Introducing: bra strap couture.
All good outfits should make you sort of wonder, “Was this actually intentional?” And lately, the fashion world is brimming with statements so audacious they look almost accidental. We’ve seen our fair share of peek-a-boo thongs. We’ve weathered the pantless party. What’s next? Honouring an age-old outfit malfunction: the exposed bra.
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Purposely showing off one’s brassiere is not exactly an emblem of high fashion. On the contrary, it garners assumptions of an ill-fitted top, a layering oversight, and to some, a plain lack of taste. It’s different than wearing a sheer blouse atop a dark bralette, which can be decidedly refined. It’s more chaotic than using a bra as a top, which somehow looks extra purposeful and thus acceptable. The unfortunate crux of the peering-out bandeau is that it evokes a certain immaturity — that of wrangling with your first bra. Think: The eager middle schooler, fresh off a La Senza shopping spree, ready to flaunt their bedazzled neon trainer. Or Cady Heron, desperate to establish her newfound popularity in Mean Girls, sporting a pleather tube dress accentuated by offensively bright straps. In the mainstream zeitgeist of 2023, there’s something embarrassingly naive embedded in the image of an exposed bra. But it seems that’s starting to change.
The polarizing styling choice is set to be a defining summer trend, and we have the Cannes Film Festival to thank. Over on the French Riviera, A-list stars are loudly and proudly emerging with their own takes on bra-strap couture. Scarlett Johansson’s Prada number gave the illusion of a strapless baby pink column with a white bra poking forth. Days earlier, Euphoria’s Sydney Sweeney wore a pale Miu Miu negligée with decidedly darker straps peeping through.
Over the course of the week, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley channelled movie star glamour in Fendi couture featuring a bedazzled brassiere, model Cindy Bruna chose a multicoloured Vivienne Westwood frock with an exposed corset, and Elsa Hosk wore a surrealist Viktor & Rolf slanted ballgown revealing nude undergarment boning. To revisit the aforementioned question: Yes, each of these risqué bra slips is indeed intentional. And at Cannes, that’s saying something.
This is not a public school dance, nor Cady Heron’s ill-fated house party. An esteemed annual destination for the upper crust of Hollywood, the red carpets of Cannes are known for demanding decorum. (Read: heels are an unspoken requirement and selfies are a no-no). With so many attendees opting to expose their underthings, it begs the question: Are the tides on this maligned style finally turning?
The evidence overwhelmingly points to “yes.” On-display bras resurfaced on the Fall 2022 runways by the likes of Bottega Veneta and Versace. On the red carpet, Lily James was an early adopter (or offender, depending on who you ask) of the reimagined trend. In February 2023, she donned a bright green Miu Miu dress with a white bra strap flagrantly sitting front and centre of her back. The look was met with befuddlement (see below). But it was a harbinger of unfazed undergarment exposures to come.
To naysayers, the look is an emblem of garish Y2K style. But what is “tackiness,” anyway, if not a celebration of taking risks? Love it or hate it, the exposed bra is a marker of personal style. Amy Winehouse repeatedly rocked contrasting straps against sultry body-con dresses in the aughts. Nicki Minaj’s visible hot pink bras were an inextricable part of her signature bubblegum Barbie persona through the 2000s and early 2010s. And Carrie Bradshaw — fervent rejecter of subtlety — famously loved to show off her bras in her outfits on Sex and the City, and that’s part of what makes her a style icon.
As the controversial trend gains revitalized attention on contemporary red carpets, it has been met with mixed reactions. But in truth, the exposed bra carries with it all the makings of a great fashion statement: a little mystique, a lot of boldness, and most importantly, a healthy dose of confusion.