Ob-la-Di, Ob-la-Da, Bras Go On

Article excerpt

Byline: Robin Givhan

From the moment Mad Men debuted, the fashion industry was smitten with the tightly coiled restraint inherent in early-'60s attire--a time when young women mimicked the starched orderliness of their mothers. It was an era poised on the edge of great social change, and no fashion symbol captured that monumental transition better than the bra. The evolution of the garment--from the sculptural '60s brassieres to "bra burning" and beyond--traces the shifting self-image of American women over the decades.

Early 1960s: Taking a Bullet The bra-and-girdle combination gives ladies a Rubenesque silhouette, which finds its ideal in Mad Men's Joan Holloway. Breasts are hoisted high for display and given a conical, Barbie-doll-like shape. Bullet bras represent the last great moment for hourglass voluptuousness; the coming "youthquake" shifts the ideal silhouette to Twiggy's tomboy rakishness.

1968: 'Bra Burning' With the rise of feminism, bras are redefined as a form of oppression, and women go braless in defiance. During a Miss America pageant, feminists protest by tossing bras and high heels into a garbage can. Journalists equate the moment with the burning of draft cards in the anti-Vietnam War movement.

1968: The Ultimate Lift While feminists are decrying the need for bras at all, the Wonderbra is introduced and successfully marketed to mainstream culture. It's revived in the 1990s, this time with the support of the fashion industry: waifish model Kate Moss famously declares that Wonderbra even gives her a bit of cleavage.

1970: Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret Judy Blume's young-adult novel about religion, sex, puberty, and more tackles the fraught topic of training bras as an introduction to womanhood. …