Revolutionary Objects: The Woman Behind The World’s First Bra

Corset style bra used to be the stuff of nightmares – corsets you couldn’t breathe in,pretty panties waived in place of stomach controlling knickers and of course the obligatory(and tacky) frilly garter.

Thankfully, bridal fashion has moved on since then and while some women might opt for fleshcoloured spanx as their wedding underwear, there are so many other pretty, delicate,structurally interesting items of bridal corset style bra  to choose from.

So, whether you’re looking for something strapless, backless, boned, non-underwired orotherwise, there’s no reason to assume you can’t curate a wedding underwear look that’sjust as pretty as the wedding dress.

There isn’t really any evidence that feminists in the 1960s actually burned bras, but thelegend has persisted. The modern bra, though, wasn’t created to restrain women—it was aninvention that offered both support and liberation, created by a busty party girl, forbusty party girls. One night in the early 1910s, young socialite Mary Phelps Jacobs (whowent by the name Caresse Crosby for most of her life) was headed to an event when—her corset lacking in danceability and cramping her flapper style—she MacGyvered a sort ofhalter top out of ribbons and handkerchiefs. Jacobs helped her friends out too, and when she figured out she could make a real go of it, she applied for a patent and opened up a  small sweatshop (this was garment manufacturing after all) as an independent proprietress,rather than through her husband.

That is the brief explanation Miuccia Prada gave for her fall collection and the plentifulcorsets she sent down the runway. Most, resemblingorthopedic supports, were laced over andunder almost everything in the show, from pea coats to brocade evening dresses. The corsetwas a summary of her intentions. After all, what single garment encapsulates the history ofwomen’s dress — of restriction and emancipation — more succinctly than the corset?

Since the heyday of the hand-span waists in the mid-19th century, the corset hasrepresented a visual shorthand for “woman.” Indeed, it cannot be divorced from theidealization of women’s bodies, and the politics surrounding them. There is no question ofthe sexuality of the corset, emphasizing the breasts and hips, and hence underscoring the   stereotypically fecund female physique. For many, the reduction of the waist persistently  reflects a reductive view of femininity, limited to a va-va-voom outline.

However, is a woman who wears a corset today, whether following the trends of fashion or the further down-market effects of the Kardashians’ “waist trainers,” restricted, or freed? Conforming to a masculine ideal of femininity, or experimenting with her own perception of self and sexuality? It’s interesting that the corset, with all its historical baggage, is re-emerging now when women’s roles are more malleable, changeable and challenged than ever. Can a corset be feminist?

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