They were Hollywood starlets... They were icons...They were America’s sweethearts... They were sex symbols... They were “Sweater Girls!”


The term "Sweater Girls" was originally coined to describe movie star sex symbols of the 1940's & 1950's, like Lana Turner and Jayne Mansfield, who followed the popular fashion of wearing tight sweaters over cone shaped bras with pointed tips called “bullet bras”.

The origins of the term "Sweater Girl" actually dates back to 1937 when Lana Turner appeared in the film “They Won't Forget,” wearing a tight-fitting knit top sweater. With Turner's appearance in the film, Hollywood publicists quickly sought for a catchy phrase to describe the impact she made on the screen. Movie magazines nicknamed her "The Sweater Girl," just as Ann Sheridan was "The Oomph Girl," Dorothy Lamour was "The Sarong Girl," and Clara Bow was "The It Girl."

The look that Turner started gained momentum among Hollywood starlets in the 1940's. While Hollywood director and business tycoon, Howard Hughes, was filming his new movie, The Outlaw, he was unsatisfied with how Jayne Russell's breasts appeared in the movie. This lead Hughes to design his own bra for Russell to wear in the movie... the Cantilever Bra. Hughes' cantilever bra became the pre-cursor to the overly-emphasized "Bullet-Bra" which would eventually be introduced a few years later. When The Outlaw was released in 1943, Russell's appearance in the movie, with her overly-emphasized bust line, set the nation, along with the Hollywood movie censors, on fire.

During a 1944 Armed Forces Radio Network show recording session, Bob Hope introduced "sweater girl" Judy Garland. Before she sang “Over the Rainbow,” they do a short comedic bit where Judy asks Bob why men were so crazy about sweater girls. Bob said he didn't know and wisecracked, "That's one mystery I'd like to unravel."

In 1949, Maidenform introduces their new "bullet Bra," and dramatically changes the look of the Sweater Girl in the process. The bullet bra was a full-support bra with cups in the shape of a paraboloid with its axis perpendicular to the breast, and usually featured concentric circles or spirals of decorative stitching centered on the nipples. The bullet bra was quickly integrated into the sweater girl look of the Hollywood starlets, as it became the new bra of choice to wear under their tight sweaters. This was due to the fact that the bullet bra allowed women to add a cup size to their busts, and provide an overly exaggerated pointed look to their breasts. With the advent of the television set during the same time, television provided new promotional opportunities for the newly invented bullet bra, and played a huge part in the bras eventual popularity.

Hollywood fashion and glamour started to become a huge influence on women's fashion choices in the late 1940's and early 1950's. The sweater girl look of the Hollywood starlets quickly became popular among everyday women. With the "sweater girl" trend no longer confined to Hollywood itself, it was quickly becoming viewed with alarm by some. In 1949 a Pittsburgh police superintendent even singled out the sweater girl as a symptom of the moral decline of postwar youth:

"Women walk the streets, their curves accentuated by their dresses," Superintendent of Police Harvey J. Scott said. "But our real problem is with bobby soxers. They are the sweater girls—just kids showing off their curves and apparently liking it. What kind of mothers and wives are they going to be?"

With the sweater girl fashion phenomenon securely cemented in American pop-culture, annual sweater girl pageants and contests soon started being held all over the country between 1949 and 1966.

The first "Miss Sweater Queen" contest was held in 1949 at the Hotel Shelburn in New York, with Georgia Lee being crowned "Miss Sweater Queen" of 1949.

The annual “Miss Sweater Girl” Contest, held by Wool Bureau, saw Cathy Hild take the crown in 1951, and Jeanne Davis win it in 1952. 1954's contest had several contestants including Liza DeManne, Vicki Hayes, Gloria K. Lydon, Josephine Passaro, Mary Dunne, Nicki Gray, Gloria Turner, Helen McKenna, Monica Deziadus, Lorie LaFreniere, and Lou Dunham. In the end, Lou Dunham was crowned "Miss Sweater Girl of 1954." 1958's contest was held at the Savoy Hilton Hotel in New York, with Charlene Holt being crowned "Miss Sweater Girl of 1958."

(pictured left) Contestants for the 1954 “Miss Sweater Girl Contest” (l to r.), Josephine Passaro, Mary Dunne, Lorie LaFreniere, Monica Deziadus, Nicki Gray, Gloria Turner, Helen McKenna, Lou Dunham (winner), Liza DeManne, Vicki Hayes and Gloria K. Lydon
As the 1950's came to a close and we entered the 1960's, the Sweater girl look was still very much in style. Everywhere you looked in pop-culture you saw women wearing tight sweaters with bullet bras underneath... magazines, television, advertisements... everywhere.

In September of 1968, an obscure clerical worker named Francine Gottfried briefly attained international celebrity status as "Wall Street's Sweater Girl" as large crowds of gawking men and newspaper reporters awaited her arrival at the Wall Street subway stop each morning and mobbed her on her way to work. For two weeks in September, 1968, large groups of men began to mob her on her way to work. Newspapers dubbed her “Wall Street’s Sweater Girl” as her curvaceous figure seemed to be the sole reason that crowds formed spontaneously around her when she appeared in the financial district. 

Gottfried first started working in the financial district on May 27, 1968. By late August, a small band of "girl watchers" had noticed her, and that she always followed the same route. They timed her daily arrival and started spreading the word to their colleagues and co-workers. For three weeks, the band of gawkers grew exponentially larger until on September 18 there were 2,000 people waiting for her.

By this point the crowd itself had become the phenomenon drawing the crowd, and the following day, September 19, over 5,000 financial district employees downed tools, left work and poured into the streets at 1:15 pm to watch the 5-foot 3-inch brunette exit the BMT station clad in a tight yellow sweater and miniskirt and walk to her job at the Chemical Bank New York Trust Company’s downtown data processing center. Police closed the streets and escorted her through the mob, which damaged three cars as men climbed on their roofs to gain a better view. Stockbrokers and bankers leaned out of windows overlooking Wall Street to watch as trading came to a virtual halt. “Ticker tapes went untended and dignified brokers ran amok,” wrote New York magazine. Photographers from all the daily papers and Life, Time, and New York snapped her picture. “A Bust Panics Wall Street As The Tape Reads 43” read a headline in the Daily News.

"Wall Street's Sweater Girl," Francine Gottfried, walks to work as a large crowd of gawking men and newspaper reporters look on.

The following day, Friday, September 20, the corner of Wall and Broad was jammed with 10,000 spectators and press who waited for Gottfried in vain. Her boss had called and asked her to stay home to put a stop to the disturbances. A nice Jewish girl who lived at home with her parents in Williamsburg, she wasn’t seeking notoriety and started taking a different route to work. “I think they’re all crazy,” she was quoted as saying. “What are they doing this for? I’m just an ordinary girl.” After that, the Francine mania on Wall Street quickly subsided, and she eventually left her $92.50 a week job as an IBM 1260 keypunch operator to become a go-go dancer.

Though the Sweater girl look remained hugely popular well into the 1960's, the look would start to go out of fashion towards the very end of the decade. the over-emphasized, pointed look of the bullet bra would eventually and dramatically decline by the late 1960's. The decline of this look can partly be blamed on the new feminist philosophy that started taking root during the time, and which believed that bras were a sexist tool placed on women by men. During this time, in the 1960's, women started burning their bras and going bra-less. During this time, newer bra designs were also emerging as well. These newer designs included more light-weight, soft-cup bra designs. With both of these factors taking root in the 1960's, the bullet bra, along with it's look, declined in popularity. With the bullet bra no longer being in fashion, the sweater girl look was never the same again... since the two trends seemed to go hand-in-hand.


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