Bullet Bras and Bombshells: the Conical Design of Bras and Breasts in America 1930s – 1960s
My dissertation ‘Bullet Bras and Bombshells’ investigates numerous links between the ‘bullet bra’, weaponry, the military and the conical busty ideal that became known as ‘bombshell’. It explores the complex relationship between military-driven changes in technology and the presentation and perception of the female body in the US.
The US entry into the Second World War marked a time of great change for the bra. The established concept of ‘uplifted youthfulness’ was used by the Corset and Brassiere Association of America to argue the bra’s essentiality as a time-saving labour device, vital for moulding an efficient female work force in the absence of male workers, in the hope that this would reduce the rations that affected bra production. Brassiere manufacturers such as Maiden Form engaged in wartime commissions for the military; manufacturing and even designing objects for use in the war effort. Furthermore, the increasingly structured shape of the bullet bra and breast ideal utilised the developments in synthetic materials that had resulted from the military-industrial complex. The development of plastic surgery was likewise accelerated during the war. This eventually led to its increased publicity as the ultimate method to uplift and shape the breast by permanently implanting the same synthetic materials, such as nylon coated foam rubber, that were used to mould bras and ‘falsies’.
One of my academic specialisations is in the commodification and fetishisation of the female body, a theme, which I also addressed in my essay on the production of nineteenth -century hairwork in the first term.
I was selected for the Bard Graduate Center student exchange programme, which provided me with four months accommodation in New York. This enabled me to carry out my research at archives including the Maiden Form Collection at the National Museum of American History, Washington DC and the Jerome Pierce Webster Plastic Surgery Papers at Columbia University Medical Center, NYC.