“For 5,000 years clothes have been draped, tied, buttoned, pinned and buckled on the human form. This year, for the first time in history, they will be glued on.” Imagine the glee LIFE’s female readers must have felt at the news that a man had designed yet another contraption into which to wriggle their bodies for the sake of beauty.
The design du jour, featured just ahead of beach season in May 1949, was a pair of bra cups a woman could affix to her breasts with an adhesive that caused neither pain nor sticky residue when removed. The purpose of the invention, which looks like the anachronistic love-child of Madonna’s cone bra and your grandmother’s lace doily collection, was to allow a sunbather to achieve an even suntan. The idea struck inventor Charles L. Langs when he witnessed his wife Mary fidgeting discontendtedly with the straps of her regular old swimsuit.
Langs, a Detroit industrialist who worked in the auto industry, spent four years perfecting Posĕs (pronounced “pose-ease”). He enlisted the help of chemist Charles Watson to develop an adhesive that could be removed easily while still sticking tight, “even though the wearer dives from a 10-foot board.” Any woman who has jumped into a pool wearing a strapless bathing suit top will surely dismiss this claim as bombastic. Had it been true, it would have been a feat too miraculous to vanish into obscurity, as Posĕs unfortunately did.
The innovation Langs boasted was not the straplessness of Posĕs, but their adhesiveness. As evidenced by the “bikini girls”—a fourth century Sicilian mosaic depicting bandeau-wearing athletes—women have employed strapless chest support for millennia.
To Langs’ credit—or discredit, depending on whether you see brassiere technology as functional or oppressive—adhesive undergarments are still around today. Most take the form of foam or silicon cups worn with backless tops and dresses with plunging necklines. They are generally, however, meant to be worn beneath other garments, whereas Posĕs were the main event. They gave any woman who donned them, LIFE wrote, “a startling look, especially when she is seen from the rear.”
Silly as the design may look, Langs was a pioneer among a group of crusaders that continues to fight an uphill battle. As the New York Times punnily headlined a 2006 article about the strapless bra, the undergarment is “An Annual Letdown.” No matter the innovations to come—and come, they surely will—it is, in the end, a fight against gravity.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.