A bullet bra is a type of women’s undergarment first worn and popularized in the 1940s and remained popular until the 1960s and 1970s. This garment takes its name from the conical shape of the cups made for this type or brassiere, which resemble the tips of bullets. These bras were especially popular during the pin-up era of the mid 20th century, and many models of that time were seen in these types of bras. While the bra ultimately lost popularity due to changing manufacturing techniques and fashion trends, there are still some fans of vintage lingerie who appreciate these garments.
Also called a torpedo or cone bra, a bullet bra is a particular style of brassiere designed to provide greater shape and support for a woman’s bust, prior to the use of underwire and padding in bras at the end of the 20th century. These bras were typically made from satin or nylon and usually consisted of several round pieces of fabric, sometimes connected by “spokes” that extended from the center of each cup outward. The name “bullet bra,” as well as “torpedo bra,” are both fairly indicative not only of the conical shape created by these garments, but also of the post-war mentality and nomenclature of the 1940s and 1950s.
Models and actresses of that time greatly popularized the bra, and the wearing of these brassieres beneath fairly tight sweaters led to a fashion style known as the “sweater girl” look. The shape of a woman’s bust while wearing this type of bra was often accentuated by wearing such a sweater, which created an attractive visual profile for the wearer. Actresses such as Marilyn Monroe and Lana Turner made these brassieres and the “sweater girl” look quite famous. Pin-up models of the 1940s and 1950s, such as Betty Paige, also often posed for calendars and lingerie photographs while wearing a bullet bra.
The bullet bra was ultimately a victim of changing technology and fashion, however, and largely went out of popularity in the 1960s. Underwire and padding were introduced to bras at that time, and though these were initially fairly uncomfortable, the support and shape provided by such garments were still desirable. In the late 1960s and 1970s, movements were made by many women toward abandoning brassieres completely or demanding more comfortable garments. The singer Madonna returned the bullet bra to the public eye in the 1990s, after which they remained a popular garment within a niche vintage lingerie market.