Canadian Fashion Connection – The Wonderbra

The Wonderbra story began in 1939 when Moe Nadler founded the Canadian Lady Corset Company in Montreal. With a shortage of elastic during World War II, Nadler acquired the license to an American patented bra design that used diagonal support straps at the top of each cup for a better fit. The patent holder called his bra design the ‘Wonder-Bra’. Although elastic was plentiful again after the war, Nadler continued to produce intimate support apparel under the brand name ‘WonderBra’ (without the hyphen in the name.)

Wonderbra, 1963

Wonderbra, c. 1964

When the ‘Wonder-Bra’ patent expired in 1955, Nadler trademarked the Wonderbra name (with a lower case b) for his own company. In 1961 Louise Poirier, a designer working for the company, developed an underwire push-up bra that became successful in 1964 when décolletage necklines came into fashion. While girdle sales plummeted in the late 1960s, bra sales surged, even though some young feminists advocated bralessness. In the 1970s Wonderbra became the first company to show a woman in a bra in a television commercial with the tagline “We care about the shape you’re in”. As the top intimate apparel manufacturer in Canada in 1980, Wonderbra made 30 million in wholesale sales, a remarkable sum considering Canada only had a little over 10 million women over the age of 13.

Wonderbra, 1994

“Hello Boys!” Wonderbra, 1994

In 1992 the U.K. manufacturer Gossard, who made the Wonderbra line under license, saw sales climb as a plunging neckline came back into fashion. An article in British Vogue about the return of the padded bra sent Wonderbra sales soaring, quadrupling between 1991 and 1993. In 1994, Kate Moss admitted in an interview with New York Times Magazine that she wore Wonderbras because ‘…even I get cleavage with them.” Between this unpaid endorsement and an ad campaign featuring a photo of Eva Herzigova looking down at her cleavage with the tagline ‘Hello Boys’, Wonderbra sales took off internationally, but not in the U.S.

Playtex acquired the license for Wonderbra in the U.S. but was slow to create a marketing campaign, only launching the line in late 1994, more than two years after the U.K. had seen push-up bra sales skyrocket. This gave opportunity for competitors who, although barred from using the Wonderbra name, introduced wonderbra push-up technology under different product names, including Gossard’s ‘Ultrabra’ and Victoria’s Secret ‘Miracle Bra’. Playtex nearly squandered the opportunity but still managed to benefit from the overall increase in push-up bra sales in the U.S. in 1994.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian. He was the founding curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, and the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. He has amassed a collection of nearly 8,000 items dating from the mid 17th century to the present, and has written various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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