The Halter Defined
A halter is a soutien-gorge that leaves the back, arms and midriff bare and which includes a backstrap and a neck strap, typically either may tie or be fastened. Halters range from very full-bodied garments to the most minimal slide triangle tops connected by strings.
A halter, used as an adjective as in halter-top, also refers to a garment which contains a neck strap, that is, a strap which fastens behind the neck, such as might be found on a backless dress. A haltered maillot is a maillot with a neck strap.
Further details on the mechanics of the halter and its relationship to the different species of soutien-gorge are found in the string halter section.
Halters predate the deux-pièces swimsuit although prior to the 1940s they were only worn by women of the theater, burlesque, and, after 1900, movie actresses. They do play a role at the resort beginning in the 1930s (LA3301), and their popularization in swimsuits beginning in the 1940s (e.g., SS4120) follows a gradual baring of the belly and a more revealing alternative to the popular shelf bra.
The Modern Halter
During the early 1940s as the belly opens up the shelf halter evolves, characterized by a multipiece cup mounted above an elastic facing and cup frame. Because of its strong, below-the-breast torso support it is also called a platform halter. The shelf halter provides both coverage as well as provide foundation (PG194110, SS194110, SS194130, SS194140). Technologically, the circumference of fabric around the chest constrains the midriff exposure from crawling too high up and too close to the breasts. The concept of the shelf is examined in more detail in the related species, the shelf bra.
During the late 1940s the bare midriff rises and as elastic foundations improve, the importance of the shelf halter wanes. First the shelf below the breasts erodes, then the halter itself begins to reduce in bulk, thinning and reducing in area. This more normalized halter, combined with the sheath culotte becomes an important silhouette.
With the first bikinis hitting the pinup magazines, and in rare places the beaches in the 1950s, the halter, like the culotte continues to loose mass. This thinning process is gradual but by the late 1960s and early 1970s settles into a well-defined silhouette called the soft-top halter (JR7301). The soft-top is devoid of foundation (thus its name) including plastics and stays, and it is constructed from fewer pattern parts. It is usually, but not always lined, and it is made from a synthetic fiber (WG7311). The neck straps are not yet string ties, but are narrow strips of material that either fasten behind the neck or are a single piece of fabric (WG7350). Likewise, the back strap is an integral part of the suit and attached to the cups; it is not yet a separate string to which the cups are affixed or to which they ride via casings.
And although the pure soft-top remains an integral garment, hints of the separation into its pieces, which will come in the string halter future, begin to creep into designs: This pinup's straps are prescient string (IP6E12); here a fissure in the central cleavage employs a permanent ring decoration suggestive of closure (RS7501).
Once the bare midriff look migrates to the street the halter becomes a mainstay of summer clothes. In this definition the halter implies a bare-shouldered behind-the-neck top which may or may not bare midriff. Implicit in this costume is the absence of a bra or other underwear, since the bra straps would an undesirable underwear element worn in public, and thus be considered bad taste. The halter top thus is the top worn.
The street halter, unlike the swimsuit halter, tends to cover more of the body; it many or many not extend down to the waistline or cover the back. Since it is not made for swimming or suntanning, it is often made out of looser-fitting materials like cotton (ES7301) as well as tighter-fitting stretch fabrics. Variations abound.
Soft-top halter and culotte nombril.