The Women Who Made Lingerie Fashionable

The Women Who Made Lingerie Fashionable

The development of sexy lingerie, underwear that makes the wearer feel comfortable in their own skin took over a century and the world of countless innovative designers to free women from the confines of the restrictive corset.

Arguably the first-ever depiction of lingerie is seen in the Roman mosaic Coronation of the Winner, which depicts female competitors wearing clothing that very closely resembles modern-day bikinis.

This, along with the discovery of a 600-year-old bra made of linen that looks strikingly close to a modern bra has changed what many people believed about the origin of modern lingerie and the pioneering designers that spearheaded its eventual adoption into society.

The word lingerie has only been used in English for just under 200 years and its invention was part of a cultural revolution, including the works of a leading late-Victorian fashion designer, a young New York socialite and a French insurrectionist.


Herminie Cadolle

The first person to create the prototypical bra was a French revolutionary who took part in the infamous Paris Commune, a movement that sought to overthrow the French Government and form an independent government based on feminist and socialist principles.

It lasted two months before the French National Guard brutally slaughtered the Communards, leading Louise Michel and Herminie Cadolle to flee the country and seek refuge in Buenos Aires.

Eventually, she would return to Paris in 1889 and would develop a hybrid corset that separated it into two pieces. The first was a girdle that eventually declined in popularity as the corset did, but the second part was a breast support that used shoulder straps and was sold as a separate garment.


Lady Duff-Gordon

Around the 16th Century, the main form of underwear for women took the form of the corset, a stiff bodice that shaped the body and pushed breasts upwards.

They were exceptionally uncomfortable to wear and potentially dangerous if tightened too much leading to the rise of movements against them specifically and the Victorian dress reform movement, a part of the first wave of feminism in the UK.

One early step towards this came in the form of Lady Duff-Gordon, a fashion designer for the Lucile fashion house and one of the first-ever celebrity fashion designers.

She worked to help make corsets less restrictive and also produce lingerie that freed women from the restrictions expected of Victorian dress, which whilst primarily to help her layered, sheer lace dresses fit the way she wanted, was a key part of the development of lingerie as a fashion item.


Mary Phelps Jacob

Mary Phelps Jacob, better known as Caresse Crosby, is the person who first patented the modern bra, a core component of the modern lingerie set.

For Ms Jacob, a 19-year old attending a débutante ball, her invention came out of sheer frustration with wearing a restrictive, stiff corset that kept revealing itself when she attempted to wear the plunging neckline of her sheer evening gown.

Finally having enough, she fashioned a simple bra out of two pocket handkerchiefs and some pink ribbon, which led to her getting mobbed by other girls at the ball who wanted to know her secret.

She filed a patent for the ‘backless brassiere’ and found it was versatile for not only modern fashions of the era, including those by Lady Duff-Gordon’s Lucile fashion house but also for a range of more practical uses.

Her patent coincided with the outbreak of the First World War and women doing jobs previously seen as only for men embraced the more practical likes of the brassiere.