Women's underwear today offers almost innumerable choices. Matching bra and brief sets are among the basics, combining style and function in an endlessly practical way. However, these now-classic styles of women's underwear are fairly modern inventions. Provided here is a guide to the history of the bra.

Ancient Cultures
In Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece, breasts were generally uncovered. Women's underwear was basically unknown. Both men and women wore simple tunic-style garments. However, it was usual to expose the breasts, particularly in Greece, where female breasts had almost mythic significance. Greek women did, however, cover the breasts with tight, supportive bands known as apodesme when competing in athletic activities.

In Ancient Rome, breasts were less emphasized, and both men and women wore loose tunics that covered the chests. Young women sometimes wore a version of the Greek apodesmos, called the strophium, to minimize their breasts. This could be considered an early example of women's underwear.

Contrary to modern mythology, medieval women did not wear bodices designed to enhance the breasts. In fact, it is believed that the Holy Roman Empire specifically forbade women to support their breasts or draw attention to them. Bodices were straight and designed to minimize rather than enhance curves. Women's underwear consisted primarily of simple shifts worn underneath a bodice and full skirt.

By the Renaissance era, fashions had changed. It was considered stylish and modern to show plenty of décolletage. Even breast feeding was frowned on by the upper classes, as it was believed to ruin a woman's figure. It was during this era that early corsetry began to develop.

The Age of Corsetry
Once corsets were introduced, they proved to have great staying power. Shapes and styles changed over the years, but the corset remained the women's underwear choice until the late nineteenth century. Of course, there were generally more practical alternatives for women who worked, either inside or outside the home. Even these garments, however, generally resembled corsets but were less compressive.

Clothing Reform Movement
In the late 1800s, two movements began that would ultimately lead to the development of the modern bra. Early feminists recognized that freedom from restrictive women's underwear was necessary before women could take on a larger role in society. Meanwhile, doctors began to recognize the health risks of tightlaced corsetry.

In the late 19th century, numerous patents were filed for breast-supporting corset alternatives. However, many of these designs were never manufactured. Only a handful of educated feminists and female athletes purchased the early bras.

World War I
World War I brought a lot of support for the emerging bra movement. Steel was commonly used for the stays in corsets, but was needed for the war effort. Meanwhile, women went to work in factories and industrial plants in great numbers. Societal attitudes began to change.

The 1920s to the 1960s
After the war, the bra became much more accepted. By the late 1920s, it had replaced the corset as the major staple of women's underwear. Shapes and styles changed with fluctuating fashions, but the garment remained largely the same.

Counter Culture
The women's liberation movement of the 1960s led record numbers of women to stop wearing bras altogether. Although bra-burning was likely much less common than urban legends would indicate, many women simply stopped wearing them.

Bra manufacturers fought back by capitalizing on the sexual liberation of the time to introduce increasingly daring alternative styles. It was during this time that women's underwear options dramatically grew.

The 1970s to Today
Today, women's underwear is manufactured in an almost dizzying array of styles and colours. Matching lingerie sets and other sexy lingerie pieces are everywhere. From demure and elegant bra and panties sets to see-through options in lace, your imagination is truly the limit.

Author's Bio: 

Amanda Cotterill has been involved in the sexy lingerie uk market for many years. This article outlines the history of sexy corsetry as if that needed much explaining! Please include this credit if you use this article.