As a team of women who balance work and families I have been thinking about our changing relationship with the workforce and how this has influenced the way we dress, in particular our underwear.
When we think back to the first origins of lingerie we think of the corset and the control it placed on women’s bodies. The corset as we know it today was introduced in the 16th century, forever changing the shape and expectations of womens’ bodies and remained the foundation of a woman's wardrobe until the 1800’s.
Early publicity slogans in the window of a corset maker advertised the effects of her latest model on the breasts ‘it controls the large, supports the small, uplifts the drooping”. Throughout the many fashion iterations corsets went through over the next three centuries this description remained valid. In fact the essence of this statement would still apply today for underwire bras.
The onset of WW1 in 1914 brought about a new way of life which was reflected in women’s underwear; the death of the corset in 1915 coincided with middle class women joining the workforce. Women worked in the fields and factories, drove vans and ambulances, became nurses and they adopted the efficiency of uniforms and military style dress. In Paris the ‘soldier style’ was adopted so quickly that the first men home on leave did not recognise Parisian women. The corset was reduced to a girdle that sat on the the waist (serving the function of what would later become a suspender belt) and the brassiere was adopted for the upper part of the body. By 1917 Parisian women stopped wearing petticoats and for each year of the war skirt hems got shorter.
The period of 1914-1918 was both a war and a fashion revolution
Early brassieres were slip over the head bandeau styles intended to flatten the bust, breasts were relatively free and girdles were worn to control the stomach and support the back. The 30s were about shape, definition and support and the brassieres or bra as they became known with separated cups for the breasts came into it’s own. In the century following this underwear revolution we have seen many iterations of the bra inline with fashion trends and new developments in materials that I won’t discuss in this post but essentially it hasn’t changed a lot.
By 1970, the girdle was replaced by knickers and pantyhose leaving the underwire bra as the last item of underwear restricting the body.
It is only in the past 2 years that there has been another significant shift in our relationship with the workforce; working from home, which has directly impacted lingerie trends with a 40% increase in softcup bra sales.
The pandemic has been a time of questioning old habits and expectations that no longer serve us. The societal benefits are now outweighed by our own personal choice, it has stopped making sense that we should be caged and restricted all day and that being in a public space necessitates an underwire bra.
Women were already starting to embrace a more natural silhouette with brands starting to represent different body shapes and sizes in their imagery. Soft cup bras without a wire were already gaining in popularity, there was already a shift from the mindset that breasts must be perky and round and nipples are to be hidden. A change in the way we work has definitely accelerated this movement, working from home has led to a rise in comfort dressing, the underwire bra being one of the first items to be discarded.
I don’t think our bodies have changed but our relationship with comfort and what levels of discomfort we are willing to put our bodies through have. We are asking ourselves “am I wearing an underwire bra to make myself feel more comfortable or for the comfort of those around me?”.
The adoption of soft cup bras that offer both comfort and support and allow our breasts to sit naturally has been significant and I don’t think we will go back.
Shop our range of soft cup bra styles here