Isabelle Held

History of Design

Label for 3D Foam Rubber Bra by Splendour Form (detail), c. 1952


Title of Dissertation: Bullet Bras and Bombshells – The shaping of a conical design for bras and breasts in the USA 1930s–1960s

There are numerous links between the ‘bullet bra’, weaponry, the military and the conical busty ideal that became known as ‘bombshell’. ’Bullet Bras and Bombshells‘ explores this complex relationship between military-driven changes in technology and the presentation and perception of the female body in the USA.

The increased standardisation of production during this period affected cultural perceptions of youth that were in turn inscribed upon the ideal female body and the fashion for an uplifted youthful bust line. The US entry into the Second World War marked a time of great change for the bra. The established concept of ‘uplifted youthfulness’ was used by the Corset and Brassiere Association of America to argue its essentiality as a time-saving labour device, essential for moulding an efficient female work force in the absence of male workers, in the hope that this could relieve the rations that affected bra production. Brassiere manufacturers such as Maiden Form engaged in wartime commissions for the military, manufacturing and even designing objects for use in the war effort. Furthermore, the increasingly structured shape of the bullet bra and breast ideal utilised the developments in synthetic materials that had resulted from the military-industrial complex. The development of plastic surgery was likewise accelerated during the War and resulted in its increased publicity as the ultimate method to uplift and shape the breast by permanently implanting the same synthetic materials that were used to mould bras and ‘falsies’.

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Supported by: The Bard Graduate Center, New York student exchange programme

Courtesy of the Kristina Haugland Private Collection, Philadelphia



BA (Hons), Fashion Promotion and Imaging, University for the Creative Arts, Epsom, 2012


London correspondent, GoSee, Cologne, Germany, 2006 to present; Camera assistant, Ivana Bobic Direction, London, 2009 to present; Contemporary Department curatorial internship, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2008–9


Pictovisual, Ada Street Gallery, London, 2009


Royal College of Art/Bard Graduate Center Student Exchange Programme, 2011


'The Transformation of Breasts and Promotion of the Bullet Bra Through the ‘Star Machine’', Covering & Exposing: Manipulation & Fragmentation of the Body, University for the Creative Arts, Epsom, 2011