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The Bullet Bra and That Pinup Look

| May 4, 2015
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We all remember that pinup look from the 1950s. Pictures of Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, Ava Gardner and many others were made famous on theater posters, airplane fuselages, locker room doors and many other places. And what stood out (literally) in these pictures was that pointy bust line made famous by the “bullet bra,” a cone-shaped bra with conical stitching that was to evolve into the push-up bra of today. Actually I don’t think these sweater girls of the ’50s will ever be matched again for pure sensuousness.

But in the ’50s, fashion dictated that a bullet bra was essential as women’s dresses were made with darts in the bust line cut to fit a cone. The quintessential pin-up shape is the classic hourglass figure, with the waist being much smaller than the bust or hips. In the Gibson Girl era, that figure was achieved through the use of corsets, bustles, and hoopskirts. In the 1930s through ’50s, girdles, bullet bras, and waist cinchers were used. No matter the era though, the thing all pin-ups have in common is that they represent an idealized (and, in some cases, unrealistic) version of the female form.

The first time you try on a bullet bra can be a bit of a shock, as it does give you a totally different shape than you’re used to. However, under clothing, you can see they’re really not that extreme and instantly give you that pin up silhouette. You can see the difference in these before and after pictures.

Before and after -bullet bra

Of course, as crossdressers you’ll no doubt go for the sweater look but beware, it can look a bit ridiculous unless you go totally vintage. So we went to the experts at What Katie Did, one of several premiere stores that specializes in vintage undergarments. Hannah, from their most excellent customer service department, has a few tips for us.

Vintage gingham dressBecause bullet bras are made with vintage patterns (which often require non-stretch fabrics), she recommends buying up one band size from what you normally wear. If you have small breasts, bullet bra pads can help you fill out the cups. Cone bras look best under tailored clothing — i.e. a vintage cotton dress, or a cotton shirt. This will result in a vintage silhouette which isn’t too obvious.

If you wear a bullet bra under a tight fitting t-shirt or sweater, then you’ll definitely get the ooh–la-la look. Your makeup better be perfect in these cases, because you will not blend in. Want a total retro look? Try a sweater with a high-rise pencil skirt and at least 4″ heels.

sweater-pencil skirt look

Hannah’s advice is to be very aware of the ribcage measurement for bullet bras. Male figures tend to have less flesh than female bodies, so the ribcage will be much firmer. Therefore, there’s less flesh/skin for the bra band to ‘pull back’ into, so the actual under bust measurement is key.

My own guide for bra band sizes is:

Size 32 – 28-29″ under bust
Size 34 – 29.5-31″
Size 36 – 31.5-33″
Size 38 – 33.5-35″
Size 40 – 35.5-37″

For breast forms, it’s often worth going up a cup size and adding a pair of What Katie Did’s Bullet Bra Pads to help fill the point. Forms are tricky with bullet bras as they tend to be quite firm and round (depending on the type), whilst bullet bras are (clearly) not so round!

Check here for a comparison between the bullet bra and the modern bra.

What Katie Did may not carry your size if you are a larger gal in which case, try Secrets in Lace though they don’t stock cup sizes below B or over D.

Jessica rabbit - Marilyn Monroe

1956 Getty Pictures

Let’s be honest, if you really want that sort of breathy, Jessica-Rabbit-meets-Marilyn-Monroe vibe, then the pencil skirt, rear-seamed stockings and tight sweater look is the way to go, but if you can’t pull that off, then I always remember my old history teach, Mrs. Johnston, who had a bosom so impressive that it could silence a full assembly hall in seconds.

Now, admittedly, this might have been due to her position in authority and her booming baritone voice, but I still believe that her formidable bosom that she always seemed to wear high, proud and pointed — like a pair of attacking bazookas — added in no small way to the effect.

I’m not sure that a pair of oversized bullets attached to my torso will be considered sexy by everyone but there’s no escaping the fact that you’ll garner an awful lot more attention than you would in a prim sweater and skirt. Just be sure your insurance is up-to-date though as you’ll likely give a few cases of whiplash after your two-pronged attack prompts a series of double-takes as you walk down the street or through the mall?

Finally enjoy this little ditty by Bullet Bra Betty.


You might also be interested in the history of bras, all the 31 different  types of bras and how best to wear them, all available on Sister House in All About Bras.

Also check out our Stylish Crossdressers for that great pencil skirt look.

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Category: Style, Transgender Fashion, Transgender Opinion


About the Author ()

Tasi was a transgender, married, lifelong crossdresser. She passed away in late 2018. She’s the founder of the Ladies of the Blue Ridge transgender group in Roanoke VA, a prolific writer, commentator and blogger including fashion articles for Tri-Ess, TG Reporter, Repartee, and Pretty T-Girls magazine. Tasi currently resides in Merida, (Yucatan) Mexico. Her new website, Sister House and her blog, the Fashionable TG Woman are dedicated to fashion and style for the transgendered woman. Tasi’s book, "Top Ten Fashion Mistakes By Crossdressers and How To Fix Them" is available on Amazon or on her site free to subscribers.

Comments (1)

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  1. PaulaAnniMei says:

    Where are there suppliers or whatever for the more cute, softer, less rigidly padded little 1960’s more girly, and less men’s fantasy ones that evolved from the bullet? I’d give the brand and info on my hard-to-find little original, which is so old now it may soon only be good for using the parts that make it up as templates to recreate myself since as all the ones I see are only for big tit shapes.. and none like the thoughtful, more feminine, softer less stiffly padded, cute girlier 1960’s ones.
    It’s in the wash at moment, or I’d take what info is left on the poor, loyal, aged dear thing for here. But soft pink, with little flowery (late 60’s I guess? Maybe? Early 70’s even? no?) patterns off differing pinks and matching subtle colors.
    (I actually remember a girlfriend in the 80s wearing one exactly like it she got from Metro, Edinburgh, or Flip Of Hollywood in Glasgow)

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