Chapter 8 - 1960s-70: Lycra

By the time chemical companies were registering trade names for their particular versions of synthetic fibres, an increasing number of bra adverts were using the added promotional power and consumer awareness of these brands as a marketing tool. Du Pont had announced its new stretch fibre, Lycra, in 1959 and by the 1960s the majority of bras were made from a combination of nylon and Lycra. Advertising emphasised both the stretch straps and back of these bras, informing customers that ranges offered comfort in addition to control. Many images of models wearing bras with Lycra in the mid 60s showed them stretching the straps with their fingers to indicate this new feature.

After the dominance of bra styles which offered the wearer a way to dramatically alter the shape of her breasts, 1970s fashion saw a return to soft flowing lines with a simplicity of construction similar to that of bras from the 30s. Although heavily structured bras like the Wonderbra push-up plunge were selling well in the early 70s, the increasing popularity of a bra-less look throughout the decade led to some innovative new developments. The less structured and more seemingly ‘natural’ new styles provided increased comfort, aided by the use of soft knitted tricot fabrics and the development of seamfree cups. The moulding techniques of the 1950s continued to be developed into the late 70s as, when used in conjunction with lightweight knitted fabrics, cups made from a single piece of fabric could be produced to provide subtle support without showing through clothing.

'Young You' teen bra by Silhouette, c. 1960s The Underpinnings Museum shot by Tigz Rice Studios 2017
'Young You' teen bra by Silhouette, c. 1960s The Underpinnings Museum shot by Tigz Rice Studios 2017

‘YOUNG YOU’ TEEN BRA BY SILHOUETTE

Date:  c. 1960s

Origin: Great Britain

Fabric: Nylon and lycra mesh

Brand: Silhouette

This teen bra uses cut-and-sew padding with stretch lining fabrics to give the illusion of a full bust without the need for heavy pads. The bra is constructed in a similar manner to many of the other bras of the 1960s, with one major difference: the cups are lined with a flat piece of knit jersey, allowing the bra to ‘adapt’ to the wearer’s bust size, with the exterior padding giving the appearance of a larger breast size.

The illustration on the box depicts a young exuberant white woman who appears to be wearing her Silhouette bra over a long sleeved high neck black top. Drawing attention to the garment rather than the body wearing it is definitely of benefit when selling underwear, but this approach also serves to de-sexualise the teenage girl in the image. This is a concept that historian Jill Fields refers to in her book An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie and Sexuality as ‘the invisible woman’ of intimate apparel advertising.

Quilted Padding & Elastic Bra By Philtrex, c. 1960s The Underpinnings Museum shot by Tigz Rice Studios 2017

QUILTED PADDING & ELASTIC ‘LINDA’ BRA BY PHILTREX

Date:  c. early 1960s

Origin: Likely Great Britain

Fabric: Nylon and lycra

Brand: Philtrex

Bras of this era mark the move into construction methods and materials that are still in use to this day. The garment silhouette is certainly typical of the 1960s, with the pointed bust line, but the use of lycra mesh wings, elastication throughout the garment, and adjustable stretch shoulder straps were innovative for the time period.

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.

Floral Printed Nylon Bra & Knicker Set By Saks Fifth Avenue, c. 1960s The Underpinnings Museum shot by Tigz Rice Studios 2017

FLORAL PRINTED NYLON BRA & KNICKER SET BY SAKS FIFTH AVENUE

Date: c. 1960s

Origin: United States

Fabric: Printed nylon & nylon lycra

Brand: Saks Fifth Avenue

This bright, floral bra set is a beautiful example of the 1960s trend for bold and colourful printed underwear. Constructed in a mix of soft, rigid nylon and nylon-lycra blend mesh (at the time an exciting and new fibre).

The bra is constructed with simple 2-part cups in rigid nylon, joined at the centre front with nylon strips for a graphic cut out effect. The silhouette offers a soft pointed bustline with subtle lift. The bra is relatively unstructured, using no wires or boning. The wings of the garment are made of stretch nylon-lycra, which has been print matched to the main nylon fabric.

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