When does a piece of clothing become more about attracting attention than aboot personal convenience? About twenty minutes after you get out of the bathtub. And the one piece of clothing which has come to symbolize this more than any other would be the Wonderbra, the 1964 creation of Louise Poirier — a French-Canadian under contract to the Canadian lingerie company, Canadelle.
The information available online aboot Wonderbra’s inventor from Canadian encyclopedia’s is pretty sketchy at best. The two main ones, The Canadian Encyclopedia and Histor!ca, don’t even recognize Wonderbra as a search term (no, I did not mean “wonder”) and Louise Poirier may as well have been a time traveler because there’s no evidence online she has yet been born. I’m assuming she was part-engineer and part-super intelligent alien because the Wonderbra is not a design, it’s a feat of engineering. In fact the Wonderbra has 54 engineering elements all working together to lift and support the bust, which created the deep plunge and push-together effect now found so often on subways, Tranny-Bars and in British Parliament, all while using substantially less material and padding than other conventional bras.
Technically the first bra was created in 1914 in New York City by a woman who used two handkerchiefs and some pink ribbon, and for at least that evening was probably the most comfortable woman on the planet. I’m not going to lie, the first few times I took one of these marvels of engineering off my first thought was “hey… where the fuck did they go?” But, honestly, it’s a fleeting thought usually followed by “hey, boobies”.
There were three waves in the life of the Wonderbra, it’s initial release in Canada during the 1960’s, soon after which it was introduced into Europe and, during the 1990’s it was released into American stores.
The original Canadian advertisement never showed a woman wearing the bra, and featured the jingle: “Wonderful Wonderbra… to be free and alive everywhere that you go, is to where what you dare anywhere and to travel with flare. We care about the shape you’re in, so does he… so does he. Wonderful, wonderful, Wonderbra.” In 1994, outdoor ads in American cities showed the model wearing the bra with captions like “who cares if it’s a bad hair day” and “look me in the eyes and tell me that you love me.”
From 1972 to 1977, Canadelle doubled its wholesale revenue from $12.6 million to $24.9 million. By 1979 Canadelle dominated with 30% of the Canadian market and $27 Million in sales. Playtex (both companies were acquired by Sara Lee) was second. By 1980, Wonderbra’s sales were over $30 Million wholesale ($76 Million in 2006 dollars) in a country with only 10.3 million women and girls older than 13.
The introduction of the Wonderbra into the American market caused an explosion in the lingerie and undergarment market. According to research done at the University of Michigan “total sales of women’s clothing apparel increased 6% from 1994 to 1996, [while] intimate apparel jumped 14% over the same period. [snip] In 1989, worldwide bra sales totaled $2.2 billion, but rose close to $3.0 billion in 1995 and approximately $3.8 billion in 1997.”