Origin: United States
Brand: Exquisite Form
An iconic 1950s bra that was considered extremely innovative for the time period in its unusual construction and technological advancements. The ‘Circl-o-form’ bra used a combination of spiral stitching and partially elasticated strapping to shape and lift the bust, with claims that the cut would give a more comfortable fit.
The bra is made from a combination of lace exterior and rigid nylon mesh lining. Elastic inserts are used at the centre front cradle (below a keyhole cutout under the cups) and at the underarms, incorporated into the signature ‘Circl-o-form’ strapping. Cups are constructed with 4 piece patterns and are spiral stitched to support and shape the bust into a fashionable pointed shape. The garment is entirely machine sewn, with a combination of lockstitch and zigzag. The cups and wings are constructed with linings, with many of the seams twin-needle taped over with cotton bias tape.
The bra fastens with hooks and eyes at the right side back. A strip of elastic is sewn into the left hand side of the garment, giving a small amount of fit flexibility across the centre back. The bra’s signature construction detail is the suspended strapping detail across the top of each cut, incorporating nylon tape strapping in a folded /\ construction, sewn in crossing over at the centre front, and into the underarm with a piece of elastic for fit flexibility. The shoulder straps are created of a twin needle tape of nylon tape and are adjustable with an enamelled metal clasp at each cup apex.
Manufacturers in the 1930s experimented with different combinations of pattern pieces in order to create supportive bra cups, but soon realised the limitations of the materials they were using. Once the fashionable breast silhouette became more pointed in the 1940s, further innovations in cup construction were needed to achieve this effect. A variety of different stitching techniques to reinforce the cups and provide uplift to the breasts were developed, starting with the spiral stitching of Hollywood Maxwell’s ‘Whirlpool’ brassiere in the US in 1935. Maiden Form introduced their Chansonette in 1938 which historian Jill Fields said (in her book An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie and Sexuality) ‘worked on a similar principle but created a circle out of spokelike sections […] Circle-stitched cups ultimately became so popular that special sewing machines with multiple needles were constructed to mass produce them’.
A 1950s UK magazine advert for Exquisite Form Brassieres illustrates how the complex styles of the post-war period were marketed to consumers using the latest technological developments as a differentiator. The advert features two Exquisite Form bras, which it claims will mould your figure ‘to a new bewitching loveliness’. The CIRCL-O-FORM bra is spiral stitched, available with or without the ‘amazing floating action’ – which, it claims, distributes shoulder strap pressure – and it comes in superfine poplin or nylon, in A, B and C cups. The Equalizer bras are only available for A and B cups but are subtly padded to ‘maintain cup-section fullness’. They also have ‘self-adjusting sections for perfect fit’, although it’s not clear from the advert how this is achieved.
From the collection of Lorraine Smith