Nov. 17, 2015
The first modern bras were created in the late 19th century, becoming wildly popular around the time of World War I, when more women were working outside the home, demanding the right to vote, and taking other new liberties with their behavior. In a parallel development, the first films were made in the last decade of the 1800s, with the first movie theater opening in Pittsburg in 1905. Around the time of World War I, feature films emerged as the dominant form of popular entertainment in America. In many ways, Hollywood and lingerie grew up together.
For women throughout the 1900s, the baring of skin became a barometer of the culture’s progressiveness, and the movies came to serve as a principle vehicle for testing the boundaries of propriety. By the second half of the 20th century, bras were beginning to come out from under clothing on certain intrepid actresses. As they did, some became icons in their own right. Here are 10 of our favorite scene-stealing bras in film…
1. Sophia Loren in Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
If any woman of the 20th century could rock some lingerie on film, it was Sophia Loren—and she does so masterfully, in a complicated getup that she gradually sheds for onscreen paramour Renzo in this 1963 Italian film. The whole ensemble is spectacular, but her black bra with ribbon accents is simply perfect.
2. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate
Anne Bancroft’s Mrs. Robinson used her years of experience, her ennui, and an irresistible lace bra to seduce her daughter’s fiancé, played by Dustin Hoffman, in this 1967 Zeitgeist-capturer. We can’t help but notice that hers is a dead ringer for our Lace Balconette Bra.
3. Jane Russell in The Outlaw
Russell helped popularize the bullet bra, named for its pointy shape, but in 1943’s The Outlaw, director Howard Hughes designed a positively medieval bra for her to wear instead. It was so uncomfortable that she went back to her own personal collection without telling him. The result is a classic look of the era—even if, for the moment, the bra itself was kept under wraps.
4. Susan Sarandon in The Rocky Horror Picture Show
There’s plenty of lingerie on display Picture Show, including the memorable number worn by Tim Curry as he romps through the song “Sweet Transvestite.” But we’re most smitten by Susan Sarandon’s silky white bra, revealed as she transitions over the course of a single wacky night from prude to seductress.
5. Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction
For most of the evening she spends out on the town with John Travolta’s Vincent Vega, we see only the occasional hint of the bustier Mia Wallace has on under her white button down. Not until her shirt is ripped open in preparation for the adrenaline shot that will bring her back from an overdose do we get to see the whole thing: an exquisite black number graced with a white paisley pattern.
6. Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing
As a symbol of Baby’s innocence on the threshold of its loss, a series of conservative white bras make appearances throughout Dirty Dancing. We love the one early on that’s peeking out from her red stage dress. A little later, in the scene that established expectations of future romance for every girl growing up in the eighties, Baby dances in another white bra with Johnny, played by Patrick Swayze, in his cabin.
7. Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight
Before she was J Lo, she was the edgy star of this endlessly sexy film, playing federal marshal Karen Cisco, who gets ensnared in the turmoil of George Clooney’s suave career criminal. When the two find their way to a Detroit hotel room, Cisco gamely sheds her sheath dress to reveal a matching champagne lace bra-and-pantie set. Detroit never looked so good.
8. Janet Leigh in Psycho
The shower scene is of course the most famous one from this Hitchcock film, but it’s not the one that made it onto the poster. That would be a still from the film’s opening scene, which has Leigh’s Marion Crane enjoying a lunchtime rendezvous with her boyfriend, lounging around a cheap hotel in a white, full coverage bra of the time. In a later scene, after she’s stolen a wad of cash from her boss, she’s shown prepping for her getaway in a similar bra, but this time it’s black.
9. Liv Tyler in Empire Records
Maybe we’re partial to this mismatched bra and pantie sported by Liv Tyler’s Corey in Empire Records because it so accurately reflects our own lingerie situation for five out of every seven days—and still looks great, even as she unsuccessfully seduces her childhood crush.
10. Julia Roberts in Erin Brokovich
We don’t actually see too much of Julia Roberts’s collection of pushup bras in this film, but we do get to witness the benefits they bestow on her in liberal doses. When her character Erin’s boss can’t understand the secret to her investigative success as they work together on a class action lawsuit again Pacific Gas & Electric, she explains it in terms he can understand–“They’re called boobs, Ed.”