Comfortable, supported, confident women are a force to be reckoned with 365 days a year. But International Women’s Day on March 8 is the perfect time for us to recognise all the amazing women who make us feel empowered in the work we do here at Pour Moi.
Advances in underwear design have paved the way for women’s accomplishments throughout history, helping to remove the physical barriers which stopped us competing in sport or entering male-dominated professions.
Most of these breakthroughs have been made possible thanks to the hard work carried out by female pioneers, designers and activists. But there’s been very little recognition of the amazing women whose courage, skills and talents have got us where we are today.
Well, it’s time we changed all that. We’re incredibly proud that Pour Moi continues the lingerie industry’s tradition of women designing for women. From our designers to our garment technologists, at our Brighton design HQ the vast majority of our staff are women and all of our management positions are held by women, too.
Passionate and creative, we concentrate our efforts on making lingerie that fits, flatters and supports because we know first-hand what an impact feeling comfortable and secure everyday can have on women’s lives and achievements.
So with that in mind, here’s a look at the inspirational stories of women who have changed the face of lingerie history, and the impact of their actions on women’s empowerment today. Sisters, we salute you!
Who: Elizabeth Phelps Stuart Ward, early feminist famous for her ‘burning the corset’ campaign
Why she inspires us: Corsets arrived in the 13th century, and it took women seven uncomfortable, restrictive centuries to break out of them. In 1847, the American feminist Elizabeth Phelps Stuart Ward saw that greater participation of women in society could only be possible if corsets were abandoned.
She encouraged women to “burn the corsets, make a bonfire of the cruel steels that have lorded it over your thorax and abdomen and heave a sigh of relief.” Ward’s campaign, along with the work of other female activists, allowed women to participate in activities that were previously impossible for women, such as cycling, helping them leave the home and get out in the world.
What she taught us: If we want to even the playing field for women in all areas of life, we need to be able to move around just as freely and comfortably as men.
Who: Mary Phelps Jacob, inventor of the modern bra
Why she inspires us: When unconventional 19-year old New York City socialite Mary Phelps Jacob found her bulky whalebone corset ruined the look of her sleek ball gown, she took matters into her own hands. Using two silk handkerchiefs and a pink ribbon, she fashioned herself a lightweight bra that was soft and comfortable. She said, “it was delicious. I could move more freely, a nearly naked feeling, and in the glass I saw that I was flat and proper.
Her bra was the talk of her Manhattan debutante ball and proved so popular among her friends she made more of them, only this time using elastic bands. She went on to patent her invention and later sold it to the Warner Brothers Corset Company.
What she taught us: Jacob used her ingenuity to help her friends, showing us first-hand the meaning of the saying ‘real queens fix each other’s crowns’. In fact, many of the breakthroughs in lingerie history have come from women getting creative in order to solve a problem, and then sharing their discoveries to benefit women everywhere.
Who: Gertrude Ederle, first woman to swim the English channel
Why she inspires us: Only five men had succeeded before her. But not only was Ederle the first woman to swim the English Channel in 1926, she did it faster than ever before, beating all previous male records.
But Ederle’s first attempt at the crossing had failed because she was wearing a heavy woollen one-piece that filled with water and chafed her skin. Undeterred, she got to work with the scissors, cutting her one-piece into two. The rudimentary bikini she wore for her second attempt was daring for the time, but it worked. Ederle became a hero overnight, and proved that a woman could beat a man in one of the most physically demanding swims in the world.
What she taught us: Our clothing can weigh us down and hold us back from achieving our dreams, if we let it. And if we want to succeed in a male-dominated world, we shouldn’t be afraid to break some rules.
Who: Amelia Earhart, the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean
Why she inspires us: Earhart broke the glass ceiling when it came to women’s achievements in aviation, but she was also a true pioneer when it came to women’s fashion. A staunch and vocal feminist, Earhart was known for encouraging women to reject constrictive social norms and felt strongly that their clothing shouldn’t ever hold them back
She developed her own clothing line filled with what she called ‘clothes for active living’ - loose trousers, skirts and tops that were incredibly practical. Fiercely independent, she refused to be restricted even in her choice of undergarments, and scandalised society by wearing men’s underpants when she flew.
What she taught us: To do everything in your power to achieve your dream, even if it means a few raised eyebrows.
Who? Lisa Lindahl, inventor of the sports bra
Why she inspires us: The 1970s were an uncomfortable time to be a woman athlete, until Lisa Lindahl had a brainwave. The keen jogger came up with her prototype sports bra when she couldn’t find what she needed in the shops. Her original 1977 ‘jockstrap bra’ was exactly that - two jockstraps sewn together.
“I wanted it, so I assumed every woman wanted it,” Lindahl said. She was right, and her ‘athletic brassiere’ was a huge success, with the product selling out fast and second year sales worth $500,000. Today, the global sports bra market makes an estimated £5.5bn annually.
What she taught us: Women are creative problem-solvers who’ll do what it takes to get what they need.
Who: Vivienne Westwood, the British fashion designer who made the corset into a symbol of female power
Why she inspires us: Restrictive and confining, the corset was once the very symbol of female oppression. But fashion designer Vivienne Westwood turned that idea on its head. She incorporated corsets into her punk designs in the 1970s through to the 1990s, reclaiming the undergarment as a sign of ironic, empowered female strength.
She says, “For me the focus of a woman is the waist... this corset we made, it was really, really sexy. People just loved it.” Rather than being hidden away, Westwood’s corsets were to be worn where everyone could see, starting the trend for underwear as outerwear.
What she taught us: That owning our sexuality can be a strength, not a weakness.
Who: Serena Williams, greatest female tennis player of all-time and fashion rebel
Why she inspires us: Serena Williams won her first major tournament at age 17 and has achieved 23 Grand Slam titles to date, the most by any player, male or female.
But Williams is also a passionate feminist, believing women should be able to wear what they want, even in an atmosphere as traditionally stuffy as the world of tennis. To hammer that message home, she famously wore a black catsuit she said made her feel like a “warrior princess” when she played at the French Open. When officials banned her outfit, her response was to wear a series of tutus at the US Open.
What she taught us: The courage to make a stand for what we believe in.
Who? Lizzo, the new face of feminism and body positivity badass
Why she inspires us: The singer, rapper and flute player has blessed the world with tunes like Good As Hell and Juice. But we don’t just love Lizzo for her music. Staunchly feminist, she’s become a new kind of pop star – and a huge advocate for body positivity.
But when she wore a dress that revealed her black thong at a Lakers’ game, Lizzo faced a barrage of criticism and fat-shaming that could have destroyed her – but she wasn’t having any of it. Taking to Instagram, Lizzo said, “Your criticism has no effect on me, negative criticism has no stake in my life, no control over my life, over my emotions – I’m the happiest I’ve been.”
What she taught us: To be happy exactly as we are, and to care less about what other people think about us.