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7 Cool Facts About Bras That'll Make You Say "HUH"

Bra makers at Playtex came up with the design for the the Apollo 11 spacesuits!

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1. In the absence of sports bras, women playing tennis at Wimbledon in 1887 competed in whalebone and metal corsets, which were so stabby that they often ended up covered in blood by the end of a match.

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The modern sports bra wasn't invented until 1977, and it was a DIY affair — sisters and running enthusiasts Lisa Lindahl and Polly Smith made it by sewing two jockstraps together.

2. Speaking of DIY affairs, the first modern bra was also a DIY project — it consisted of two handkerchiefs sewn together by a wealthy young woman named Caresse Crosby before she went to a party.

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Nineteen-year-old Crosby was unhappy with the way her whalebone corset looked under her delicate dress, so she requested that her maid bring her silk hankies, pink ribbon, some cord, and a needle and thread, and then she created the first modern bra. She patented the design in 1914, and started the Fashion Form Brassiere Company; of the bra, she'd later write, "I can't say the brassiere will ever take as great a place in history as the steamboat, but I did invent it."

3. Bra makers at Playtex came up with the design for the the Apollo 11 spacesuits.

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During the space race, NASA sponsored a competition to design the astronauts' suits, and Playtex threw its hat in the ring. The military contractors they were competing against created heavy-duty, structured suits, but Playtex's had "crucial softness, world class stitching, and perfect design." The suits had 21 layers of super-thin fabric, were made from literally the same materials as Playtex bras, and they were sewn — without using any pins — by Playtex seamstresses.

4. You can thank (or blame) Mark Twain for the modern bra clasp.

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In 1871, Twain patented an "Improvement in adjustable and detachable straps for garments." When describing his design, he wrote, "The nature of my invention consists in an adjustable and detachable elastic strap for vests, pantaloons, or other garments requiring straps, as will he hereinafter more fully set forth." But the modern bra is where the clasp really caught on.

5. The tiny bow that appears between the cups of most bras is a relic of sixteenth and seventeenth century stomachers.

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According to the book Corsets and Codpieces: A History of Outrageous Fashion, from Roman Times to the Modern Era, stomachers had a small piece of ribbon attached to the top to make it easier to remove them, and the ribbon stuck around over the years.

6. Feminists didn't burn their bras to protest the 1968 Miss America pageant.

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Despite the persistent trope of the bra-burning feminist, this didn't happen. What did happen is that feminists protested the pageant by throwing bras (along with high heels and girdles and other similar items) into a trash can. In an article about the protest, reporter Lindsy Van Gelder compared the women's actions to men burning their draft cards at anti-war protests, and the two things got conflated.

That said, I wouldn't blame anyone for burning their bra.

7. There's a bra that doubles as a gas mask in the event of an emergency.

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While it sounds like a wacky Cold War-era device, it was actually invented by Dr. Elena Bodnar, who got her start as a physician treating child victims of the Chernobly disaster. According to the website, "The Emergency Bra (EBbra) is a protective garment that can be easily and quickly transformed into two respiratory face masks in case of emergency to reduce inhalation of harmful airborne particles when specialized protective devices are not available to the public (such as natural disasters or accidents). The EBbra is like any other conventional bra in terms of its main function to support the breasts, as well as its aesthetics, sizes, colors and styles. EBbra can be worn regular, strapless, or criss-cross. The bra can also be used as a nursing bra." It costs $49.99 and won the 2009 Ig Nobel Prize for Public Health.

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