THE COUNTESS OF WEST ESSEX
Part 1 – The Early Years
The first mention of a bosom restraint is in fact mentioned by the Roman, Claudio Mexicas, in his scroll entitled Busticus Lusticus in which he writes (translated from the Latin):
But now there is a covering there.
Modern day students, however, are quick to point out that this could also in fact refer to a hat or footwear (although Claudio does go on to describe its removal by teeth). The ancient Britons were known to smear their bodies with a bluish dye called woad and the females would then often encase their nipples within a walnut shell. This proved impractical for some and they would result to using larger objects, unfortunately neither the grapefruit or melon were available during that period.
"...larger framed women often found the capacity of a coconut shell to be insufficient giving rise to the phrase ‘My cup runneth over’"
For the first glimpse of the bra as we know it, we must nip across to the West Indies where the women were already experimenting with coconut shells.
They tried many ways of keeping these in place including placing a small crab within the shell which would then grip onto the breast or nipple with a claw. This proved to be an unpopular method, and it wasn't long before a vine or strand of creeper was attached and the shells hung from around the wearer's neck. A further strand was then added to secure around the back to dampen the bounce effect. (Incidentally larger framed women often found the capacity of a coconut shell to be insufficient giving rise to the phrase ‘My cup runneth over’).
The brassiere had now taken on the form that we know today, and it only needed the attention of visiting sailors to carry the idea back to their native abodes.
Please tune in again tomorrow for The History of the Brassiere Part 2: We Have Lift Off in which we will follow the bra's progress across Europe and the introduction of wires, stiffeners, and peep holes.
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