Shape was provided by binding the body to compress it at the center and move flesh from the waist to the breasts and hips. From the 16th to the 19th century this was accomplished by the corset, a device that would squeeze a woman’s waist to as little as 16 or 17 inches (40 - 43 cm).
There is much controversy about who first invented the brassiere. Henry Lesher is credited by some with patenting the first brassiere, in 1859. While his design looks more or less like a bra, (though the figure of the person wearing it hardly looks like a woman), he designed it primarily as a “breast pad and perspiration shield”. While it was also designed to “give a symmetrical rotundity” it was not intended for breast support. (click to see Henry Lesher's patent ) Many attribute the invention of the modern brassiere to Mary Phelps Jacob mostly because her patent was the first to use the french word "brassiere". Her invention was backless and was held in place by straps which wrapped around the woman and tied in front. But, as she writes in her patent description, on February 12, 1914 her invention was meant to be worn with evening gowns that were cut low in the back and was intended to “cover the top of the corset and hold the wearer in proper form”. Again, she did not mention breast support. (click to see Mary P. Jacob's patent) Still others believe that the brassiere was invented by Herminie Cadolle in 1889. Interestingly the company she founded, Cadolle Paris, is still in existance today, but no mention of Herminie’s invention is made on the company website. When contacted for comment or information, the company did not respond. Marie Tucek patented a breast supporter in 1893. While the design appears very similar in design to the modern day brassiere, there are some design flaws. Marie Tucek's garment was never marketed and would probably not have been very successful if it had been. (click to see Marie Tucek's patent)
Olivia P. Flynt writes in her patent application on January 10 1876 (38 years before Jacob, 17 years before Tucek and 13 years before Cadolle), that her invention is “specially designed as a bust support and improver”…”preserving and producing a more comely outline and comfortable feeling than the corset”. She further writes “this garment is specially adapted to ladies having larger busts, and will be used instead and take the place of a corset, thereby enabling beauty of form to be used instead and taking the place of a corset”. “The garment sustains the bust from the shoulders….and holds or presses up the lower portion of the bust”. (click to see Oliva P Flynt's patent) The woman was describing not only the first brassiere, but also the modern day bra. It is obvious that Olivia Flynt in 1876 envisioned and invented the modern day brassiere! Olivia was the holder of no less than 6 clothing patents and was a successful manufacturer of women’s undergarments.
Until 1970s, women’s underpants (panties in America, knickers in England) served one main purpose: protection and cleanliness of the outerwear. Neither sexy nor attractive, they were originally designed to be functional. In the 1800’s they were called ‘drawers’. Some drawers were full body outfits; others just came to the waist. Usually the longer type had convenient flaps in the backs, as shown in the photo, so that the wearer did not have to get undressed when using the toilet.
The miracle of the pantyhose is that it combined for the first time, the panty and stockings into one garment. Until the late 1950’s the girdle got smaller and lighter, but stockings were a separate item, to be clipped to a garter belt or girdle as seen in this 1953 ad for Silf Skin panty girdles.