The earliest bra in the M&S Company Archive collection dates from 1926. It was designed to suit the fashion of the time, which was for a straight silhouette - the Flapper style. Women could also buy fancy garters in Marks & Spencer in the 1920s for one shilling (5p) a pair.
Early 20th Century Underwear
Prior to that corsets would have been worn to give women a more curved silhouette with a very narrow waist. This advert from the early 1910s (pictured below) claims that ' to reduce the figure you must contract the figure...permanently reduces the figure, and affords binding support'. It had real whalebones built into it, and anyone needing a size above a 30 inch waist had to pay 4d (2p) per inch extra!
From the 1930s M&S sold a full range of lingerie: corsets, bloomers, stockings and bras. In order to offer women a choice of designs and styles, old-fashioned knee-length 'Directoire' style knickers were sold alongside the more fashionable 'French' knickers.
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Directoire style - a period of art, fashion and design between 1795-1799 (named after 'The Directory' in France after the Revolution)
Flapper - a style followed by women in the 1920s that featured shorter skirts then those worn previously and 'bobbed' hairstyles
Garters - bands of elasticated fabric to hold stockings up
Lingerie - women's underwear and nightclothes, usually more fashionable than functional
Silhouette - an outline image of a person's figure