Last Friday, I made a brief appearance on all 40 BBC local radio stations as part of the Georgey Spanswick show. Prompted by a Daily Mail article* by Sandra Howard on the supposed return of the bullet bra – or at least the more pointed shape that was popular in the mid twentieth century – Georgey was keen to ask a few questions on retro underwear and changing styles throughout history, and the lovely Amber Butchart had put her team in touch with me because of my Bra Master status. You can listen again to the show on the BBC Local Radio website (my bit is from 21m 20s to 27m 29s), but I was given the questions in advance so have typed up my pre-interview notes too.
Do you think it’ll catch on?
I’m not sure if the iconic bullet bra shape will ever become as popular as it was in the 1950s, but I think we’re moving away from one style of bra dominating the market so retro silhouettes have found a place too. The best thing about the lingerie available today is the sheer variety of styles and sizes available. Just 10 years ago, it would have been extremely difficult to find a bra on the high street that wasn’t underwired or padded in some way. The potential for nipples to poke through or any kind of ‘pointiness’ were a complete no no! Now there seems to be a wider variety of acceptable bra styles available on the high street and online via small brands.
How tastes have changed?
Bra styles have changed a lot in the last 100 years: 30s styles gave subtle curves; 40s styles were more pointy; in the 1950s designers tried everything they could think of for uplift & support; 60s bras became more comfortable as Lycra was used; in the late 60s and into the 70s it was popular to not wear a bra, or at least look like you weren’t; 80s bras had lots of lace and more options for day/evening/sports etc; 90s was all about cleavage and push up; and in the early 2000s boobs became smooth nipple-less globes!
Have we got more risqué?
Up to the 1990s, I’d have said yes as underwear did seem to be getting smaller. However, now you can buy a much wider variety of attractive styles, from thongs to full briefs. Overall, I’d say that women’s lingerie is probably more sultry than risqué these days. Not that underwear all about sex, of course.
Has ladies underwear changed a lot?
The fashionable silhouette changed a lot on the twentieth century. Women went from wearing steel boned corsets to Lycra girdles… from control girdles to lightweight suspender belts… and then to panty girdles and tights. Briefs became skimpier in the 70s and 80s, then higher cut on the leg in the 90s. Underwear styles have changed a lot, but the main difference is that, due to advances in fabric technology, it has become more comfortable and much less restrictive. Today’s shapewear can create a similar effect to girdles of the 30s and 40s – but without steel boning – and it’s now purely optional, unlike the corsets of the late nineteenth century.
What about men’s?
The invention of the practical close fitting Y-fronts in the 1930s was a key moment in twentieth century men’s underwear history. Since then, whether men have preferred boxers of briefs has largely depended on how tight the fashionable trousers of the time were. You couldn’t have worn boxer shorts under the tight trousers of the 70s, but they were very fashionable under the looser styles of the 80s… especially after the 1985 Levis ad with Nick Kamen undressing in a launderette! These days, tight trunks seem to be the preferred fashionable style thanks,perhaps, to David Beckham.
Image of Diana Dors, and her impressively pointy bust, via Doctor Macro. *I’m not linking to the article, because I hate the Mail so much. If you’re at all interested, Google it.