Courtesy of Hanky Panky lingerie available at La Petite Coquette in New York City.

Corsets changed shape over the centuries as the clothing style changed and as the desired female body shape changed. Up until the early 19th century, for the most part, corsets were cylindrical and went to the waist. Then in the 19th century corsets went down to the hips, creating an exaggeratedly curvaceous look.  Gradually an elongated slim silhouette became desirable and the corset went all the way to the upper thighs. As you can see in the photo to the left this corset style stopped under the bust and then required a brassiere. In order to deal with wearing such a corset, women would have to take small dainty steps. No running in marathons, horseback riding, or gardening in these clothes. These corsets are meant for women who stay placid and demure (but witty laughter is allowed). As fabric technology and elastic and plastic developed, corsets became outmoded, replaced with bras and girdles.

Fed up with the boning poking into her, British socialite Mary Phelps Jacob invented — i.e., received a patent in 1913 — for the first brassiere, which she fashioned out of two handkerchiefs and pink ribbons. It was a hit and requests came pouring in for more brassieres.

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