The Great Vintage Bra Debate

Vintage 1950's Perma Lift

Okay, Ladies! Let’s talk brassieres! The more vintage sewing I do, the more I hate my bras. The grapefruit shaped T shirt bra just looks all wrong. So, here’s the $64,000 question. What sort of shape do you prefer under your vintage style clothes? Do you go all out for the torpedo shaped bullet bra or is that just too much? I personally like a 1940′s shape, which is right between the grapefruit and torpedo. Sort of like the brassiere equivalent of Goldilocks. Just right! Have any of you made your own bras? Would you buy a vintage style bra pattern? Thoughts?

• Meet the Author • Housewife Betty


Thanks to my freakish, Jayne Mansfield-esque body (40-30-40 with a long torso and ugly knees) and a love of all things retro, I started sewing to fit my shape. Finally I can wear a dress that FITS! I love vintage patterns, and I'm exploring resizing to fit my shape. I love seeing what my fellow vintage-o-philes are stitching up!


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21 comments… add one

  • Trying to make the perfect bra right now,my present mock-up is rather pointy, total topedo,but the last one was really flat,still working on it.Bought a pattern but it really didn’t have cup size choices and I’m some where around a DD and need support after breast feeding and weight loss.The right bra really does help with vintage clothes and a proper silloutte

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  • One could try the UK bra brands…. Panache, Freya, Fantasie, et al. They all make many styles that have seamed cups and therefore give a more “vintage” look: more of a conical shape than round, but not so extreme as to be pointy. Two good ones to try are the Fantasie Helena and the Panache Tango II Balconette. In the model photos, they look round, but in real life I’ve found they definitely give a more natural shape. Good luck!

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  • I love love love my Bali Flower Bra. It gives you moderate 1950s torpedo boob (but not so much that I look porny at church or PTA meetings) and it can usually be found on sale for under $20. These are the best fitting bras I’ve ever worn, I am seriously not going back.

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  • I am a small band/large bust, so I have a really hard time finding a great bra. I’ve been sewing my own for a while…..

    Bali Flower has an underwire. Do you all prefer an underwire, or not care? It seems the underwire was around in the ’50′s mainly with strapless bras and merrywidows. They really seemed to take off in the 1980′s, as the preferred shape transitioned from pointy to more round. I personally hate the underwire.

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    • I hear you on the small band/large bust. I’m currently wearing a 34F. It sucks not being able to buy them in stores, thank goodness for the internet!

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    • I have both underwire and wireless bras, and I like both, depends on what they’re supposed to do. I really need the wire in half-cups, but I prefer structured full-cup bras without the wire. My best half-cup has both underwire and fan-shaped boning in the cup.

      I also have one vintage 3/4-length strapless bra with an overwire; it is seriously beautiful, and gives quite good strapless support, especially considering my size – 34 F here as well. With a few modifications I could probably wear it quite comfortably under a structured strapless bodice. Cathedral-boned longlines and bustiers work really well too, in my experience.

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  • I am partial to Ohhh Lulu patterns. They just released the Bambi bra, which has the seaming that gives retro style shaping. I have tried it out, and I found the pattern to be a very good fit based off measurements. I know the owner has written that she is an unusually small band size as well, so I would imagine she considers that particular concern when drafting. I would love to get good at bra sewing, as I too dislike that grapefruit look. And I don’t like underwire, but I think I might be addicted to it. My midwife told me I should not wear underwire though.

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  • I admit, I don’t wear much vintage at the moment (don’t have much) but I wear a normal modern underwire bra under everything. I’m heavy busted both cup-size and weight so I have to have an underwire otherwise I, erm, don’t appear to be wearing a bra at all. I can see the appeal of a more pointy bra but on me I don’t think it would look very good.

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  • I have a couple of 1940s and 50s style bras that I wear sometimes under garments made of wovens, but I wear A LOT of knits on top and they just do not work for me in that situation. I also really can’t stand not having an underwire, unless there is so much other structure to a bra that everything is held way up. I’m one of those weirdos who’s really uncomfortable going braless, though, so that puts my opinion in the minority I’m sure. When looking at vintage style bras, however, I definitely lean much more towards the 1940s shape. The full on cone bra look of the 50s is a bit much for me.

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  • I have a couple vintage 50s bras that I liked to wear when I was less porky and they didn’t strangle me. I noticed that my vintage 1940s clothes looked a lot better and correct when I wore these as oppose to my modern bras. I haven’t made my own, but the silhouette is much more pleasing with an early 60s (non bullet) bra or earlier. Hope this little bit helps.

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  • I’ve looked into making my own bras, but regardless of style (although I would like a few vintage-styled undergarments), I can’t seem to find any patterns that are even close to my size. I find the ones with the right cup size to have a band size many times larger than I need, and the ones with the right band size the cup sizes are way too small. If anyone knows of a good, not too difficult bra pattern or kit that will fit a 38F, point me to it!

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  • Honestly – I go to Target to the “old lady” section and shop for bras there! You can find some great 40′s style bras and they don’t cost as much a the vintage reproduction underwear does. I just look for similar shapes/seams as vintage underwear and that works really well!

    It ends up looking good under both modern and vintage wear, plus the support is so much better. I like the half-way compromise between the full on 50s bullet bra and a more subtle vintage-y silhouette.

    xox,
    bonita of Depict This!

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  • Another vote for the Bali Flower. Seriously, check them out.

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  • I think I’m a bit odd girl out in that I look for vintage patterns with great details that will not necessarily look authentic retro/vintage when i sew them and wear them which makes them more wearable for me, so I am not going for the retro looking breast shape either. If I was trying to dress authentic though that would be a different story. I am also a 32-34f-g depending on the bra and personally can’t live without the underwire but am always looking for the perfectly comfy version, my chest is naturally grapefruit shaped though which is always thought was a plus until I read these comments :)

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    • i’m the same way. I like vintage inspired things, rather than trying to be completely historically accurate. I understand the other point of view, but for me it’s not much of an issue. I like underwire bras. I’m with you on the “grapefruit” comments, too. I’m shaped like that naturally, but no one’s ever complained. : )

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    • I’m the same size and agree with you completely. Underwire is a necessity with us. I also have the same natural rounded shape. I think that the bullet bras work better on those less well endowed. I have no desire to go there. I love 40s and 50s silhouettes, but I’m not trying to look as though the TARDIS picked me up from those decades and deposited me in 2013.

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  • Hi Housewife Betty, that’s a great question! In my vast experience with vintage bra patterns, it all really depends on your cup size. Vintage bra patterns never bothered with cup sizes and relied only on band sizes, which were often no larger than a B- cup paired with around a 36″ band.
    As far as patterns are concerned, I have a nice collection of vintage bra sewing patterns available in my shop, from the 1930′s to the 1950′s. Good luck with your quest!
    https://www.etsy.com/shop/Mrsdepew?section_id=5626403

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  • I wear the Doreen bra from Triumph 99% of the time. It’s really comfortable, and I think the shape is great. It’s not as pointy as a bullet bra, but I think it has more lift than most 40′s bras, so it’s a happy compromise. I like that it doesn’t have underwire, so I can toss it in the machine (in a bag, wool cycle). I think it supports as well as an underwire bra, but my tits aren’t that big.

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  • I’m a 30DD and physically active, which means that I spend most of my time in heavy-duty Triumph sports brassieres to avoid getting flogged to death by my own bust tissue – my idea of ‘support’ equals ‘can jump up and down without any discernable breast movement’, and my idea of silhouette ‘something that holds me in tightly enough to make my bust look more Audrey Hepburn and less Marilyn Monroe’. By this means I can usually pass for a 32B, which is more flattering on me and means my vintage knitwear fits/drapes properly… I hate underwires, and since all my underwear gets sweated into on a regular basis it has to be readily washable.

    The main trouble is that for a large cup size you need such a lot of supporting fabric in the top half – no slender little ribbon straps possible – so I can’t wear any kind of wide-neckline or low-V cut garments.

    The 1940s silhouette is what I’m generally aiming at – lots of uplift without the squirting forward look – and I’ve looked into drafting my own bra pattern in heavy cotton as ordering in the size I need via the local shops is so expensive. I’m assuming that if you’re making a single size you don’t actually need the special stretch sports fabric for the cups.

    However, I don’t see this happening any time soon as it’s an ambition I’ve had for at least ten years – and counting!

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  • I want to make my own bras, eventually. I have purchased some 40s bra patterns from Anna Depew’s Etsy shop. I also have a pattern from Bravo Bella Bras. I love my Panache Tango II plunge bras. They give great shape for my bust. Kind of 40s shape. Also, the Goddess Jayne bra does pretty well but isn’t a perfect fit for my body like the Tango II is.

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  • Late to the party! I am in the process of building a wardrobe of old-school longline bras, with a moderately to very pointy silhouette. I love the support, and I find that my wardrobe, which consists mainly of either vintage or my own production, looks far better over them than over modern bras with a rounded shape – I get a much sharper, sleeker and more defined silhouette, and my boobs are properly supported while looking a bit more contained, I find. Modern round cup bras just tend to smush them and make them look huge and clumsy. I have a few half-cups for low-cut garments, that’s where the modern ones really shine (and I’ve always found it eminently possible to find bras that work well with big cleavage, in spite of my size, but strapless is out of the question).

    I am a 34 F in modern bra sizing, which means that it is impossible for me to find my actual contemporary size in vintage and vintage-cut bras – the contemporary old lady fare someone mentioned, that’s what I go for in nine cases out of ten. Bras in vintage cut and construction were made and produced well into the 1990′s and 2000′s, thanks to all the women who stuck with their old favourites, and a few are made today as well, not only by repro companies like WKD.

    Anyway, I got lucky and found a vintage longline in a vintage shop, probably 70′s or 80′s rather than 50′s or 60′s, that fit me like a glove and is a much more easily obtained size; 38 D. I read somewhere that vintage bra sizing sometimes work on the same basic principle as contemporary, but turned on it’s head – ie, the number refers to your bust measurement in inches, not your band measurement, and the cup size determines the proportions between band and cup from the other way around, down from the bust measurement instead of up from the underbust measurement, and the cup sizes were in larger increments – the difference between an A and a B were larger than between a contemporary A and B. I certainly can’t fit my boobs into a D cup in my usual band size.
    Or maybe not; maybe the old-school longlines I’m looking for fit me mostly because it doesn’t all hang on the strip of fabric just at the bustline, and a 34F would be too tight in the waist. I don’t know. A 38D cup would be the same cup as a 34F cup, after all. The only thing that matters is that it works, and I love it. Classic longlines are killer bras, they make everything I wear look much better, they do wonders for my figure – think Joan Holloway, that sleek, well-defined line she has even with huge… tracts of land – and I am tired to death of the smushed boob look of contemporary bras.

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