Your Guide to Buying Vintage Bras

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Your Guide to Buying Vintage Bras

Many people enjoy collecting vintage lingerie so that they can have a piece of feminine history. Vintage bras in particular are highly collectable because they are so different from the ones seen today. Beginning in the early 1900s, bras were delicate and high quality. Dainty buttons clasped the garment together in the back rather than metal hooks that snag clothing, and they were made with soft fabrics like silks and satins. The stitching was sturdy, yet smooth, and the straps were designed to hug the body rather than slide around. Each bra feels like it is handmade even though the majority of them were not. The only downfall to vintage bras is that most of the cups were thin and floppy, therefore providing little support.

Regardless of any downfalls, it is no wonder that women are drawn to their unique design and attractive look. Their appearance reminds everyone of the days when being a woman was art. These brassieres from yesteryear may not be made anymore, but they can still be found.

History of Bras

Since ancient times women have all had different ways of supporting or hiding their chests. The Roman women used a breast band to flatten their breasts while the Egyptians painted theirs. In 1893 Marie Tucek made what she called a "breast supporter" that had shoulder straps and pockets for each breast.

In 1913 Mary Phelps Jacob invented an undergarment for the chest by using two hankies, ribbon, and a cord. When women began ordering them from her she sold her idea for the Brassiere to a company for fifteen hundred US dollars. As time went on, more improvements were made such as adding padding and changing the shape of the cups. The last big change came in the 1960s when women burned their bras in protest over the male dominated society. From that point on, the materials used became cheaper and companies found ways to lower the costs involved with manufacturing bras.

Most Noted Styles of Vintage Bras

When shopping for vintage bras, there are three noted styles to look for. Each one comes from a specific period of time and varies in levels of comfort.

Style of Vintage Bra


Years in Fashion


Also known as the shelf bra because it lifts the breasts up and enhances their appearance by leaving the top uncovered. These are still popular today even though the amount of support they offer is minimal

Designed in 1938 and popular from the 1950s and on


Used by the Romans and worn on and off throughout history until the 1920s. They consist of a simple band of material that is often times stretchy. Some versions have built in cups for the women with larger breasts, however, they are still highly uncomfortable because they offer little to no support

Throughout ancient history and in the 1920s


The bullet bra is one of the most recognisable vintage bras. It offers full support and has cups in the shape of a cone. They make the breasts appear pointy when underneath a shirt. Most women have to stuff the tips of the cups in order to maintain the shape

1940s - 1980s

Other variations of these bras also exist. For example, some have a band underneath the bra that extend halfway down the torso. It provides extra support and sucks in the stomach.

Sizing Vintage Bras

Vintage bras are difficult to size because some are still similar to the ones of today, while others had slightly different sizing methods. To find the closest size possible, measure the chest just below the breasts and then measure the breasts at their fullest point. How much larger the breasts are than the chest will determine the size.

Breast Size

Cup Size

Up to 1 inch larger than the chest

A Cup

Up to 2 inches larger than the chest

B Cup

Up to 3 inches larger than the chest

C Cup

Up to 4 inches larger than the chest

D Cup

Up to 5 inches larger than the chest

DD Cup

Up to 6 inches larger than the chest

F Cup

Up to 7 inches larger than the chest

G Cup

Up to 8 inches larger than the chest

H Cup

It is also a good idea to talk to the seller. If they are knowledgeable about vintage bras they may be able to tell you if the brand’s sizes run small or large.

Dating Vintage Bras

It is important for collectors to know when a bra was made so that they can determine if it is authentically vintage or not. Here are some tips to help identify the date of the garment and whether or not it is authentic.

  1. Prior to 1941 all lingerie was made with high quality fabrics like satins and silks.
  2. Chiffon was used a lot between 1950 and 1960.
  3. Care instructions were added to the tags on bras after 1971.
  4. Wool product labels (WPL) were used from 1941 to 1959.
  5. Registered numbers (RN) began being used in 1959.
  6. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA) began labelling their garments in 1933. The tags have a picture of a sewing machine symbol and scissors. On the left side of the tag it says "Union Made" and there should also be a copyright date on the tag. The labels were redesigned in 1949 and used until 1962. These had a sewing machine without the scissors and few other subtle changes. In 1962 the circled R symbol was added to the label but the copyright date is still 1949.
  7. Look at old magazines and ads for bras. This will give shoppers a good idea of what was available in that time frame and help them identify authentic bras.

Additionally, learn about the different brands. Being able to identify their tags as they changed throughout the years will be a big help. For example, Vanity Fair’s bras had blue lettering with a cameo figure on the tag from the 1920s through the 1930s.

Valuing Vintage Bras

Valuing anything vintage is difficult because their worth constantly changes. Their value is based on when they were made, their condition, and how popular they are. The best way to figure out how much a bra is worth is to simply do research. See what all the sellers are listing the products at and consult with experts. If shopping online, the condition of the bras will be classified in one of five different ways.

Condition Classification



The item has never been worn and still has the original tags with no flaws

Mint to Excellent

The clothing has very slight signs of wear with no flaws. May or may not have tags


Has the usual signs of wear and age and has one or two small flaws


There are some minor flaws such as stains or missing buttons


The clothing is highly flawed and not in wearable condition

Before buying, also check to see if the elastic on the bra still has stretch in it. If it does not, it has no value.

Finding Vintage Bras

Finding vintage items can be difficult because there are no specific places to search for them. Sometimes antique shops will have them but it is rare and the prices will be very high. However, websites like eBay provide one central location for people all over the world to sell their vintage items. This makes it much easier for collectors to constantly watch what's available and find what they want.

How to Buy Vintage Bras on eBay

To begin the search for vintage bras, go to the eBay website and use the search box that is located on each page. Simply type what you are looking for into the box and click the Search button. For example, enter "Vintage Bras", or "Vintage Bullet Bras".

Since there are a lot of replica items being sold, it is important to research the reputation of a seller. Check the feedback that they have gotten from their past customers. If there are any complaints about fake items, do not purchase from them. One way to be more certain that the bras are authentic is by seeing if the seller is eBay Top Rated. If they are, this means that they have sold a lot of items and proven that they are reputable.

As you are shopping, you can save each item you like or want to research further by clicking Add to Watch List. This will save the bra into your My eBay page so that you can go back and look at it at any time. It can come in handy if you are sorting through a lot of different bras and want to keep track of them.


Collecting vintage bras gives people the chance to step back in history to an earlier time period when things were made differently. The bras reflect the culture of their time with different, quality materials and elegant stitching as though the designer was creating a piece of art. Shopping for them will take time and dedication because vintage items do not come up for sale everyday. Buyers need to be patient, browse through the listings on eBay daily, decide on the style and time period that they are interested in, find the right size, check the tags and design to make sure that it is indeed authentic, verify the condition, and then complete the purchase after verifying the seller’s credentials.

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