ELLECyclopedia: Bullet Bras Were All The Rage Back In The 50s And Are Now Making A Comeback

Bullet Bras

Breasts, bras and the booby trap treatment. We hide them, we cover them up, we fret over their size and shape. Most political organ of our body, if you ask us. The majority of women view the breast as merely another body part (which of course, it is) that serves a biological purpose and then you have the male gaze, pedestaling the organ as if it were the Ballon d’Or. And don’t get us started on the widespread sexualization. Throughout history, a woman’s breast has played a crucial role in patriarchal politics, influencing everything from marginalisation and eroticisation. But unlike the clichés of modern morality, breasts weren’t always covered. However in 2023, if millions of women had to fight tech giants to just ‘free the nipple,’ you get the gist of the fun times we live in.

But on the bright side, our industry boasts of designers and artists, who’ve celebrated breasts via the creative medium, producing campaigns and showcasing compelling artistry that steers the conversation in a more positive light. One such creation is the bullet bra – whilst being a product of the 50s, Gaultier is the one credited with popularising the conical silhouette and helping it evolve from just a piece of lingerie to a garment as a whole.

A History Lesson

bullet bras

The 1950s are synonymous with the bullet bras which essentially shot to fame because of their provocative and scandalising silhouette. 1941 saw the introduction of the first bullet bra under the Perma-Lift brand. Customers were fascinated by advertisements for the new bra type, which promised to provide both ultimate comfort and support. Underwires were omitted from the Perma-Lift’s construction – the cups were solely kept in shape by stitching. Despite the conical shape of the bra cups, the terms ‘bullet bra’ and ‘torpedo bra’ persisted because of the wars and conflict during those years.

The shape of many bullet bras became so exaggerated by the 1950s that padding, or falsies, were required to prevent the cone cups from appearing deflated when worn. Both the original Perma-Lift and the bullet bras were still in use well into the 1960s but by the late 1960s and early 1970s, soft cup bras were becoming more popular and offered a more natural silhouette – not to mention, they had finally become more comfortable.

The Madonna Effect

bullet bras

These days, vintage and archival clothing is back, and one of the designers who truly honoured and embodied the feminine figure while maintaining a hint of futurism was Jean Paul Gaultier. The designer’s signature has endured over time. The Material Girl’s 1990 Blond Ambition tour helped popularise Gaultier’s first conical bra, which was inspired by the 1950s bullet bras and featured exposed zippers and spiral stitching.

However, what makes Gaultier’s version interesting is that it’s the garment itself, not just an undergarment. And it kind of moves it from this limiting space into a liberating space for women. It was a great fit in many respects for the controversy-chasing Madonna, who was just off the heels of her divisive ‘Like a Prayer’ video that tackled issues of sex, race, and religion.

In Recent Times


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Over thirty years after Madonna popularised Jean Paul Gaultier’s conical bra, a new generation of style icons is adding pointed clothing to the list of people who have been ‘breast dressed.’ Kylie Jenner also starred in Gaultier’s campaign wearing a similar salmon pink bullet bra dress that had the same perky bust-like make, ordaining this archival trend as the biggest comeback in the fashion world this year.

bullet bras

For her ‘Planet Her’ album cover, Say So singer Doja Cat wore a more flamboyant rendition from the French designer’s Fall 1987 collection, while Bella Hadid sported a pearlescent seashell version for Gaultier’s mermaid-themed ‘Les Marins’ campaign. It’s definitely here to stay, we reckon.

With ELLECyclopedia, we aim to demystify terms from the world of fashion, beauty and pop culture. If such deep dives pique your interest, stay tuned as we’re exploring the origins of many such interesting words. In the meantime, you can also read about ‘bumsters.’ Ever heard of it? Tap here to read all about it.

Images via Pinterest & Getty

- Digital Fashion Writer


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