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The history of the great British bust

BY STYLE EDITOR, ON 3 JUN 2011 16:57 DEBENHAMS NEWSCOMMENTS

Great British Bust

The rise and fall of the great British Bust has been revealed for the first time.

Despite the current recession, we’ve researched and found that British women are no strangers to booms, slumps, prolonged bouts of inflation… and soaring interest rates.

After flat lining in the 1910s, the story of women’s busts has been one of gently rising fortunes, in the ’30s and ’40s, a leap to prominence in the ’50s, a sudden collapse in the 1960s, followed by hyper growth through to the modern day.

Debenhams is one of Britain’s oldest fashion stores, having been founded in 1778 in London’s Wigmore Street.  So the company’s seen plenty of ups and downs in lingerie over the years.

Here are the bust trends we’ve discovered…

1900 – 1920 An era of deniable busts. British women’s fashion favoured flat chests, with strings of pearls hanging uninterrupted across narrow pencil style dresses. It was a legacy of a once strong economic growth, boosted by wealth from the colonies.

19320s Debenhams advert

1920 – 1945 A period of great depression and social change, one of which was the emergence of a distinctly visible but subdued bust, rising gently away from the chest.

1945 – 1960 “You’ve never had it so good”, said Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, and British bust heights and shapes supported his claim. They rose rapidly and jutted proudly out, becoming wedge shaped statements of intent. Having discovered new independence working in the factories during World War Two, women were taking control.

1960 – 1967 The Great Slump, as women burnt and threw away their bras, preferring to be seen as nature had intended, reflecting the dominant liberal political agenda.

1968 – 1979 Harold Wilson’s ‘white heat of technology’ was finally taking hold of Britain. New production methods were sweeping the country, including new ways of making bras that fitted and were, finally, comfortable to wear. The bust returned, but with a modified, more conical shape. Gossard launched their best selling ‘Doreen’ bra, along with Gossard ‘Glossies’, which were the shape of things to come.

Wonderbra Hello Boys

1979 – 1997 Dominated by The Thatcher Years, and the era of “power dressing”. Busts rose to the occasion, becoming higher, but narrower than before to accommodate suits for high flying female executives. Madonna set the scene for girl power to erupt with her iconic Jean Paul Gaultier cone bra during this period, along with Wonderbra’s notorious ‘Hello Boys’ campaign.

1997 – 2007 Cool Britannia, introduced by Tony Blair. A boom in bust sizes echoed the housing market, and soaring economic strength as British women became more confident in their own self image.

2007 – Current times Increasing inflation, as women react to the recession by making the most of their existing assets, with surgery if need be. There has been a huge rise in sales of cleavage enhancing bras and products, and boobs are bigger than ever before, with Debenhams launching its biggest ever K cup bra.

As Ed Watson explains: “It is clear that Britain’s history has been marked by a series of booms and busts in bra sizes in the same way that the economy has fluctuated. Our figures show that we are currently at a peak in the cycle. Experts are speculating over whether bust sizes will continue to climb, of whether there will be sudden collapse in the trend.”

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