Ask Morgana 054: What lies beneath

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Above is a French advert for a ‘soutien-gorge’, which is their wonderful word for a bra. It means ‘underhold-throat’, an unusually prim term from the gay, saucy French of the fin-de-siècle period and early 20c. The first actual bra was patented in 1898 in Germany, but the garment you and I would would recognise as the modern bra was Mary Phelps Jacob’s American design of 1914. It took until perhaps the end of the Great War for it to become anything like universal in European and Western countries, but before that time women did continue to wear all kinds of ‘unmentionables’, and it became the province of postcard-makers and ‘candid’ photographers to give us a peek…

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