The Myth of The Perfect Breast, Part 2: From The No-Bra to The T-Shirt Bra

Wacoal How Perfect Soft Cup Bra

Wacoal How Perfect Soft Cup Bra

Personal preference aside, American society believes breasts should look a certain way. They should be smooth, separated, perky half-spheres that ignore gravity and have no visible nipples, else people perceive them as looking vulgar, obvious, or strange. But this preference for the gravity-defying, no-nipple look hasn’t always existed.

The first part of this series examinedВ the changing ideals of breast shape in America, from the 1920s to the 1950s. The second part continues fromВ the 60s to the present day, to see how styles have changed and aesthetics have evolved over the past fifty years.

1968 Bestform advertisement, via flickr.

The shape you want. 1968 Bestform advertisement, via flickr.

The bullet shape of the 1950sВ softened into the 60s, thanks in part to aВ new fiber called spandex, but stayed relatively pointy.

1966 Gossard advertisement

1966 Gossard advertisement, via flickr.

The 1960s are famous for the idea of bra burning, where feminist activists are said to haveВ lit their bras aflame at the 1968 Miss America pageant to make a statement about oppressive beauty standardsВ in American society. By all accounts, no one actually burned any bras,В but the idea became a relic of the time and reflects the cultural climate.В Throughout the decade, many womenВ still wore bras, especially those with full busts who wanted the support, but othersВ still wanted a less restrictive bra.

1960s no bra advertisement. Interesting that the model still has the slightly-pointed ideal shape under her no bra, along with the strange airbrushing on the low back model

1960s Exquisite Form advertisement. Interesting that the model still has the uplifted, slightly-pointed ideal 60s shape under her no bra, and whats up with the strange airbrushing on the low back models figure? via The Jumping Frog

Women wanted liberation from their expected roles as wife and mother, and bras representedВ those restrictions. So Rudi Gernreich created a stir in 1964 when he invented the no-bra bra,В a two-part bralette made of newly-invented stretch mesh.

1960s Rudi Gernreich advertisement, via

1960s Rudi Gernreich advertisement, via A. G. Nauta Couture

The no bra look was especiallyВ favored by young women, who wore it under new loose, printed dresses.

...playgirls who are wearing the “No Bra” bra have gotten “hooked” on its new-found liberation and the feeling of freedom it gives them and they don’t want to go back to wearing old-fashioned harnesses... via Modern Mechanix

Part of a 1960s multi-page advertisement for variations on the No Bra. playgirls who are wearing the “No Bra” bra have gotten “hooked” on its new-found liberation and the feeling of freedom it gives them and they don’t want to go back to wearing old-fashioned harnesses via Modern Mechanix

Structured bras with their detailed seaming looked bulky under the straight silhouette of the 60s, and women felt liberated by thisВ soft cup bra.

1979 victoria

from a 1979 Victorias Secret catalog,В via Retrospace.В I love this image because in their modern photoshoots, you would never see that breast shape on the right, much less a pair of visible nipples!

Into the 70s, more women startedВ going bralessВ and a more teardrop shapeВ was in style. В Shows like Charlies Angels helped coin the grossВ term jiggle TV because of theirВ bralessВ leading ladies.

1971 advertisement for a Bestform juniors set, via flickr.

1971 advertisement for a Bestform juniors set, via flickr.

New developments in synthetic knits and other stretch fabrics made soft bras more popular for women who wanted a little more coverage.

1971 Maidenform advertisement, via flickr.

1971 Maidenform advertisement, viaВ flickr.

However, the shape of structured bras stayed similar to the shape of the 60s, with a bit less point. Seamless bras like this one were the first of what we call t-shirt bras today.


1970s Penneys advertisement via flickr.

Thanks to the growing influence of feminism, aВ natural look was in style for cosmetics, and ensuring that no one could see your support garments may haveВ stemmed from that ideal.

1985 Maidenform ad via Ebay

1985 Maidenform ad via Ebay

The American woman became more body-conscious as the fitness craze took hold in the 1980s.В Underwires came back into style and created the beginning of todays globular shape: roundВ and lifted. Breast implants existedВ in the US since the 60s, but werent popular until now.

1988 Warner

1988 Warners advertisement, via Found in Moms Basement.

After the straight silhouettes of the 60s and 70s, fashion once again emphasized the breasts in the 80s. Fashion was quite top-heavy with broad shoulders, reflecting the American womans desire for more powerВ in society and business.

From a 1982 Victoria

From a 1982 Victorias Secret catalog, via Retrospace

Victorias Secret was sold to LВ Brands, which beganВ a massive mall-based expansionВ and brought lingerie into the mainstream in the US.

1990s JCPenney lingerie advertisement, via Guerrero Street Lingerie

1990s JCPenney lingerie advertisement, via Guerrero Street Lingerie

Minimalism was huge in 1990s fashion, and lingerie was no exception, the focus was more on the body than the lingerie. Bras still lifted and shaped, but going braless wasnt unheard of as aВ thin, straight silhouette, similar to the 1920s, was popular.

wonderbra-hello-boys_grande.jpg 24165.jpg

The iconic (and very heteronormative) Wonderbra advertisement from the 90s, via NY Post

However, many women wanted to addВ the appearance of additional cup sizesВ and cleavage, so brasВ pushed their breasts up andВ together. Even pixie-like Kate Moss loved the Wonderbra, which was relaunched in the US in the 90s and became an instantВ phenomenon.

1900s Victoria

1990s Victorias Secret advertisement, via Harpers Bazaar

The Victorias Secrets Angels spokesmodels brought huge sales to the brand during the 90s, they wereВ a gamechanger when it cameВ to American womenВ embracing lingerie, and the globular shape, in the late 20th century.

2014 Aerie advertisement

2014 Aerie advertisement via Adweek

Today, the most important parts of the perfect breast shape in America are lift, smoothness, and roundness with emphasis onВ cleavage.


Victorias Secret Add-2-Cups Push-Up Bra

Foam injection creates round cups, and bands are super stretchy, thanks to technological developments in synthetic fabrics.

Freya Deco plunge bra

Freya Deco molded plunge t-shirt bra

It almost seems like todays perfect shape couldnt get any more round, absolutely no pointiness is given with modern contour bras. Im not sure what is socially influencing this round, uplifted shape, or why visible nipples are so taboo today.

Tommy Hilfiger microfiber pushup bra

Tommy Hilfiger microfiber pushup bra

Gel inserts and thick shaped foam add volume, and small-busted women often complain about not being able to find bras without padding. Breast augmentation isВ now the most popular cosmetic surgery in the United States.


Fredericks of Hollywood MyFit Smooth Plunge bra, which enhances your cup size by up to 200%.

Celebrities going braless inВ sheer gowns on the red carpet, along with movements like Free the Nipple, could be changing that, but as far as mainstream American society goes, nipples are still seen as taboo. I spoke with a couple of UK-based lingerie labelsВ at the last Curvexpo NY tradeshow, and almost all of theВ bras they sold to US-based boutiques were molded t-shirt bras.

The interconnected modern world means different shapes and styles of bras are more accessible than ever in the US, but there is still such a small range of breast shapes that are seen as normalВ by mainstream America. It would probably beВ unprofessional for an American womanВ to show up to herВ corporate job wearing a stretchy bralette or a longline bullet bra under her blouse. Proper undergarments are determined by what we see as normal, and this is the norm today in America.

So isВ this it? Are American women destined to shape their breasts into gravity-defying half-globes for the rest of eternity? Is thisВ the perfect breast shape? Of course not.В Aesthetics dont evolve with an end point in mind, theyve changed continuously throughout history and will likely keep changing into the future. Americas current idea of perfection isnt the pinnacle of breast shape or the height of perfection. The preference for the globular breast didnt evolveВ from decades of society trying out different silhouettes in pursuit of the best one, its evolvedВ over and over for the past 100 years,В and will probably be a different preference entirely in the next century.

And thats totally okay! Part of the fun of lingerie and fashion in general is playing with shapes and proportions. But its important to remember that its just another shape, no better or worse than any previous shapes, and not the end-all-be-all of breast preferences. Too many women beat themselves up for having breastsВ that dont fit the ideal, but the ideal is lifted and contoured to suit the modern age. In fifty years, itsВ entirely possible the current ideal will look absolutely ridiculous.When it comes to aesthetics, perfect is subjective.

Do you agree that in fifty years, the current ideal breast shape will look ridiculous to Americans? Or do you think the globular shape is here to stay? What aspects of our culture do you think influenced the shape?

Author: Quinne Myers