Date: c. 1960s
Origin: Great Britain
Fabric: Nylon and lycra mesh
Padding was not just used to create uplift, it was also used to make breasts appear larger and an increasing numbers of products became available in the mid-1930s to enable women to boost what nature had provided. Options available in the 1950s were more extensive and technical, including: padding built into a bra, made from foam rubber, felt or eiderdown; removable pads that slipped inside pockets in the cups; separate ‘bust forms’ or ‘falsies’ to be placed inside any brassiere. 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 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.
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 exterior cups have a 3 piece-pattern, with an embroidered nylon exterior and zigzag butted padding. The centre front garment cradle and wings are both made of rigid nylon, while the side cradle uses a stretch lycra mesh.
A strip of elastic extending from the left wing across the centre back gives a small amount of fit flexibility, with a hook and eye fastening at the right hand wing. The garment cradle’s bottom edge is hemmed with zigzag stitched elastic. The neck edge of the garment on both the cup and wing are folded into the interior of the garment and twin-needle taped over with a nylon lace trim. The underband wing is folded into the interior of the garment and twin-needle taped over with a nylon bias tape. Shoulder straps are made of a nylon ribbon which is adjustable from the cup apex with enamelled metal sliders.
The bra garment label states the brand name and the product details including style number, size, notable fibre content and manufacture location: ‘UL6 / 32AAA / Lycra / Made in England’. Two areas of note here are the use of cup size, particularly at size ‘AAA’ (as cup sizes at the time tended to be limited to A-D). The use of ‘lycra’ is likely here as the fibre was still relatively new technology, and would have been a major selling point for underwear.
The bra also comes with a swing tag that contains extensive information on how to choose the correct bra size (which includes instructions on how to measure yourself), and how to wash and dry the garment. Curiously it includes a lot more detail than the care labels of many modern garments, even detailing how to iron the bra, how to ease it back into shape after washing, and to avoid sharp nails.
From the collection of Karolina Laskowska