Saturday, January 14, 2012

History of the Maternity Bra

Mary Phelps Jacob was the first person to be granted a patent in the US for a garment which we would recognise today as a bra. This patent was awarded to Jacob in 1913. Two decades later in 1933, the S.H. Camp and Company developed a system whereby breast size could be fit into one of four sizes dependent on the size and degree to which the breast sagged. For convenience, the four sizes were labelled as A, B, C, and D. The 1933 issue of Corset and Underwear Review featured an advertisement by Camp which showed profiles of breasts labelled with these letters. Larger breasts and band sizes greater than 38 were not accommodated.

In 1937, the Warner company also began to feature cup sizing, using the four letter labelling scheme which Camp developed in advertisements for their products. Other companies also began to follow suit in the latter part of the 1930's. However, some companies, particularly the catalogue companies were slower to adopt the scheme, preferring to stick with the small, medium, and large sizes through the 1940's. Britain was also slow to catch on and didn't adopt what was becoming the American standard for cup sizing until the 1950's. Maidenform had been using seamless cups in their bras since 1933 but didn't adopt the use of A, B, C, and D, cup sizes until 1949.

In the 1930's though, other innovations were happening that would revolutionise not just the underwear industry, but the fashion industry in general. For example, the chemists at the Dunlop company successfully demonstrated a reliable way to turn rubber latex into elastic thread. This paved the way for man-made fibres to be incorporated into clothing and due to their easy-care nature they were very quickly adopted.

Bra manufacturers were quick to start using the new man-made materials since underwear, and bras in particular needed very frequent cleaning.

In 1943, Albert A. Glasser received a patent for something called a "nursing brassiere" although little innovation took place in this area of the market even after the baby boom which followed on from World War II. A nursing bra was little more than a conventional bra with an extra clip which released the cup from the strap, thus ceasing the requirement for the bra to be removed when nursing.

There are a number of different manufacturers and retailers selling maternity and nursing bras, some of which are the traditional, larger, underwear manufacturers and some are more specialist maternity wear retailers who make garments designed to accommodate a woman's breast that in some cases can fluctuate a whole cup size within an hour, in line with feeding times.

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