The folks at JF Ptak Science Books dug up a few images from U.S. patent reports on brassieres. These designs, created between 1929 and 1930, show how women struggled to support, shape and reduce the bustline. These days, we can sometimes feel self-conscious if our bra or bra straps are showing; manufacturers offer "T-shirt" bras for an smooth look under clothes. But the inventions below — often teetering between medical brace, corset and scaffolding — seem not only highly uncomfortable, but impossible to conceal. Curse your underwire bra all you want — at least you don't have tiny dowels projecting from your girdle and supporting tiny claw-shaped shelves for each breast.

The breast shield by E. Murray, patented in 1899, looks a little bit like the bras we use today, except it seems each cup has a tiny porthole window for the nipple.There's even a little latch. Perhaps the woman is meant to pretend her decolletage is a speakeasy to which entrance is gained by knowing the secret word.

The best part of this bra patent from 1929 is not the detailed and efficient structure but the flapper model's sad face, as she endures the exquisite pain of smushed boobs.

This is not a bra, but an armpit shield from 1893. My guess is that woolen dresses developed hideous pit stains, and ladies simply cawnt have discolored gowns.

The breast supporter by R.R. Woltstem, designed in 1928, has an architectural flair. R.R. should have made the rods look like Corinthian columns, for an elegant touch.

The bust reducer, invented by Marie Perillat, involves boning, buttons and a bow. The compression factor appears to be so high, they had to provide the poor girl with something upon which she could lean.

More designs right here.

A Terribly Short Note on the History of Bras, U.S. Patent Office, 1892-1930 [Ptak Science Books]