Bras have been associated with freedom and constriction, with functionality and artifice. The advent of the push-up bra helped to change what women have come to expect of their undergarments. Not only did they serve a practical purpose of support, their cosmetic benefits have made them much beloved by women–and men–alike.



Purpose

The purpose of a push-up bra is to literally “push up” the breasts to enhance the cleavage. These bras employ extra padding, usually made of foam, water or silicone, to add more shape as well as to increase the breasts’ size. They are often worn under garments with a low or plunging neckline.

Precursors

The push-up bra has its origins in the corsetry of the 15th and 16th centuries. It was during this time that prominent breasts came into style. As such, the corsetry of this era tended to push up the upper part of the breasts, poking alluringly from the top of a lady’s bodice and giving the illusion of roundness and fullness. Not long after, women would stuff their bodices to enlarge the bustline, the first “falsies.”

Invention of the Bra

Although there have been many bra-like creations in the past, the first patent was submitted in 1914 by Mary Phelps Jacobs. Not wanting to wear a corset under her gown for a society event, she, together with her maid, fashioned what would later become known as the brassiere out of two handkerchiefs and some ribbon. She was soon bombarded with requests from women for brassieres of their own. Not being one for business, she sold the patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Company, which would later make millions off of the idea. Bras began to be widely produced and replaced corsets for their simplicity, comfort and functionality.

First Push-Up Bra

A more shapely figure was beginning to come into fashion as a reaction to the flat, boyish look of the 1920s. By the 1930s, bras were designed to actually support, rather than flatten, the breasts. In addition, the cup-sizing system was developed, allowing a more comfortable bra, not to mention its accentuating aspects. The conical bra became popular, providing shape underneath a sweater. It was during this time that underwiring and padding began to be offered as options.
Yet it wouldn’t be until the 1960s when the push-up bra was formally introduced. Invented by Louise Poirier, a Canadian, in 1964, the Wonderbra was designed to replace a girdle in outfits that required a higher bust. During an era in which bras were more often burned than worn, the Wonderbra became extremely popular. Not only was it functional, but it was also sexy. It was promoted not only as a fabulous push-up but also as a confidence booster. Women could not only take pride in themselves but in their undergarments as well.

Here to Stay

The Wonderbra was recently named the fifth greatest Canadian invention of all time and has inspired many imitations. Victoria’s Secret, Agent Provocateur and most other lingerie companies all sell their own versions of the push-up bra, making it a staple in many women’s wardrobe.