The Woman who collected bras

the book:

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Published 1932  - set in ‘the near future’    Ch 1 & 2

Mrs Smiling’s second interest [her first being the gentlemen who are in love with her] was her collection of brassieres and her search for a perfect one. She was reputed to have the largest and finest collection of these garments in the world. It was hoped that on her death it would be left to the nation. She was an authority on the cut, fit, colour, construction and proper functioning of brassieres; and her friends had learned that her interest, even in moments of extreme emotional or physical distress, could be aroused and her composure restored by the hasty utterance of the phrase:

‘I saw a brassiere today, Mary, that would have interested you.’…

[Mary visits the ‘slums of Mayfair’ in search of a new design.]

[Flora says:] ‘Did you get the brassiere darling?’

A shadow fell upon Mrs Smiling’s face.

‘No. It was no use to me. It was just a variation on the “Venus” design made by Waber Brothers in 1938; it had three elastic sections in front, instead of two, as I hoped, and I have it already in my collection…Two-section brassieres are extremely rare: I intended to buy it – but of course it was useless.’

observations: A guest commentator today: Artist Wendy Wilbraham thinks the bra collection shows a change in social and economic structures. This is her take on it: “She isn’t collecting what we might now term 'vintage' brassieres: she is collecting what is available, new designs. This suggests a burgeoning market and different economies by a new group at that time – working women, or women with their own money, making their own choices, the emergence of a working/educated middle class. It also suggests that how women looked at their shape, body movement and what they might do – for instance moving in a more fluid way, more freedom - was much more about choices and less about traditions.”

Bra construction has changed a lot, but it is interesting to note that 20 years ago it was difficult to find three-piece design in the cup of a pretty bra – two-piece much more common.

Links up with: This book has featured before, here. Corsets and underwear were a key element of this entry. Sylvia Plath’s Esther didn’t need a bra, here. A golden girl ends up in a lingerie shop in this entry.
The picture is of bras at a lovely independent lingerie shop, Boudoir Blush in Winchester, with their kind permission.


  1. I've just re-read Cold Comfort Farm, the passage describing the excitement of searching for the bra and the disappointment that it was 'no good'- made me smile, I know how she must have felt that day....

  2. Yes indeed, we've all had our hopes dashed. Make sure Jess sees it....

  3. Great that you linked in and don't worry I've put the title in for you now.


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