How World War I Got Women Into Bras

In the beginning, women wore corsets — tight, structured undergarments extending from below the chest to the hips. The constricting corset would reign supreme until the 20th century, when women began to breathe easier thanks to the “brassiere.” World War I changed the role of women around the world, with many working in ammunition plants and other war industry jobs. These new roles required new, more freeing garments — and undergarments. In fact, the War Industries Board initiated a corset ban, forcing women to begin wearing bras. The first bra was a one-size-fits-all, fashioned from stretchable material. As fashions evolved, so did the humble bra. In the 1930s, the bra industry took off, thanks to the adjustable elastic strap, padded cups and other innovations. Today, nearly 95% of women in Western countries wear bras, which translates to a billion-dollar industry dominated by Victoria’s Secret and Hanes.