Struck by a number of comments both here and on Pattern Review relating to my cousin Cathy's lack of belle poitrine -- which, admittedly, is more Margaret O'Brien than Jayne Mansfield, I decided to take a closer look at fashion's ongoing relationship to the female bosom -- specifically during the 1940s and 50s.
The Forties was a period when a woman's breasts were more likely to be covered or camouflaged than pneumatically pumped up. If anything, styles, and especially accessories, were designed to distract the eye from this area.
Take a look:
To reference old-time comedienne Rusty Warren, these are not "knockers up!" girls.
Shoulder pads, full gathered sleeves, flounces, dramatic hats all pulled the eye away from, or simply covered, the chest. The fashion model, representing an ideal, was decidedly flat. Anything too curvy was the realm of the pin-up (though relatively tame by today's standards).
Most sewing patterns of the period de-accentuate the bosom.
In the sewing I've done from this period, I have never encountered a horizontal bust dart, but rather gathers and tucks to create fullness in front.
After WWII, however, women's fashion became decidedly more figure-revealing, with a much greater emphasis on full breasts and tiny waist.
There are numerous arguments to explain this "re-feminization" of the female form: a need to remind women, at a time men were returning from the war and re-entering the labor force, that a woman's role was primarily domestic and decorative? Changing tastes? A need to create a market for new clothes?
Fifties fashions were harder to wear without waist cinchers and bullet bras. While many popular actresses were flat -- Audrey Hepburn comes to mind -- the va-va-voom look, which was more aggressively sexual than the tamer Forties, took center stage.
The Fifties fashion aesthetic is still with us, and it's been up and down (no pun intended) since then: Twiggy! Anna Nicole!
Fashion's ambivalence toward the female breast continues. They're there, obviously, and must be accommodated, but judging by the number of sewers struggling with FBAs, they can be a challenge. Fashion designers don't seem to be helping, or so I gather from what I read on Pattern Review.
For the less-than-full-figured, I cannot think of a better period to inspire one than the Forties. Yes, the fashion silhouette in the Twenties and early Thirties was decidedly flat, but those periods are less accessible with regard to patterns and popular tastes, while the Forties are alive and well.
Your thoughts, readers? Do you find yourself at home in the Forties look, or do you prefer the Fifties more exaggerated lines?
Does one strike you as more feminine -- or on some level more feminist?
I'm a native New Yorker and self-taught sewing fanatic! I've been sewing obsessively since 2009 and today make all my own clothes using mostly vintage patterns and vintage sewing machines. Welcome to the warm and whimsical world of Male Pattern Boldness, where the conversation is sewing, style, fashion, fabric, and more!