.. , there was growing opposition to the corset. Doctors blamed the corset for constricting the ribs and compressing the organs of women. Economist Thorstien Veblen blamed the corset for the women’s dependence on their husbands, as it weaken them so that they were unfit to work (Yalom 171). In 1893, Marie Tucek patented the first modern brassiere. It was similar to the brassiere used today in that it had separate cups for each breast, shoulder straps and a hook in the back, but it was not until the 1920’s that the brassiere replaced the corset as the garment of choice (Silverman). During World War I, French women began to favor the more flat-chested look that would later become popular after the war.
The Germans, enemies of the French in the war, responded by promoting a bustier look. German bra makers advertised that the French brassieres which reduced breast size were unpatriotic and encouraged people to buy the German brassier that maximized the breasts (Broby-Johansen 197). Women’s roles in the work force increased over the course of the war. They won the right to vote in 1919 in America and there was a growing belief that women were able to do almost anything a man can do. The French flat look gained popularity in the states. Corsets were no longer used and in many cases, women also did not use the brassiere (Yalom 184).
With their increasingly more equal role, the breast as a sign of femininity was bided down in some cases, as women gave themselves a more boyish look to fit their less gender-based roles in society. The legs replaced the bust as the most attractive female feature in the twenties which in turn were replaced by the back in the thirties (186). After the chaos of World War II, people looked for familiarity and security. The breasts were a sign of security and once again became popular. The old traditional look of the hourglass figure was reintroduced (Lattiere 44). Large breasts also were a sign of prosperity in this time of advance.
Brassieres were designed to give a coned, machine-like, look to the breasts that fit the growing technology of the era (Silverman). During the rise of motion pictures, women tended to get parts that fit the stereotypes associated with their body types. Women with larger chests were viewed as sexual beings: lower class women who used their big busts to attract a mate, such as Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire. Movie stars such as Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, and Sophia Loren fit this category. Small-chested movie stars were a minority that included Katharine Hepburn and Audrey Hepburn. They were not viewed as sex symbols but as symbols of upper class sophistication, and wit (Yalom 192). While Marilyn Monroe was type cast as a golddigger and a bimbo, Katharine Hepburn played such characters as a missionary and a political activist.
The breasts are viewed as symbols of sexuality, and the modern stereotype of what is sexy is not consistent with the stereotype of what is considered intelligence. The more bosom, the less brain. That’s the law of nature; that is why the poor miserable females are the way they are. (Allende 98.) In the sixties and early seventies, America was undergoing a period of rebellion. People sought to free themselves from the mores of society, advocating civil rights, free love and naturalism. Many women gave up using the bra and in certain settings walked topless. The free breast was symbolic of the free spirits of the young women of the time (Latteier 157).
Women wished to be given more complete social equality as well as celebration of the differences between men and women. It was during this time that artists such as singer Helen Reddy showed a more pro-womanhood attitude to their work. Bra-burning and other extreme measures were used to show women’s pride in themselves and the rejection of the traditional way that sexuality was a necessary tool for women to obtain power (Latteire 39). When the hippie era calmed down, the perfection of the body became the ideal. Exercise reshaped the legs and abdomen, and the use of the wonder-bra and breast implants were used to perfect the breast (Latteire 235).
In 1977, the sports bra was invented as a practical solution to the demands of the fitness craze of the time. Jogging and a healthy lifestyle were in style and women needed motion control. (Yalom 180) Large breasts came back in style in the eighties after over a decade of small breasts being the fashion. The Wall Street Journal suggested that this was related to the macho conservatism ushered during the Reagan years (181). Large breasts emphasized gender differences, going with the trend of male dominated politics.
Breasts are, and have been, an important commercial entity in Western society. Depending on the fashion of the time, women tried to find various ways to increase or decrease the size of the bust. Ointments, lotions, and different recipes were sold to women claiming to improve the size of the breasts (Yalom, 78). None of the treatments worked, as even today, there is no proven way short of surgery to change the size of the bosom. From the binding of the breasts in male-dominated Ancient Greece, to the large breasts of the 1980’s, the way society treats the breasts reflects the customs of society at the time. Why is the breast considered such an important feature of the body? Is it because of their connection with lactation and the nurturing of infants? Or because of their sexual nature, as a symbol of femininity and womanhood? Whatever the reason, they are an important indication of the views of Western society and will continue to be so in the future.
Bibliography Allende, Isabel. The Infinate Plan. Trans. Magart Sayers Peden. New York: Harper Collins, 1991 Broby-Johansen, R. Body and Clothes.
New York: Reinhold Book Corporation., 1968. Latteier, Carolyn. Breasts: The Women’s Perspective on an American Obsession. Binghamton: The Haworth Press, Inc., 1998. Silverman, Steven. The Brassiere. http://home.nycap.rr.com/useless/support files/author.html Winston, Elisabeth.
The History of Corsets. http://home.earthlink.net/~isibastel/corset.html Yalom, Marilyn. A History of the Breast. New York: Alfred a. Knopf, Inc., 1997.