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Bras after 1950

Bras after 1950
Fashion History

By Pauline Weston Thomas for



Bras Fashion History - After 1950


Sweater Girl Glamour 1950s

Picture of typical longline stitched cone bra of the early 50s.Fashion history has shown that by the 1950s glamour was what women wanted most. They had been deprived in the war and they had seen the Hollywood stars that had uplift that almost reached their necks.  Brand names like Maidenform, Berlei, Triumph and the British Marks & Spencer bras under the St. Michael label all sold excellent bras that gave the correct pointed circular stitched conical shape of the era.

Right - 1950's Stitched Longline Cone Bra.

The conical bra was the bra that gave the support silhouette for girls who longed to emulate the curves of film star sweater girls like Lana Turner and Jane Russell.  Bra history changed for the better as bras began to be revolutionized by the use of nylon, making them lighter, prettier and easier to wash.  See 1950's Bra Adverts here.

The 1960s All Change

Picture of Berlei bra.By the 1960s well designed bras by Exquisite Form, Berlei, Twilfit, Lovable, Silhouette, Playtex and the Marks & Spencer St. Michael range were thought ideal under knitted sweater dresses.

Soon Elastomerics transformed foundation garments with power net fabric.  Early styling found in bra history became out of tune with modern sixties bra design.  The old elastic bra backs and straps were replaced by the newer Courtauld's Spanzelle or Lycra fittings.  Overstretched rotted rubber bits that made bras lose their grip were gone forever.

Above - Berlei Bra of 1965

Burn That Bra

When Yves St. Laurent designed a sheer blouse worn without a bra, feminists demanded women burn their bras.  It was all metaphoric and only a dustbin was ever used to dispose of bras.  But this claim has gone down in bra history despite the fact that so few women really abandoned their bras.  Those who needed support knew they could never seriously do without a bra.  But many smaller breasted women did stop wearing bras beneath opaque garments.  Few were really brave enough to do it with a sheer top, but it did herald changes for the decade. 

By 1964 Rudi Gernreich designed the 'no bra bra' which was light, made of see through stretch netting and very simply shaped, but only really suitable for the small breasted woman.  But from this, the idea of a body stocking in transparent material was developed by Warners in 1965.

The concept simply fitted in with the woman of the 1960s wanting to choose what she did, rather than be told she must wear a bra.  Old habits were changing. Many older women had worn bras to bed believing breasts should be supported during sleep, now bras were removed at night or abandoned altogether as attitudes changed. 

Corsets such as those by Spirella were still worn and were still available.  Longline bras to the waist from Marks & Spencer were very popular to keep that midriff in control.  Redesigning the body contours in the gym was rather unusual then.  To control wayward lumps and bumps one dieted and bought the correct power elastic foundation garments. 

In the 60s many bras like those by Lovable had a very fine layer of foam latex rubber bonded to the top lace fabric and which made the cups stand up on end.  They were comfortable bras that gave a good reliable rather pointed firm shape fashionable at the time.

The Original Gossard Wonderbra 1968 -1990s

Memorable bra history was made when Gossard launched its Wonderbra campaign in 1968.  The byline went something like this - 'makes 34 look 36, makes 36 look pow...'. It was and is still true.  Initially 36C was the top size of this revolutionary under wired bra that was a must for V neck dresses of the late sixties.  Low necked V caftans were transformed by the cleavage from a Wonderbra.  Eventually demand led to larger sizes being produced and its is made today up to size 38D.

Those who longed for one, but were just one size too big simply bought a bra replacement fastener and used it as an extender.  They just hoped for the best and as the breasts were all pushed to the front a little pain was worth it to get the cleavage that no other bra could produce.  False inserts of extra wadding or foam rubber could be inserted into little pockets in the Wonderbra to give a little more fullness where the bust was lacking.  Eventually as women got larger, manufacturers increased the size range of such push bras.

In the 1990s when silicone breast implants and other implants caused scares, many women looked to bras to improve their breast size.  The Wonderbra was a huge hit and bestseller all over again in the 1990s.

It was and still is a magic bra, but Gossard eventually sold the rights to the name.  Gossards best alternative today is an uplift bra called the Ultrabra. 

Bra Slips

Bra slips were a sixties hit for short skimpy dresses and gave a freedom unknown before.  This strange hybrid was an under wired cleavage bra with a short mini nylon slip all in one. Tights, panties, bra slip and top dress and that was it.  Never before had women worn so little.  What would Victorian and Edwardian matrons have made of it all.  In the early 21st century the bra slip made a reappearance in stores such as Marks and Spencer.


Underwear - 1970s

In the early and mid decade short sleeved scoop necked vests called 'cosy tops' and 'Demi-john' pants sometimes known as thigh warmers were worn.  They were in strongly coloured stretch nylon such as red or tartan or baby blue or pink nylon lace and the Demi-johns reached mid thigh or even to the knee.  Considering the liberation everywhere else these seemed to be an aberration even at the time.  But they were much loved in winter to give extra warmth under short dresses which were not necessarily mini dresses.  They could be worn under maxi dresses with ease. 

Once central heating became more or less universal in the UK they disappeared to be replaced by thermal underwear mainly bought from sports outlets.

By the 1970s seamless underwear was essential to wear under T-shirts to give a no bra natural look. Manufacturers became more adventurous and bras could be bought in mini print pattern fabric such as a purple and pinks mix or autumn leaves colour mix.  Natural flesh tone bras also became desirable.  Although it seems manufacturers never quite get the tone of flesh quite right as we come in so many shades.  What's right for you in a so called flesh tone is probably wrong for your friend.

At the decade end, sequin and plain Day-Glo coloured 'Boob Tubes' became a popular craze after the disco scene.  Simple stretchy strapless flesh toned Lycra mesh bands beneath, helped support the style.  At the same time small luxury lace bra and French knickers designs by Janet Reger and others, brought erotic and exotic style to lingerie. Of course major manufacturers of the 1980s soon followed producing some of the prettiest underwear seen for years. 

Bodysuits, Teddies, Camisoles and Basques - 1980s

In the 1980s with the influence of media series like Dallas and Dynasty, erotic lingerie was an outward manifestation of conspicuous consumption and feminine luxury beneath masculine suits. 

Women became very body conscious in the 80s.  They pumped iron at the gym, honed and refined their bodies and power dressed.  All in one satin Teddies similar to modern swimsuit designs, but lace trimmed with a pop fastener gusset and high cut legs, were shown worn without bras.  They often had a cup formation that doubled as a bra which when under wired made it a body suit.  This was fine for the toned woman or the surgically enhanced breasts of modern women who needed no support as the silicone did all the work. 

Simple camisoles and matching French knickers or hip briefs or tangas became more and more lace encrusted.  Camisoles often became outerwear and women shopping in UK's Marks & Spencer for simple tops just to fill in under a suit, were often directed by floor assistants to the underwear section.

The camisole became popular partly because separates were so fashionable.  Women more and more, wore trousers, so petticoats in the traditional sense were worn less as more mass market clothes were lined as well.  Nowadays a woman is likely to buy an under slip for a specific garment that needs it, rather than always wearing one automatically when she dresses.


For special occasions and sexual intrigue women took to wearing basques again.  This fashion was stimulated by off the shoulder dresses.  A basque became an essential item for a bride so that no under straps were visible at the neckline.  Many women rediscovered basques as items to titillate with in the bedroom as well as to help get a good silhouette.

The Return of Cleavage - 1990s


Madonna sported ice cream coned circular stitched cups on her Gaultier corset on stage in her 'Blonde Ambition' tour.  Nothing shocked anymore.  Gaultier first did designs based on the conical breast in the 1980s, but it took Madonna to approve the style in the 1990s.  Sexy lace bras came back into the shops.  La Senza, La Perla, Rigby and Peller, Triumph, Lejaby, Victoria's Secret and even Marks & Spencer sold delectable lace bra confections and exquisite matching briefs or thongs. Now of course the Madonna images of her in her coned bra look horribly dated. 

Very plain Tactel underwear slips introduced in the 90s gave such a good line beneath dresses making it at last possible to wear unlined dresses successfully without static build up.

By the mid 90s there were usually only 2 styles of full length all in one corselette girdles at Marks & Spencer. This is an important fact in the UK as Marks & Spencer is a major retailer of undergarments of all types.  The women who shed their bras in the sixties were occasionally seeking a bit more figure control for the straighter sheath dresses back in fashion.  The other option many opted for were Lycra support panties that lifted the bottom or tights with control panels. 

By the end of the 90s the UK bra market alone was worth half a billion pounds.  Another billion was spent on other foundation underwear. 

Bioform Bras - The First Miracle of the Millennium 2000

With so much capital income possible, it's little wonder then, that Charnos decided to invest heavily in designing a new uplift bra suited to all sizes, but with those with fuller cup sizes in mind.  G cups are included rather than ignored.

After research and development was complete they took the plunge and in 2000 they launched the Bioform Bra.

The Bioform Bra in my opinion uplifts and contours the breasts so well that it immediately takes ten years off a sideways sagging bust.  If you are past 40 with a full cup size you may realise that you have not seen your breasts in this position for twenty years.  It has an effect that centres the breasts more, whilst uplifting them at the same time.  And it does it up to size 42DD with many smaller sizes going up to G cups.  Probably the greatest achievement of it, is to successfully lift large breasts and make them look more youthful.

The Bioform Bra is helpful for giving a more youthful shape to women who have had trouble getting good uplift before.  To be honest when you put the bra on, it seems to look much like any other, but once you put clothes on top of it you realise the bust silhouette is younger and sexier.  It does take a few days to get used to wearing one and they do not suit everyone.  The sides are quite firm pre moulded plastic materials that replace under wires, so the harder feel at the sides of it is different.  It takes a few days to get used to the change of support.  One way of coping with this is to get used to the bra by wearing it on alternate days for a while. 

Wearers who find that shoulder straps normally cut into their flesh will soon notice that the redistribution of breast weight means that unsightly and uncomfortable shoulder welts from strap marks just don't happen.

On the negative side there were only ever a few fabric versions.  The original lace fabric used was not the most eye catching either, due to technical production process.  To be fair the unfussy fabric did give a smooth tailored outline.  However in 2002 more eye catching attractive, sexier lacy versions were put in the shops and were compared to the original version were much prettier. However due to the change of circumstances at Charnos these bras are hard to get other than via the internet. The bra was designed by two well respected male product design engineers but the cost of putting this bra into production was so great that Charnos sold out a couple of years later. 



After Charnos was bought out the organisation restructured, the Bioform bra has sadly been in demise in stores within the UK.  However I was still be able to buy this bra at Figleaves online in Spring 2004.

In the UK go to Figleaves for a great selection of bras, lingerie and money off bargains. If you join their email list service you can get regular updates of a wide range bras on offer.  Simply great when you know your size and are confident with a particular style.  Figleaves has been so successful as an online venture that it ranks as UK online retailer of the year.

The Ultimo Bra - May 2000

By the time of the second millennium women were adding inserts to their bras called affectionately chicken fillets.

But help was soon at hand with the development of the Ultimo bra, a silicone gel filled bra that creates cleavage whilst giving comfort.  It was launched in May 2000 and became a must have accessory for those in need of a boost.  It has enhanced some of the most famous breasts in the world today including those of Julia Roberts and Kylie Minogue.

The Ultimo was invented by a British woman from Glasgow called Michelle Mone.  It took three and a half years to develop the Ultimo and a great deal of hard work and tenacity on Michelle's part. Unlike normal padded bras the silicone makes the bra feel real so the inserts move and feel like real breasts in wear without the bra squelching the breasts into unnatural positions.

Ultimo select fabrics and components of the highest quality such as Microfibre polyamide yarns which are finer than silk and so soft to the touch. They also use a patented liquid silicone gel which has the ability to mimic breast tissue, resulting in a comfortable mould to create a super cleavage.

So effective is the bra that people often believe wearers have had breast implants. To learn more about the Ultimo visit the ultimo website.

During a recent browse around Marks and Spencer I noticed that some of their bras appeared to have similar chicken fillet silicone inserts.

May 2009

Bras have come a long way even since 2000. A visit to Figleaves or Marks and Spencers will show you the latest bridal and eveningwear bras perfect for strapless and difficult to wear fashion clothing. 

Go Back to Bras and Girdle History Before 1950


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About looks at women's costume and fashion history and analyses the mood of an era.  Changes in technology, leisure, work, cultural and moral values. Homelife and politics also contribute to lifestyle trends, which in turn influence the clothes we wear.  These are the changes that make any era of society special in relation to the study of the costume of a period.Fashion History can take no responsibility for any information on the site which may cause you error, loss or costs incurred from use of the information and links either directly or indirectly.  This site is owned, designed, written and developed by author: Pauline Thomas and Guy Thomas. This site is designed to be viewed in 1024 X 768 or higher.

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