Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Vintage bullet bras - show and tell!

The other week a friend of mine sent a parcel with the note "I saw these at a vintage market and thought they might be the sort of thing you would like" .. I opened the package and promptly burst into tears of joy and happiness!  Look what was inside ...

Two 1950's  bullet bras!!  They are made from cotton and though constructed differently, have the same spiral stitching design on the cups.  I thought you all might like to have a closer look ...

The first is by "Gordonia of Nottingham".  Despite lots of interwebular searching, I can't find any information on this company except that they had offices in New York too.

I love the way that bullet bras are constructed.  They seem so easy to replicate - all the parts are very simple, no stretchy powernet, no complicated stitches, no underwires, just cotton, elastic, and shaping.  

This Gordonia bra has elastic under the cups at each side, which joins onto a cotton 'cradle' in the middle, and cotton 'wings' at either side which are also attached to the sides of the cups.

The side wings are the same shape and size on either side, but unlike modern bras, they do not meet in the middle.  I am guessing that this particular bra was for a lady with a very wide back.  As you can see, the working part of the strap is a long piece of wide elastic, which joins onto a cotton 'eye' tape with two adjustments.  The hook section joins onto the other wing and is neatly sew in, whereas the eye side is zigzagged onto the elastic and frayed at top and bottom - this leads me to believe that hook and eye tape was not as neatly finished (if at all) as it is these days.  

The inside of the bra cups are unfinished in that there is no lining to shield the breast from either the seams or the stitching - might be quite rough to wear!  Interestingly from a construction point of view, the seams inside the cup seem to be lapped because there are no raw edges visible at all and they are not bound over.  The construction of the cup is in three parts so there is a seam right across the middle, and then one going down to the cradle from the middle of each cup.  The top section of the cup is one piece. The shaping comes from darts placed in these seams.  Click HERE to read a post I wrote last year on the shaping of cups for a bullet bra inspired project.

The lower edge of the cup, on the inside, seams to be finished with cotton tape, and the top edge on the inside has a satin tape finishing the inside - the only 'luxury' apparent in this very 'everyday' bra.  

The straps are attached at the front by a small piece of elastic sewn in between the cup and top binding into a loop which carries two metal rings through which the bra strap passes.  These rings act as the method by which the straps are adjusted - the end is left loose (and unfinished!).  At the back, the straps are sewn into the bra strap at the edge of the 'wings'.

The second bra, is made by "Exquisite Form" and is a '34C'.  Although at first glance these bras look very alike, they are in fact quite different.

This one has the elastic in the middle of the cradle with a peepthrough hole above it, presumably by design but also to allow the a good stretch if needed.    Again the cradle attaches each side to the wings, which are in turn attached to wide elastic at the back with a wide hook and eye tape.  The hook and eye tape on this bra looks as if it is hand whipstitched.

The major difference with this bra is the cup design which is in 4 parts instead of three, so the seams form a 'cross' shape.  On the inside, the seams are not flat felled or lapped as there are raw edges apparent, but the cup is lined with tulle netting - or bobinette.  Presumably for comfort, but also perhaps to give the cups a little body.

Unlike the Gordonia bra, the bottom edges of the cup here are not bound with tape, nor are the side seams joining the cradle to the wings.  The top and bottom edges are finished with narrow cotton tape.  No luxury here but interestingly, the side seams do have a little strip of bobinette sewn over the top of them.  Fiddly!

The straps on this bra join on by a similar method, but no elastic, just a strip of material the same as the straps, sewn into the top of the bra holding a square metal slider as the mode of adjustment for these straps.  Again, the straps are sewn into the back of the bra.  

Now the straps ... I just love how these have been made!  The same on both bras and such a simple method. 

this is the inside

this is the outside
A simple strip of cotton, folded either side and then folded again to meet in the middle, and topstitched down.  That's it!  The stitched side - ie the side where the edges join, is on the outside of the bra.  Utalitarian and decorative all in one go.  My favourite!

I can't imagine that these bras were anywhere near as comfortable or supportive as todays bras, especially for the bigger busted lady, but I think they are gorgeous and I am definitely going to try and replicate them at some point in the not too distant future, perhaps with some beautiful light silk and maybe even a little padding in the cups to enhance the spiral stitching - like these dress cups I made a while ago in a similar style (click link above for full post).  

Retro style padded cups  - unfinished - I grew out of the dress before I finished it! :(

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