The Rise of Bras: Societal and Cultural Factors in the 1920s

The 1920s: A Time of Change

During the 1920s, significant societal and cultural shifts were taking place, particularly in the realm of women's fashion. This era, often referred to as the Roaring Twenties, saw a departure from the restrictive and conservative clothing of previous decades, as women began to embrace more liberated and modern styles.

The Popularity of Bras

One of the most notable changes during this time was the increasing popularity of bras, which began to outstrip that of dresses. Several factors contributed to this shift:

  • Emphasis on Women's Curves: The 1920s marked a shift in the ideal female body shape, with a greater emphasis on accentuating women's curves. This change in beauty standards led to a growing demand for undergarments that could enhance and support the natural shape of a woman's body.
  • Rise of Maidenform: The development of Maidenform, a business exclusively selling bras, played a significant role in popularizing this undergarment. Ida Rosenthal and her partners recognized the need for intimate apparel that could accentuate women's curves, leading to the establishment of Maidenform and the subsequent rise of bras in the market.
  • Standardized Sizing System: William Rosenthal's invention of a standardized cup-sizing system was a game-changer. This innovation made it possible to accommodate women of all ages and shapes, providing a more personalized and comfortable fit.

Societal and Cultural Shifts

Aside from the specific developments in the lingerie industry, broader societal and cultural changes also played a role in the rising popularity of bras:

  • Women's Liberation: The 1920s marked a period of increased independence and liberation for women. With the suffragette movement and the increasing presence of women in the workforce, women were seeking clothing that allowed for greater freedom of movement and expression.
  • Changing Fashion Trends: The shift towards more androgynous and streamlined fashion trends also contributed to the preference for bras over corsets. The flapper style, characterized by its straight silhouette and dropped waistline, called for undergarments that were less constricting and more suited to the new fashion aesthetic.
  • Ida Rosenthal's Vision: Despite the bra-burning era of the 1960s, Ida Rosenthal's belief in the necessity of bras for women over 35 also played a role in sustaining the popularity of bras. Her commitment to providing support and comfort for women of all ages helped solidify the bra as a staple in women's wardrobes.


The 1920s marked a pivotal moment in the history of women's fashion, with the rising popularity of bras reflecting broader societal and cultural shifts. The emphasis on women's curves, the innovative developments in lingerie, and the changing attitudes towards women's clothing all contributed to the dominance of bras over dresses during this era.

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