Fact Check

Exploding Brassiere

A lady's inflatable bra expands on an airplane, then explodes?

Published Feb 23, 2000

Legend:   A well-endowed young lady becomes more and more well-endowed as her inflatable bra swells during a long flight.

Example:   [Readers' Digest, 1958]

The National sales manager for an inflatable bra — created for the girls nature short-changed — was flying from Los Angeles to San Francisco with his No. 1 model. She was, of course, loyally wearing one of the boss's products. It turned out that the plane had a nonpressurized cabin, and the higher they flew the more outstanding the model became. It was so nerve-racking for the other passengers that she finally had to retreat to the pilot's compartment. She finished the flight there, gradually deflating.


  • Sometimes the bra-wearer safely makes it to the lavatory, but sometimes the enhancer explodes while she's still wearing it, often when she's the focus of all eyes as she's making her way down the aisle.
  • A 1990s updating of the legend has the collagen-enhanced lips of either Barbara Hershey or Cindy Crawford exploding on an airplane.
  • Though exploding bra stories usually take place on airplanes (where changes in cabin pressure play a major part in these stories), one version places it at a girl's senior prom. Her secret is discovered when her boyfriend pins on her corsage.

Origins:   The 1958 Reader's Digest example reproduced above indicates that the material came from a newspaper column of undetermined vintage by San Francisco journalist Herb Caen. In

light of the breast implant controversies and accidents of recent decades, it's hard now to imagine this story dating back as far as it does, but feminine vanity again proves to be timeless.

In fact, inflatable bras began showing up in newspaper advertisements for department stores back in 1952. The air-filled bras appear to have been something of a fad item at the time, as the number of newspaper ads for the product dropped off significantly after 1954 and largely disappeared by the mid-1960s. The inflatable bikini is a similarly genuine item of apparel (just poke the dots and it goes from itsy-bitsy to ... oh, nevermind).

Although we haven't turned up the Herb Caen column referred to above, we have found that this legend swept through Southern California in 1967 when it was reported as a true and recent occurrence by Los Angeles Times columnist Matt Weinstock (an account that added the further comedic detail of a misunderstanding foreign passenger who attempts to intervene):

This one presents a bit of challenge in the telling. Fortunately, I am known far and wide for my discretion.

And don't say it can't happen. It did a few days ago, on a jet flight en route to Los Angeles. No further identification.

The plane was at about 30,000 feet when, through some mechnical failure I don't understand, the cabin became depressurized.

A stewardess became embarrassingly aware of this when the inflated bra she was wearing began to inflate. She is reputedly a little deficient in this department.

When she had, ahem, expanded to about size 44, she frantically sought a solution to her dilemma. Somehow she found a woman passenger who had a small hatpin and she stabbed herself strategically.

However, another passenger, a man of foreign descent, misunderstood. He thought she way trying to commit hara-kiri the hard way. He grappled with her, trying to prevent her from punching the hatpin in her chest.

Order was quickly restored but the laughter is still echoing along the airlanes.

Weinstock's column spread the legend far and wide when it was picked up by the Associated Press, a circumstance he commented upon several weeks later:

Not long ago the strange case of the stewardess with the inflatable bra was reported here. When a jet airliner cabin became depressurized at 30,000 feet she grew and grew. In desperation, she strategically stabbed herself into normalcy.

The item was picked up by AP and hit papers near and far.

Now hear this from Marina Bryant of Alameda, Calif., stewardess for World Airways, Inc.:

"Boy, did that article start something. You see, we fly servicemen to and from Vietnam. You better believe every GI over there has read or heard the story — it was printed in Stars & Stripes — and must make sure we have. (Personally I think they're hoping for a repeat.)

"Well, I have to tell you about two young paratroopers on a recent flight. On their uniforms were little signs pinned on with huge safety pins reading, 'For Emergency Use. Rescue Deflation Pin.' They're great!"

Despite the columnist's assurances, we've no reason to believe any of this happened. No names, dates, or other verifiable details were provided, making it just as likely Weinstock heard the story from an airline buddy, who'd heard it from someone else ... you get the picture. Even without turning up the 1950s Herb Caen article, we know this rumor had been bouncing around the Bay Area well before its 1967 appearance in the Los Angeles Times, as evidenced by this excerpt from a 1965 column by Oakland Tribune columnist Bill Fiset:

Kathleen Cappelli, who takes calls at the "Fly Oakland Desk" at the airport, got the ultimate query. A woman wanted to know if she could wear her inflatable bra on a jet flight. Don't laugh. The cabins are pressurized to about 8,000 feet, which could add ample. Kathleen advised: "Don't completely inflate it ..."

Nonetheless, as recently as 1997 newspapermen were still offering this chestnut as something they'd once personally witnessed. The following excerpt appeared in Morris Cargill's Jamaica Gleaner column that year:

There was once a fashion for inflatable bras. On one journey by air from England to New York I sat next to one such in the days when the pressurisation of aircraft was in its infancy. As the aircraft (four Rolls-Royce Merlin engines) ascended, the lady's inflatable bra got bigger and bigger until it finally burst, scaring me half to death.

In closing, we note that another Bill Fiset column from the same era related a similar story about an embarrassing mishap involving inflatable bras and pins, albeit one that took place on terra firma:

One of those formal sorority dances, with all the young ladies in floor-length gowns, and beforehand two couples walk into Peter's for dinner. In the foyer the boys take the girls' coats to check them, and the two girls unpin their corsages from the coats and pin them on each other's dresses. Customers are watching in some admiration, as the girls are good-looking and one has a rather ample bosom on which the orchid is being pinned. But the pin goes in too deep and punctures, with an audible hissing sound, the girl's inflatable bra. The embarrassment is downright unbearable, and both girls beeline for the powder room. They emerge a couple of minutes later, with customers trying to keep straight faces. Everything is back to its ample normal. A cocktail waitress checks the powder room later and reports: "They used the whole box of Kleenex."

Wags have often speculated that marshmallows brought into an unpressurized flight cabin would swell up to incredible size. We've no idea if anyone has tested this theory, though.

Barbara "mallow feasance" Mikkelson

Sightings:   In an episode of television's Designing Women (original air date 12 December 1988), Delta Burke's character cautions a friend against getting silicone implants by saying, "A Pan Am stewardess I know had hers done, and they exploded on take-off."

Last updated:   8 July 2006


Sources Sources:

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Baby Train.

    New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.   ISBN 0-393-31208-9   (pp. 80-82).

    Cargill, Morris.   "Beauty and the Bleach"

  Jamaica Gleaner.   19 October 1997   (p. 24).

    Fiset, Bill.   "People Are the Best Kind."

  Oakland Tribune.   10 September 1965   (p. 15).

    Fiset, Bill.   "The Tower of Babble."

  Oakland Tribune.   14 March 1967   (p. 15).

    Weinstock, Matt.   "It Wasn't Hari-Kiri, Just an 'Inflated' Airline Stewardess."

  Los Angeles Times.   17 February 1967   (p. A6).

    Weinstock, Matt.   "Things Learned at Mother's Knee and Other Joints."

  Los Angeles Times.   24 March 1967   (p. A6).

    Reader's Digest Treasury of Wit and Humor.

    Pleasantville, N.Y.: Reader's Digest Association Inc., 1958   (p. 218).