a model wearing a 30s bullet bra

Bullet Bra – The 50s Fashion You Either Love or Hate

Bullet bra was a short-lived fashion trend that still fascinates people. Emma Benitez of Nylon Nostalgia shares more about its history.

  • Emma Benitez & Liisa Jokinen

  • Aug 22, 2023

Cover photo: Vaux Vintage

Bullet bra is a slightly padded bra with exaggerated pointedness and with concentric stitching to the cups, giving an exaggerated if not unnatural conical shape to the breasts. The craze for having an uplifting, slightly conical bust profile was like most other fashion trends – it started out subtle and was eventually taken to extremes.

Bullet bra history is relatively short-lived. In the late 40s, a fashion developed for wearing cone bras. Cone bras gave a subtle, softer conical outline to the bust without the effect being too obvious. Cone bras were usually softline and unpadded and, therefore, quite comfortable to wear. By the 50s, cone bras had been overtaken by the true bullet bra that vintage lovers are still talking about to this day. A true 50s vintage bullet bra has no wiring, and it is the characteristic concentric stitching that gives the bra its rigidity and shape.

Bullet bras were also known as torpedo bras – this name came about in the 40s when women went to work in the factories and contributed to the war effort. The highly structured design of the torpedo bra was supposed to protect female machinists at work, but then it all turned into a fashion fad item instead. Because there was a war on, words like ‘bullet’ and ‘torpedo’ ended up being used to describe the bras.

Perma-Lift is attributed to introducing the bullet bra concept (wire-free structure using conical concentric stitching) back in 1941. Other noteworthy brands to look out for are Circl-O-Form by Exquisite Form, Ringlet by Lovable, Life Bra by Formfit, and Chansonette by Maidenform.

As the 40s turned into the 50s, bullet bras became more and more exaggerated and outrageously pointy to the point (no pun!) where you could buy conical bra fillers (‘pads’) so that the pointy end of your bullet bra cup remained sharply pointed. The whole thing got silly. Then along came the style backlash. In the end, bra manufacturers started producing ads that effectively said, “Hey look - our bras are NOT pointed” – Peter Pan brand with their Merry-Go-Round cup is a good, but not the only, example. Subtlety was back.

By the 60s, bullet bras were still being worn, although new developments in more modern lingerie fabrics meant that more comfortable bras were slowly replacing the unloved rigidity. By the late 60s to the 70s, the trend in bras had gone full circle to a far more natural, softer, and more comfortable profile, and this situation has carried on until the present day.

Although bullet bras fell out of fashion pretty quickly, they are still coveted by vintage lovers. They sell fast, and there will always be a strong market for the true vintage bullet bra, just as sales of ‘modern made’ retro bullet bras are brisk too. The bullet bra is the prime motivator of a whole retro pinup look, and it just wouldn’t be the same without them.

Madonna tried to bring the bullet bra back to life when she wore one in pink satin along with her Jean Paul Gaultier outfit on stage during her ‘Blond Ambition’ tour way back in 1990 – over 30 years ago now. Wearing what amounted to a bullet bra corset she certainly got noticed at the time, and I don’t suppose it did her career any harm, but did bullet bras catch on with women as a mainstream lingerie item? Of course not. They are too exaggerated and uncomfortable to wear ever to become a mainstream trend.

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