Meet The Ultimate Normcore Bra

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I have a design icon strapped to my chest. The Playtex Cross Your Heart bra has just turned 50, and as it's one of the only vintage bras still in production today, it’s time to give this tough old bird the respect she deserves.
Marketed in 1966 with the promise “to lift and separate,” the Cross Your Heart has been a consistent top-seller for five decades — despite being hopelessly out of sync with subsequent lingerie trends. This quiet hit has ridden out our passion for padding throughout the '80s, the push-up Wonderbras of the '90s, and the cleavage-maximizing Victoria’s Secret hoists of the aughts, to emerge victorious in 2016, still cheap, comfortable, and beige.

As it turns out, what worked for the breasts of 1966 appears to work for the breasts of 2016. Lingerie design has made somewhat of a U-turn, coming back to more subdued silhouettes, and soft-cup bras are back in a big way. “The Retro Chic bra has fast become one of our most iconic bras — even worn by Lady Gaga — because it offers lift, shape and support with flat seams that disappear under clothing,” Wacoal designer Pat Conway tells Refinery29. “It was inspired by traditional lingerie of the 1950s and 1960s, but this silhouette works beautifully with current fashion.” In other words, there’s a quiet revolution taking place under our T-shirts, as women wake up to the joys of a wire-free, gently sculpting undergarment.

My own route to retro-bra rediscovery was through vintage clothing. I had found the perfect canary yellow 1960s Ossie Clark gown, but my collection of pneumatic 21st century bras looked frankly ridiculous underneath it. Then it struck me: A 1960s dress might require 1960s breasts — an idea that vintage fashion experts lend credence to.

“People often think vintage doesn't fit them because ‘women were a different shape back then,' but women’s shapes haven’t changed in the past five decades," Dawn O'Porter, vintage queen and founder of BOB Vintage, says. "What has changed dramatically is underwear, and that’s often why dresses and tops don’t sit properly."

So I did a little research, and found an original Cross Your Heart bra from the '60s on eBay. I expected to find it practical. And comfortable. I never expected to consider it attractive, let alone fashionable. But soon I was reveling in its simplicity, muted shade, and unapologetic commitment to comfort versus the sexual desperation of lace-embellished and frilly push-up bras. And my 30Ds looked pert yet understated, a natural teardrop shape that doesn’t get in the way of what I want to wear — whether it’s a vintage Ossie Clark or this year’s Stella McCartney tuxedo jacket.
For a generation raised (in more ways than one) on brutal under-wiring and an over-exaggerated shelf-like silhouette, the Cross Your Heart is downright radical in how damn pleasing it is to wear. And because fashion likes to fuck with us, the no-nonsense, full-cup, triangular cut and bland colors look oddly appealing to our normcore-trained eyes. Sure, there are echoes of Stella McCartney lingerie, and 1980s Jean Paul Gaultier. But somehow, the same unsexy bra I remember shuddering at in department stores 10 years ago, now somehow looks chic, understated, and completely current.

“We don't see much cleavage in contemporary fashion — major trends like normcore and androgyny actively work against this — so naturally the Wonderbras of the 1990s look dated in contrast,” says fashion historian Amber Butchart, author of The Fashion of Film. “Foundation garments are key to achieving a fashionable silhouette, whether it's a Victorian corset, a 1950s bullet bra, or red carpet Spanx.”

Lingerie, of course, has always responded to fashion trends. Corsets fell out of fashion fast during the 1910s and 1920s, being completely unsuited to the boyish silhouettes and delicate fabrics of the Jazz Age. A Manhattan debutante named Mary Phelps Jacobs assembled the first modern bra in 1910 with two handkerchiefs and ribbon. "The result was delicious,” she wrote. “I could move more freely, a nearly naked feeling, and in the glass I saw that I was flat and proper.” Each subsequent decade has had its defining breast (and best supporting bra) silhouette: conical in the 1950s; liberated, lifted, and separated in the 1960s; bohemian and teardrop-shaped in the 1970s, padded in the 1980s, pushed up in the 1990s, and cleavage-maximizing in the 2000s.

Since the Playtex version has been “significantly modernized” (a.k.a. mucked around with), lingerie purists like Michelle Metens of Dollhouse Bettie prefer copycat versions of the original, like National’s Lace Cross and Shape Bra. “Their current production version is much closer to the original 1960s Playtex Cross Your Heart,” Metens explains. “If you're looking for retro reproductions, I like two styles from What Katie Did: Their Coco Cathedral Bra has a gorgeous 1950s silhouette with a very sexy over-wire, and their 1940s-style tailored satin bra is lovely.” With just a few additions (like the Cross Your Heart and a few faithful vintage reproductions) to my underwear drawer, it's possible to have a different breast shape for every style occasion.

It’s time to liberate yourself from last year’s lingerie, rediscover the retro bra, and let your breasts do their thing, like they would've done in the '60s. Peace out, too-padded, too-underwired bras: Your moment is through.

More from Trends


R29 Original Series