Ancient Brassieres of India

I was looking for a topic both exotic and stimulating for a new node that would attract attention. I think that this might be it. Some research was required to determine dates. There's not much material, but here it is.

The great majority of female figures in ancient Indian sculpture have bare breasts, but there is evidence to indicate that in some instances the women wore brassieres. The first historical reference to brassieres in India is found during the reign of king Harshavardhana (1st century) in Kashmir. The half-sleeved tight bodice or kanchuka figures prominently in the literature of the period. From Basavapurana (1237 A.D.), we learn that kanchukas were worn by young girls as well. One text mentions an aged harlot who used a special blouse to hold up her drooping breasts. Tailored brassieres were popular during the Vijayanagar period, 14th century. The Leelavati Prabhanda mentions a kind of brassier prevalent in 10th century. In a medieval sculpture from Karnataka (south-western India), a brassiere is sculpted around a deity that appears to have been made up of thick cotton. Regularly sewn brassieres of cup-like shape are also found. some others appear to be propped up by ornaments.


Journey to the Modern Brassiere

The history of the modern 'bra' we know of today is a debated subject that goes farther back than most of us can comfortably comprehend. However, the generally accepted story goes something like this:

The first modern bra (i.e. not a corset) allegedly begins in 1893 with a certain Marie Tucek. It was called the 'breast supporter' and had a striking resemblance to modern bras, having separate 'containers' for each breast, shoulder straps and the like. However, she never persued the commercial possibilities of the brassiere and so she never saw the huge financial potential of women's underthings.

The first person to see financial gain from the bra was Mary Phelps Jacob (a.k.a Caresse Crosby) of New York and her French maid Marie. It was born as a child of necessity. Mary had purchased an elegant, sheer dress for a social function, but was abhorred that when she wore it, the rigid outline of her whalebone corset was plainly visible under the gown. Mary and Marie then fashioned the next big thing in womans clothing: using two handkerchiefs and a length of ribbons and string they created a support garment that was invisible to the outside world.

The bra, not Mary, was the belle of the ball.

Mary immediately started getting orders from people who wanted one of the miraculous things for themselves. She patented the design and did brisk sales until she realized that she was not going to 'get rich' from the idea, she sold the design to the Warner Brothers Corset Company (no relation) for a paltry $1,500.

The next big thing was in the 1920's when Ida Rosenthal formed the company Maidenform. She was the one who categorized bust sizes into the now familiar 'cup' sizes and standardized the way bust measurements are taken.

This writeup would probably be a distant cousin of "What do girls think about guys when they catch guys staring at their breasts, but the guy is actually trying to read her shirt?". However, the phenomenon I am hoping to deal with here is a far more insidious one than an attention grabbing slogan plastered over an ample bosom. I of course refer to the quite ludicrous practise of wearing a colourful brassiere beneath a white shirt.

I do not to object to this either on grounds of fashion or good taste. After all, I know that the majority of women will be wearing a bra. I will not recoil in shock when your neon green underwear comes beaming out from beneath your thin silk blouse. Old ladies will not faint when confronted with the fact that young people these days are wearing foundation garments. My complaint is against the faux-naivety that many women employ when engaging in this most peculiar of clothing clashes. Perhaps an anecdote would better illustrate my point.


My friend and I are talking. Beneath her tight white shirt is a bra that could be modestly described as luminous. In the event of a lighthouse crisis, she could be employed as a signal to passing cargo ships.

“My, that is an awfully nice bra you have on. Pink suits you!”
“Maybe if you stopped examining my tits, you wouldn’t know these things.”
“My dear, a blind person, living on the Indian subcontinent, underwater, could see that you have a pink bra on”.
“What? Have you been looking down my shirt? That is fucking sick!”


Now I don’t mean to suggest for one moment that men should use brightly coloured underwear as an excuse to ogle or indeed mentally undress their colleagues, friends or relatives. I merely wish to point out to the women of the world that it is not your breasts, but rather the four square feet of crimson-toned lycra that cling to them, which have so captured my attention.

Bras`sière" (?), n. [F.]

A form of woman's underwaist stiffened with whalebones, or the like, and worn to support the breasts.


© Webster 1913.

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