Chapter 7 - 1950-60s: pre-forming & the rise of synthetic fibres

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, bra cups could be moulded into shape and lined in a new process called pre-forming, which gave a very structured and rigid appearance. This was a trend which continued until the mid 1960s when a softer silhouette started to become fashionable. This was also when synthetics stopped being used as merely replacements for natural fibres and were instead celebrated for their own merits. The 60s was also a decade that saw the rise of the ‘teen’ market in the US and in Britain, with young consumers embracing inexpensive synthetic fashions and the bright prints which these manmade fabrics made possible.

Freedom of movement and comfort for the wearer became the focus of many bra adverts at this time. As many heavily structured 1950s styles often had plenty of wiring and boning which could dig into the skin over the course of a day, popular brands like Peter Pan and Berlei chose to advertise their new bras using the word freedom in the name or tagline, to emphasise the flexible and comfortable nature of their products.

Infinity monowire strapless bra, c. 1950s The Underpinnings Museum shot by Tigz Rice Studios 2017

INFINITY MONOWIRE SATIN BRA

Date: c. 1950s

Origin: United States

Fabric: Nylon satin

Brand: Unknown

This unsual bra appears to have been a patent prototype rather than a product, although bears a similarity to the Peter Pan ‘Freedom Ring’ bra.

The wire appears to be in a ‘∞’ shape: two circles joined at the centre. The wire is not flat, but rather slightly curved around the body. It is difficult to see how the centre of the garment is constructed, as it has been wrapped in a velvet ribbon. It is likely that the unusual wire shape would have been very difficult to successfully insert or stitch into the bra.

 

The combination of the very full cup and strapless shape would have made this quite a difficult bra to fit, requiring a very particular bust shape. Coupled with the stitching difficulties, it is perhaps unsurprising that the bra likely never made it to mass manufacturing.

PETER PAN ‘FREEDOM RING’ BRA ADVERT

Date:  c. 1950s

Origin: United States

Brand: Peter Pan

Brand: Unknown

Henry Plehn launched the Peter Pan line of brassieres in the 1930s, patenting a less rigid method of creating bra cups with stitched support which was reportedly cheaper and less expensive than Hollywood-Maxwell’s famous ‘Whirlpool’. This 1950s advert is for their ‘Freedom Ring’ wired bra, which claims to eliminate the discomfort normally associated with underwired bras through unusual wiring which completely encircles the breasts and does not lie flat. This ‘spring-away-from-the-body action’ is claimed to eliminate pressure and supposedly ‘cannot dig in’.

Peter Pan 'Freedom Ring' Bra Advert, c. 1950s, USA. The Underpinnings Museum
'Cupid' pre-formed spiral stitch bra by Miss Twilfit, c. 1950s The Underpinnings Museum shot by Tigz Rice Studios 2017

PRE-FORMED SPIRAL STITCH ‘CUPID’ BRA BY MISS TWILFIT

Date:  c. 1950s

Origin: Great Britain

Fabric: Bri-nylon

Brand: Miss Twilfit

This bra represents numerous technological advancements of the 1950s, including pre-forming, spiral stitching and the branded ‘Bri-Nylon’ fabric. The colour is also noteworthy for a period where tea-rose, white and black dominated.

 

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, bra cups could be moulded into shape and lined in a new process called pre-forming, which gave a very structured and rigid appearance. Linings were often made from foam, with holes added to make it more breathable, or from quilted polyester wadding. This enabled women to achieve a fuller or less uneven look without the use of puffs or pads that were common in previous decades.

Triumph 'Please Pamper Me' Garment Care Booklet, c. 1950s. The Underpinnings Museum

TRIUMPH ‘PLEASE PAMPER ME’ GARMENT CARE BOOKLET

Date:  c.1950s
Origin: Unknown, likely Great Britain
Brand: Triumph

This care booklet from Triumph shows that care instructions for synthetic undergarments were quite different to those that women would have been used to in the early twentieth century. There was now no need for boil washing, intensive scrubbing or hours of drying time to keep your undergarments pristine. In order to help consumers understand the care requirements of the new fabrics, and reduce requests for refunds, manufacturers would include detailed care information on packaging or swing tags.

The booklet is written in the first person and so anthropomorphism of the bra occurs, making the reader feel like this is a person begging to be taken care of: ‘PLEASE don’t scrub me, I hate it.’ The leaflet was clearly intended to be included with several different types of bra as ironing instructions for both rayon and Perlon (a type of nylon) are included, along with a list of European locations where Triumph manufacture. The back of the booklet features illustrated instructions on how to put your bra on to achieve the best fit.

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