Chapter 3 - 1930s: lastex and shoulder straps

The introduction of separate cups in the late 1920s improved the support and uplift provided to the breasts with increasingly complicated cup construction becoming common over the next few decades. The first stretch fibre, Lastex, was introduced in 1929 by the Dunlop Rubber Company and could be woven or knitted into one- or two-way stretch fabrics, providing a porous and lightweight alternative to rubber. Lastex was popular for use in brassiere manufacture in the 1930s because it retained its shape through much washing and wearing. Its use also meant that women whose measurements fell in-between the standard sizes were now catered for.

As uplifted breasts became a feature of the fashionable silhouette for women in the 1930s, more attention was paid to the specific elements of brassiere design that would make this possible. Fully elastic shoulder straps were trialled in the UK in the mid-30s but, perhaps because early elastics had too much stretch to be able to provide adequate support, a couple of other options proved to be more popular. Some bras featured a short section of elastic used to attach ribbon or fabric straps to the cup or to the back of the bra, and adjustable ribbon straps became more common in the late 30s.

Low back silk and lace bra by Cadolle, c. 1930s The Underpinnings Museum shot by Tigz Rice Studios 2017

SILK & LACE LOW BACK BRA BY CADOLLE

Date:  1930s

Origin: France

Fabric: Silk and leavers lace

Brand: Cadolle

This brassiere offered not only the fashionable 1930s shape of a subtly lifted bustline, but also offered a low cut back that was likely designed to be worn with the low cut bias-gowns of the era. It is certainly a luxurious garment with high-end fabric and couture-like construction, likely intended only for occasion wear.

Shoulder straps are made with a combination of rayon satin and a strip of elastic and, unusually for the time period, feature an adjutable section with celluloid adjusters. Adjustable shoulder straps were rarely seen until the 1950s. The shoulder straps are placed at the cup apexes and are widely placed at the back, to allow for low back garments to be worn without the undergarment showing.

The garment was made in France by the Cadolle brand, to be sold in the Chicago department store stockist Marshall Fields. It was likely marketed as an ultra-luxe import, particularly since French fashion was renowned worldwide.

EMBROIDERED SILK KESTOS STYLE BRA

Date:  Early 1930s

Origin: Great Britain

Fabric: Silk satin

Brand: Custom made

A soft cup style bra based on the ‘Kestos’ bra of the late 1920s. Kestos was trademarked in 1925 and the bra was arguably one of the first commercially produced bras with seperated cups. It marked the shift in ideal body aesthetic from the flattened bust of the 1920s to the more voluptuous ideal of the 1930s.

The Kestos bra is based on two lightly darted triangle cups, overlapping at the centre front. Elasticated straps cross at the centre back, fastening around the front with buttons underneath the bust point. The bra was designed by Rosaline Kiln, a Polish-born designer residing in London. The Kestos bra remained popular through the 1930s and 1940s. Although the Kestos brand produced many different styles, this bra shape became generically known as ‘The Kestos’.

This particular bra is not an authentic branded Kestos, but was custom made as part of a trousseau by a seamstress for an individual wealthy client. This piece is particularly noteworthy due to the luxurious and time-consuming techniques and fabrics used. The full set is constructed with a mix of machine stitching and hand sewing. The majority of core construction, such as the darts and interior binding stitching, is done by machine, with the majority of finishing done by hand.

Embroidered Silk Kestos Style Bra & Tap Pant Set, c. early 1930s The Underpinnings Museum shot by Tigz Rice Studios 2017
Kestos Bra 'Line' Advertisement, circa 1930s, The Underpinnings Museum

KESTOS BRA ‘LINE’ ADVERTISEMENT

Date:  estimated to be 1930s

Origin: England

Brand: Kestos

The ‘Kestos’ style bra was one of the defining moments of 1930s lingerie, marking the move from the 1920s trend for a flattened bust to the more lifted ‘natural’ silhouette of the 1930s.  It was one of the first commercially produced bras available on the market.

This advertisement capitalises on women’s fears of not maintaining a fashionable silhouette, emphasising the need for ‘line’ and ‘control’: ‘it ensures the high breastline that fashion demands… and guards against physical and mental strain’.  Although such claims are disputable, it was not uncommon for underwear advertisements to laud the health benefits of their garments. It is also worth noting the use of illustrations rather than photographs, as it was arguably easier to create an idealised figure and image through drawing than photography at the time.

The slender women featured in the illustrations of many 1930s adverts for the Kestos Brassiere are elegant yet toned, capturing a dual obsession with Hollywood glamour and with fitness. One 1937 UK magazine advert features evocative description of the Kestos woman, describing her as appreciating the ‘exquisiteness of form’ of the Kestos, and the following paragraph states that ‘a simple adjustment of the straps and the everyday Kestos becomes a backless brassiere for evening or sports wear.’ Although the advert is clearly selling the lifestyle of this idealised Kestos woman, the reader’s attention is also drawn to the simple yet effective structure of the garment, and its uniquely adjustable straps.

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