With cosmetic surgery and the Wonderbra, breast enhancement has come a long way since the era of the corset. But what is thought to have been the precursor to the modern bra is being unveiled at the Science Museum in London.

The “breast enhancer”, dating from 1880, is part of a collection being shown at the museum’s Dana Centre tomorrow to illustrate a talk on whether beauty is skin deep.

Bras or brassieres, named after the French word for “upper arm”, did not become commonplace until 1907, when they were first featured in Vogue.

But clearly 19th century women had their own techniques for enhancing their natural assets. The “padded bust improver” was a pair of breast pads which could be inserted into the wearer’s dress.

What is unusual about the 1880 version is that the pads were actually made into a bra.

Laila Zwisler, the assistant curator of the museum, said: “Through time women have resorted to tricks to create whatever body shape was fashionable.”

The “bra” was made from harsh fabric and was said to be extremely uncomfortable if worn for more than an hour.

Also featured in the collection are pads to enhance the cheeks of women who had lost their teeth, false eyebrows, and black patches often used to cover up scars from disfiguring diseases such as smallpox.

More here.