Jill Fields on why the cone bra is pops with pop stars

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We have entered a new era of boom and bust.

The busts are those of dueling pop stars Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, each of whom recently unveiled her own dangerous reinterpretation of the legendary Jean Paul Gaultier cone bra worn by Madonna back in the day. And the booms are literal and frightening, spraying bullets and spewing whipped cream all over the top of the Billboard charts....

Whatever you think of the two pieces of music on display in these videos, one thing is beyond dispute: America loves a cone bra. From its mythic origins in the hands of Howard Hughes, through the enduring glory of the Blonde Ambition tour, and up to the latest volcanic incarnations, high-concept support-wear is fashion’s best and longest-running practical joke.

But does it have a purpose—other than to confuse the hell out of men?

“It’s a way to sexualize the body as well as to be ironic about that,” says Jill Fields, professor of history at California State University and author of An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie and Sexuality. “What Madonna became famous for, at least among the feminist studies folks, is her ability exploit her sexuality and also have this detached view of it as well. It meant that she was undercutting the very ideas about what makes a female body sexy or desirable.”...

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