The History Of Madonna's Iconic Cone Bra Explained

Madonna has had a number of iconic looks throughout her long career, from the Marilyn Monroe-inspired outfit she wore in the "Material Girl" music video to the Marie Antoinette-style getup she performed in at the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards. During that time, the pop singer and actress has also been no stranger to controversy, both in her music and in her style choices. Among her most headline-stealing outfits, perhaps, is the cone-shaped bra and corset she performed in onstage at the "Blond Ambition" tour in 1990 along with ... well, sometimes not much else.

As an artist, Madonna has always looked toward the future, but in this one outfit choice at least she honored one of fashion history' most legendary designers: Jean Paul Gaultier. The cone bra wasn't exactly new when Madonna wore it. Venerable women's wear brand Maidenform used the silhouette in the 1940s, and Gaultier's cone bra design was seen on fashion runways before Madonna wore it onstage. But in Madonna's hands, sometimes paired with men's clothing, Gaultier's vision took on new meaning. As he told The New York Times, the singer liked his designs for how they blend masculine and feminine sensibilities.

She debuted the look on the opening night of Blond Ambition

Although the cone bra had been around for some time, Jean Paul Gaultier's take premiered on fashion runways in 1987. Meanwhile, other early Gaultier attempts were seen all throughout the 1980s. Punk fashion designer Vivienne Westwood had also explored traditionally feminine-coded clothing like lingerie and businesswear before Madonna wore Gaultier's creation on stage.

Before Maidenform experimented with the style in the late 1940s with their Chansonette, what came to sometimes be known as the "bullet bra" was innovated by Frederick Mellinger, and showed up in 1946 at Mellinger's "Frederick's of Hollywood" store on Hollywood Boulevard. From there, the iconic silhouette was associated with a number of Hollywood's biggest female stars from the time period. 

Madonna put her indelible stamp on the cone bra look on the opening night of her "Blond Ambition" tour in Japan in 1990. The "Like a Virgin" singer's backup dancers also wore variations on the cone bra look — sometimes even men, further subverting gender stereotypes. While performing and in public appearances, Madonna paired her cone bra with black fishnet stockings or a Bob Fosse-style bowler hat, among other combinations. 

In 2001, Gaultier told The New York Times Magazine a Madonna-Gaultier conical bra had recently sold for $20,000 at auction. A pink cone bra Madonna wore later sold for $52,000, Billboard reported.

Madonna plans to bring back the look in 2023

"Blond Ambition" wasn't the only time Madonna appeared in Jean Paul Gaultier's creation, either. In 1991, she appeared at the Cannes Film Festival in a cone bra. There was an encore of the outfit in her 2012 "MDNA" tour, and again in 2018 when she wore a cone bra to the Met Gala. Speaking in 2012, Gaultier told Women's Wear Daily, "What I have done this time is a nod to the conical bra corset of the 'Blond Ambition' tour but reinterpreted in 3D, in patent leather on the outside with metallic leather on the inside. It's all about masculine and feminine." 

Madonna reportedly plans to bring back her cone bra look for her 2023 "Celebration Tour." Referring to the tour, a source close to the "Express Yourself" singer told The U.S. Sun, "Madonna will be reflecting on her entire career in the tour and that won't just be the music — it will be the clothes too. She wants to wear updated versions of her most recognizable outfits and the cone bra is at the top of the list. She has been a trailblazer with her fashion and is getting a lot of her designer friends involved in helping her." 

Inspired by Madonna, other celebrities to be photographed in a similar silhouette include Kylie Jenner, Julia Fox, and Madonna's daughter, Lourdes Leon (seen above). In July 2023, Madonna postponed the "Celebration Tour" launch for health reasons, according to The New York Times.