The Push-Up Bra Defined
Although the push-up bra is a special case of the brassière, and like the general case is defined by two shoulder straps and a chest band, it is considered a unique species because its special incorporation of foundation, strap placement, and décolletage contribute to making it a distinctive fashion silhouette (UA6610). The underwire lifts the breasts upward from underneath and may present deep cleavage between the breasts and a décolletage that borders on areolage.
A push-up bra which supports the breasts but leaves the nipple exposed is called a demi-bra. The push-up bra is always an option for the full-breasted woman, but padded versions and careful engineering assist the more typical bust.
The invention of the push-up bra is, in folklore at least, attributed to airplane designer and movie mogul Howard Hughes. The event is the making of the movie The Outlaw, staring Hollywood vixen Jane Russel (JR4310). Hughes fabricates a relative new material--rods of curved structural steel--that are sewn into the garment below each breast and which connect to the bra's shoulder straps. The rigid steel allows the breasts to be pulled upward, and for the shoulder straps to be moved away from the neck. The engineering allows any amount of bosom to be freely exposed.
In time plastics will supplement and replace the steel rod, but the intent of the push-up will always be to not simply contain the breasts, but to lift and display them.
By the 1960s the wider availability of steel enables the underwire bra to migrate toward mainstream. The 60s push-up is a complicated construction, often with two separate, darted cups, each with a curved steel wire build into its base (SP6910). Widely spaced shoulder straps provide uplift without compromising the view (PB6230). A strong back piece contains hook and eye fasteners. In some designs the support around the torso combined with the uplift permits the straps to fall off the shoulder without ill effects, or even to be detached. Leanovers may be performed yet containment is assured (SS6530). In any respect it is important the assembly remains firm so if the bikiniite leans over she stays contained (SS6520).
Bikini and underwear styles copy and mimic each other throughout the 1960s, as underwear incorporates the bikini brief and push-up bra as a stable. Nowhere is this better seen than by comparing publicity pictures of two popular stars of the era clad only in décolleté underwired bras and elastic briefs. Sophia Loren, here teasing her hair, is completing a striptease in Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow (SL6310), while Raquel Welch promotes the movie Fathom (RW196720). The satin trim on Welch's panties frame the boundaries of her pubic hair, and the two-piece bra cup has side elastics built as if they have a considerable weight to support.
Although the most typical 1960s push-up silhouette is the bra, the same basic underwire design is also manifest in both halter (NW6310) and a "bandeau" variation called a balconet, which is essencially is strapless, underwired, brassière. A balconet is easily confused with a bandeau. The difference is primarily in whether the breasts are held from the side (as in a bandeau) or uplifted. Due to the nature of the underwire support the construction of these garments can vary little.
The String Effect and Recovery
Obviously the onslaught of the string bikini and the natural look of the 1970s sound a death knoll for foundations, with the push-up bra and corset at the top of the list. During this period the string halter reigns supreme, and it is not until the late 1980s that bras are seen in any form on the beach (CI8506), and not until the early 1990s that push-up regains currency. By the late 1990s underwire has returned to both swimwear and underwear, and to hear the branding of the new Wonderbra one would think foundation was a new and novel invention. And no doubt for young women who grew up with mothers wearing string halters, it is (CP98BS).
In the long run fashion designers will observe that although the push-up may ebb and flow in vogue, it will always be just too good a trick to ignore for very long.
Foundation to provide uplife, widely spaced shoulder straps, and excessive cleavage are all hallmarks of the push-up bra.