This is the second installment of “Uplift” Changes Brassieres: 1917 to 1929.
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.)
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.
As late as 1931, this dress was described as having an”uplift” line, meaning that it has visible breast separation:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
That part about “made to your individual measure” is explained better on the ordering form:
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.)
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:
“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:
Coming (eventually): Ads for Uplifting Brassieres from the 1930’s