`Herstory' of bras

July 20, 2006|By MARY CAROLE MCCAULEY | MARY CAROLE MCCAULEY,SUN REPORTER

Here are famous moments from the "herstory" of bras, as culled from Stephanie Pedersen's book, Bra: A Thousand Years of Style, Support and Seduction:

Catherine de Medici may be best known for her finesse at concocting and administering poisons. Along that vein, she is credited - if that's the word - for popularizing the corset as de rigueur daily wear in the mid-16th century. As the young bride of Henry II of France, de Medici was proud of her slender figure, and she famously declared a ban on thick waists at court. The profile she preferred, and vigorously "encouraged" the other aristocratic ladies to adopt, was one with a 13-inch waist.

Mata Hari was known for her ornate, jeweled stage bra. She was reputed to always keep it on - even when she slept. When male admirers attempted to persuade her to remove it, she claimed that she was covering up scars caused by a savage animal attack when she was a child. Hari was executed by a French firing squad Oct. 15, 1917, on charges of being a spy. It remains unclear whether she did indeed pad her bra with microfilm, as some claimed.

Howard Hughes designed a cantilevered bra to show off the 38DD figure of Jane Russell, his star in The Outlaw (1943). The bra - which Russell claims never to have worn - became known as "The Bra That Saved Hollywood" because it brought moviegoers back to the cinema in droves when the film industry was in a war-related slump.

Madonna turned underwear into outerwear when she donned corsets and two bras by designer Jean Paul Gaultier and showed them off onstage during her Blonde Ambition tour. Perhaps the most outrageous piece in her collection was the "Bullet Bra" with the dauntingly conical cups. It was based on an antique breastplate worn by Italian soldiers.

[ Mary Carole McCauley]

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