knickers,””bloomers,” and “drawers” were sometimes used interchangeably.

See “Theda Bara’s Bloomers” for a distinctly un-sexy pair — on Cleopatra!

 

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Bras, Combinations step-ins chemises teddies, Corselettes, Corsets, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Foundation Garments, Girdles, lingerie, lingerie and underwear, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Panties knickers bloomers drawers step-ins, Underthings, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Underwear and lingerie, vintage photographs

“Uplift” Changes Brassieres (Part 2): Late 1920’s Brassieres

This is the second installment of “Uplift” Changes Brassieres: 1917 to 1929.

Woman wearing an early "uplift" style bra, in a January 1929 ad for bathroom scales.

1929: Woman wearing an “uplift” style bra, in a January 1929 ad for bathroom scales.

Ad for Health-o-meter scale, Delineator, Jan. 1929. Having a small home scale was a change from the old "doctor's office" models.

Ad for Health-o-meter scale, Delineator, Jan. 1929. Having a small home scale was a change from the old “doctor’s office” models. Click to enlarge.

The Uplift Idea in Late 1920’s Brassieres

To repeat a concept I got from Uplift: The Bra in America, by Jane Farrell-Beck and Colleen Gau:

For hundreds of years, women’s breasts were supported by corsets, which pushed them up from below. The innovation of the twentieth century was “uplift” — shoulder straps which supported the weight of the breasts from the shoulder instead of pushing them up from beneath.

When the brassiere as we know it began to appear, the idea of “uplift” and the idea of separation — two distinct breasts instead of one big one (click here or here)– were sometimes confused, with “uplift” referring to separation, rather than support. The word “uplift” is applied to all five of these late twenties’ bras; the “A.P. Uplift” promises to prevent the bust from sagging; two of the others show separation, and the bandeau on the lower right is a variation on the bust flattener. (This suggests that the word “uplift” was used to mean “brassiere” whether it was an uplift bra or not.)

The AP Uplift brassiere, left, was an early Uplift design. The bandeau at lower right, although described as "uplift" is really a bust flattener. From Stella Blum's Fashions of the Twenties, p. 130. Circa 1928 -1929.

The A.P. Uplift Bandeau, left, was an early Uplift design. The bandeau at lower right, although described as “uplift,” is really a bust flattener. From Stella Blum’s Fashions of the Twenties, p. 130. Circa 1928 -1929.

None of these bras indicates a concept of “cup” sizes; they use just one overall chest measurement.  The patented A.P. Uplift, one of the first true uplift bras,  “gives a natural youthful line, firm support and prevents the bust from sagging ….It has elastic at the bottom to hold it in place. An ideal uplift for comfort and support.” By 1926, patents were applied for by at least three “uplift” companies: Model, A.P. (G.M. Poix & Co.) and Maiden Form. By 1928, the old Boyshform bust flattener company was bankrupt.

Trade advertisement for an early Maiden Form brassiere, described elsewhere in the ad as "The Original Uplift Brassiere. It is the "double support pocket brassiere." From Uplift, p. 43.

Trade advertisement for an early Maiden Form brassiere, described elsewhere in the ad as “The Original Uplift Brassiere. It is the “double support pocket brassiere.” From Uplift, p. 43.

As late as 1931, this dress was described as having an”uplift” line, meaning that it has visible breast separation:

An evening gown described as "uplift;" Butterick 4175, inDelineator, Nov. 1931.

“Uplift” in this evening gown means “separation.”  Butterick 4175, in Delineator, Nov. 1931.

Who Wore the New Uplift Brassieres?

Interestingly, research by the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in 1924 and 1925 discovered that younger patrons, dubbed “flappers” by buyers and the JWT staff, “were looking for uplift styles of brassiere, in contrast to older women who wanted the flattening styles.” (Uplift, p. 40) This might be because young women were embracing the more form-fitting styles of the later twenties, while their mothers clung to tubular fashions and the relative support of a flattening corselette; or because to the young, “uplift” meant separation and a natural look, not support. “Small sizes sell best — even the little girls wear brassieres now,” one shop told the JWT researchers. JWT also discovered that out of a sample of thirty-nine adolescent girls, twenty-six wore brassieres and another seven wore corselettes in the mid 1920’s. (Uplift , p. 40)

Engineering a really uplifting brassiere was complicated, not only because the size and shape of the “pockets”  — as they were called in early Maiden Form bra advertisements — had to be worked out, but because supporting the breasts from the shoulders requires a snugly fitting band around the rib cage to prevent the bra from riding up, and, before the invention of Lastex in 1931, the available elastic allowed some stretch, but was not a lightweight, shaped, completely elastic fabric band.

Carter's made rayon knit underwear, and ran many ads in which couturiers chose examples of Carter's underthings for wear under Paris gowns. This ad dates to May, 1929.

The Carter company made rayon knit underwear, and ran many ads in which couturiers chose examples of Carter’s underthings for wear under Paris gowns. This ad dates to May, 1929. It shows a “clever elastic insert in back” of the bandeau, worn with some tremendously un-sexy bloomers.

The problem of keeping the band snug enough to prevent the bra from riding up was solved in England by the “Kestos” invented by Mrs. Rosalind Klin around 1927. The elasticized shoulder straps crossed in back, wrapped around the body, and fastened in front, lifting the breasts up and holding the band down.

Kestos brassiere drawn by Elizabeth Ewing in her book Fashion in Underwear.

Kestos brassiere drawn by Elizabeth Ewing in her book Fashion in Underwear.

Elasticized shoulder straps reached all the way around from the back and buttoned to the front of the Kestos under the pockets, which were shaped by darts and seams. In England, “You didn’t buy a brassiere, you bought a Kestos.” — Elizabeth Ewing, in Fashion in Underwear, p. 95.

Caresse Crosby (real name, Mary Phelps Jacob) claimed to have invented the modern brassiere in 1913; in 1914 she patented a bandeau with a gathering string down the middle, which separated the breasts.

Caresse Crosby's 1914 brassiere drawn by Elizabeth Ewing in Fashions in Underwear

Caresse Crosby’s 1914 brassiere as drawn by Elizabeth Ewing in Fashion in Underwear

Click here for a view of her 1914 patent application illustration.

It’s clear that Crosby’s invention may have prevented nipples from showing through sheer clothing, but it was not really designed to lift sagging breasts.

This 1929 ad for Carters rayon underwear shows a bra with gathering at center front. Delineator, March 1929.

This 1929 ad for Carter’s rayon knit underwear shows a bra with side darts and  adjustable gathering at center front. Delineator, March 1929. Such gathering was an attempt to adjust for differences in breast size and shape, dating back to the Crosby bra of 1914.

The Innovative Youthform

This ad for a Youthform brassiere (although the word brassiere is not used) is the most fascinating I’ve found, and I have not found much further information about this bra  — just what the ad contains. [If it was mentioned in Uplift, it’s not in the index, nor is Youth Form.] I had to break the ad into three parts for legibility:

Top image from an Ad for the Youthform brassiere, Delineator, March, 1929, p. 112.

Top image from an ad for the Youthform brassiere, Delineator, March, 1929, p. 112. That seems to be a drawstring at center front. Notice the wide elastic band.

Text of the Youthform bra ad, March 1929.

Text of the Youthform bra ad, March 1929. “Today’s styles clearly define the bust…. Youthform’s secret is in the elastic band which goes around the body…. Not sold in stores because they are made to your individual measure.”

That part about “made to your individual measure” is explained better on the ordering form:

Order form for Youthform bra, 1929. Unlike most bras for sale, it asks for an underbust and full bust measurements.

Order form for Youthform bra, 1929. Unlike most bras for sale then, it asks for two important measurements; “size around body just under bust” and “size around body across center of bust.”

Bra Fit:  It Takes Two (Measurements)

These two measurements — “size around body just under bust” and “size around body across center of bust” — are still the key to finding a bra that fits. Understanding the difference between chest measurement and breast size was still in the future for other companies. (The Youthform company, founded by “one Dr. Alford” in 1923 — or 1925 — was still in business in 1957, as this lawsuit  over the use of the name “Youth Form” shows. In 1928, Youthform mail-0rder sales totaled $16,000, but sales did not return to that level after the Crash of 1929.)

About bra cups:  If a woman wears what is now called an “A cup” or a “B cup,” the problem of support — keeping her breasts from bouncing painfully when she runs, for example — may not be her main reason for wearing a brassiere. But those of us who have what the mammogram technician refers to as “a lot of tissue” expect support and stabilization from our bras.

How Do You Find a Bra That Fits? You Need Two Measurements

In costume fittings, I have seen too many actresses wearing the wrong size bra because they think that a 36 inch measurement over the largest point of the bust means they should buy a size 36 bra. In reality, the difference in the measurement of the band around your ribcage and the measurement over the fullest part of the bust — plus a chart — gives you two sizes: the size of the band (a number) and the size of your bra cup (a letter.) If you’ve never measured yourself this way, click here for a good size calculator that will guide you through it. Clue:  If the band of your bra keeps riding up in back, you are wearing the wrong size. You probably need a smaller number and a higher letter. (Either that, or your bra is old and the elastic is failing…. Or your body has changed: weight loss, weight gain, pregnancy?)

As it happens, the concept of cup size was slow to develop and become an industry standard. In 1929, “cups were not yet sized, and straps could not be easily adjusted in length.” (Uplift, p. 56.)

An uplift bra from the Sears catalog, Fall 1929, looks very much like a modern brassiere.

An uplift bandeau from the Sears catalog, Fall 1929, looks very much like a modern brassiere, but it was sold by only one measurement.

One bright idea from the late twenties was the use of molded knit rayon in bras. Just as “fully fashioned” stockings could be knit into a shape resembling a human leg, rayon knit bra “pockets” could be shaped in the knitting process without needing darts or seams.

Also from 1929, this Delineator article about the latest undergarments shows a foundation that looks surprisingly modern — although today it would be made from elasticized fabric:

1929: The garment in the center is unboned, flexible, and suited to the clinging bias cut dresses coming into fashion. Delineator, March, 1929, p. 50.

1929: The garment in the center, with “uplift brassiere,” is unboned, flexible, and suited to the clinging, bias cut dresses coming into fashion. Delineator, March, 1929, p. 50. Notice how narrow the elastic panels had to be.

“In the semi-circle of figures above, the top model [right] of lace, elastic and silk shows the new deep U decollete worn with evening frocks. Next, a silk faille boneless garment which can be crumpled up in the hand like a glove, used under molded-line afternoon frocks. The uplift brassiere is an important note in this garment.  Third [left], an elastic step-in [girdle] and slight brassiere for sportswear.” Delineator, March 1929.

Of course, fashions rarely change overnight. If you didn’t need a really supportive brassiere, this rayon knit set from Munsingwear — dated 1931 — still looks pretty attractive:

Rayon knit "uplift bandeau" and matching "sketchies" from a Munsingwear ad, 1931.

Munsingwear rayon knit “twin-style uplift bandeau” and matching “Sketchie” set in “two-tone colors of the birds” from a Munsingwear ad, 1931.

Coming (eventually): Ads for Uplifting Brassieres from the 1930’s

 

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“Uplift” Changes Brassieres: 1917 to 1929 (Part 1)

Ad for Maidenform's "Over-ture" brassiere "for firmer uplift." Womans' Home Companion, Feb. 1936.

Ad for Maidenform’s “Over-ture” brassiere “for firmer uplift.” Woman’s Home Companion, Feb. 1936.

I’ve often mentioned the book Uplift: The Bra in America, by Jane Farrell-Beck and Colleen Gau. It’s scholarly but also very readable, and packed with related information on women’s lives. It feeds my interest in old advertisements, too — I’ll be sharing a small selection of underwear ads and patterns from the 1920’s and 1930’s in several posts.

Note: This post is not an authoritative history of the brassiere; for that, please consult both Uplift and Fashion in Underwear by Elizabeth Ewing. The topic is so complicated that the Wikipedia entry warns of contradictions.

I’m indebted to the authors of Uplift for this concept:

For hundreds of years, women’s breasts were supported by corsets, which pushed them up from below. The innovation of the twentieth century was “uplift” — shoulder straps which supported the weight of the breasts from the shoulder instead of pushing them up from beneath.

First, a brief visual tour of early 20th century brassieres:

Two ads for "model" brassieres, Woman's Home Companion, 1917.

Two ads for “Model” brassieres, Woman’s Home Companion, 1917.

At the beginning of the 20th century, fashion was still in the “monobosom” or “unibosom” era.

Brassieres with rust-proof boning from the Sears Spring catalog, 1917.

Brassieres with rust-proof boning from the Sears Spring catalog, 1917.

Corset boning probably ran up the center of these brassieres and also over the breasts to create a smooth bulge without any breast separation. “By 1917 brassieres [like those above] had moved from a minority fashion to the mainstream of womenswear.” Uplift, p. 33.

The tubular, boyish ideal of the early 1920’s led to a brief fashion for flattening the breasts. See Underpinning the 1920s: Brassieres, Bandeaux, and Bust Flatteners. There was even a brassiere company called “Boyshform,” (boyish form) and another called “Flatter-U.”

New corsets and brassieres, Delineator, February 1924, p. 23.

New corsets and brassieres, Delineator, February 1924, p. 23. On the right, a very long flattening brassiere.

When young women stopped wearing restrictive underwear in the 1920’s and allowed two separate breasts to be discerned, those with youthful figures might wear an unstructured brassiere primarily to prevent their nipples from showing through the lightweight dress fabrics that were popular.

September, 1924: a brassiere and step-in pattern, Butterick No. 7080.

1924: a brassiere and step-in pattern, Butterick No. 7080. Delineator, September issue.

Butterick pattern 6472 for a bandeau bra and step-in panties. Delineator, Dec 1925, p. 37.

1925:  Butterick pattern 6472 for a bandeau bra and step-in panties. Delineator, Dec 1925, p. 37.

Butterick pattern 1534 for a bra and matching step-in panties. July 1927, Delineator, 1927.

1927: (right) Butterick pattern 1534 for a bra and matching step-in panties. July 1927, Delineator, 1927.

Butterick pattern 6961 for a bandeau brassiere and frilled bloomers; Delineator, 1926

1926: Butterick pattern 6961 for a bandeau brassiere and frilled bloomers; Delineator, July 1926, p. 38.

For me, there are two interesting things about this pattern. 1) This 1926 brassiere is definitely divided into two separate pockets (The phrase “bra cup” had not yet been invented.) It is not meant to flatten the bust. 2) It appeared on the same page as this pattern — No. 6964 — for two bust-flattening brassieres:

July 1926 brassiere patterns from Butterick. At top, two bust flatteners, pattern . At bottom right a pattern for a brassiere that divides the breasts. Delineator, July 1926, p. 38.

1926 brassiere patterns from Butterick. At top, two bust flatteners, pattern 6964. At bottom right, pattern 6961 for a brassiere that separates and does not flatten the breasts. Delineator, July 1926, p. 38.

Obviously, 1926 was a year of transition. Next, Part 2: The Uplift Idea in 1920’s Brassieres.

 

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