The bullet bra is a vintage hallmark. It defined the silhouette of an era and represents a golden moment in American fashion when exaggerated femininity reigned supreme and breasts defied the laws of gravity.
It is difficult to trace the exact origins of the bullet bra but we do know it appeared on the scene sometime in the middle to late 30s - confirmed by photos published during the decade. After a generation of women had attempted to compress their chest, striving for the svelte flapper look, the women of the 30s desired a more shapely form with more emphasis on their bust. Hollywood glamour seeped into the national conscience and the busty sweater girls of the silver screen, like Lana Turner and Carole Landis, set the standards for sexy.
The buxom sweater girl Carole Landis.
A 1930s corsetlette with circle stitched cups. Note the comfort and flexibility, you can even play tennis in heels and garters!
As breasts became more defined in clothing, new bra construction methods were developed to accommodate the look. These precursors to the circle stitch bra included the lattice and crescent stitch designs whose reinforced stitching along the bottom part of the cup provided support and definition. Although the bust shape of the 30s was markedly different than that of the 20s it retained a natural rounded look.
After the allied victory in '45 the austere attitude and focused vision imposed by the war efforts exploded into a feeling of optimism and exuberance for the American public. Women of the 40s who had lived rationed lifestyles during the war wanted to be sexy again. A new exaggerated femininity rocked the fashion world with ample breasts, slender waistlines and curvaceous hips wiggling down runways and through glamour magazines. New bras were invented to give additional lift, depth, and an eye popping, pyramid like shape, hence the creation of the bullet bra. The circle stitch was one such design, unlike the previous styles which lifted bust lines from below, the full on circle stitch created more projection by compressing the breast all the way around, forcing it forward with a gravity defining perk.
Many lingerie companies dedicated themselves to this new bra technique. One of the earliest of the circle stitch bras was the V-ette Whirlpool style designed by Hollywood Maxwell in 1941. Advertisements from the time describe how the clever "whirlpool stitching molds the bust into youthfully accented curves with well defined separation." The V-ette model had a cross seam at each cup with circle stitching around the breast, delivering serious volume and dangerous points.
Another famous bullet bra manufacturer was Peter Pan. Their aptly named Merry Go Round line specialized in circle stitched styles especially designed to accentuate a pert bosom. One of our very favorites in the line is the Low-N-Behold. This ingenious 1949 style was made to be worn under the most plunging gowns without compromising support, lift or the emblematic torpedo shape of the era.
A 1949 ad for the gorgeous Low n' Behold bra.
We are lucky to have one in our archives.
Ooh la la!
Exquisite Form also produced a stunning circle stitch dubbed the Circl-o-Form. The design was constructed with a circumscribed cross seam breaking the cup down into four separate sections, it also featured forked straps and an elastic insert at the bust, delivering a particularly pointy shape while maintaining a comfortable fit.
A vintage 50s ad for the Circl-o-Form bra.
And the same vintage 50s Circl-o-Form from our archives.
Perhaps the most well known of the bullet bras was Maidenform's Chansonette style. The Chansonette bra was an instant success from its very beginnings and became the company's best selling style of all time. Over 90 million were sold in 100 countries since its release in 1949 until they retired the bra in '78. Much of the style's success can be attributed to the genius "I dreamed..." ad campaign which spotlighted the design for years. See the previous blog about Maidenform's advertisements for more images and info.
The famous Chansonette by Maidenform.
As new technologies like elastics and underwires changed bra construction the genius of the circle stitch bra lost its initial appeal. However, today it seems to be making a comeback. Haute couture designers like Zac Posen, Sonia Rykiel, Dolce & Gabanna and Jean Paul Gaultier, have recently been working the style into their contemporary designs breathing new life into the vintage fashion.