Thursday, August 12, 1999

Bra straps have gone from taboo to trend




BY REON CARTER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If you cringe at the sight of a wayward bra strap, your age is showing.

        Tanks, tees, spaghetti-string dresses and sheer shirts have been outing bras in record numbers, and there are few signs the look is letting up.

        Straps loop lazily off shoulders, crisscross on backs and brazenly declare independence from garments that used to conceal them.

        The sateen elastic bra strap, complete with adjustable slides, is streaking across tresses as the summer's quirkiest hair accessory.

        Displayed proudly and prominently by teens and twentysomethings, the bra has become a statement of style and a disregard for restrictions that defined and confined older generations.

        “So a little bra strap shows; nobody cares,” says Lindsay McCord, 16, of Fairfax, during a visit to Kenwood Towne Centre.

        Her friend, Chelsey Robinson, 16, of Terrace Park, in a black tank top too skimpy to contain her black bra straps, says, “If it falls this way, what can you do?”

        Traci Sample, 17, of Delhi Township, displays bra straps that form two V-patterns on her back with her tank top.

        “A strapless bra is too tight and uncomfortable, but going without (a bra) would draw even more attention,” she says. “I don't think showing straps is such a bad thing. It can even look cool if it's a really pretty bra with a nice color or flowers on it.”

        Jessica Lewis, 15, of Clifton, says “I like to coordinate my (bra) straps with other accessories, such as belts, pocketbooks and shoes.”

        These are the sentiments of teens growing up in the age of Madonna. The pop superstar is credited with igniting the underwear-as-outerwear craze in 1985 with the movie Desperately Seeking Susan and then again in 1990 with her Blond Ambition World Tour in which she wore Gaultier cone bras so pointy they could put out an eye.

        “Of course, Madonna first did it to shock people,” says John Esten, author of the coffee table book Unmentionables — A Brief History of Underwear (Simon Schuster; 1996). “But most things tend to lose their shock value the more you see them. Our eyes have certainly grown used to seeing people's underwear. We're not only seeing more bras, but camisoles and corsets. It's also not unusual to see slips worn as dresses.”

        Designers such as Prada, Dolce and Gabbana and Helmut Lang are creating dresses and tops with slight straps that boast adjustable slides similar to those on undergarments.

        “Innerwear or underwear worn as outerwear is way past a trend these days,” says Laura Daube, spokeswoman for lingerie designer Josie Natori. “It's a way of life. We let the customer decide how the line is worn.”

        It's not just women's undies being flaunted. The hip-hop look of baggy, low-slung pants has given a public view of more guys' boxers and briefs.

        So if we're so accustomed to underwear as outerwear, why the recent brouhaha when soccer player Brandi Chastain whipped off her jersey after the World Cup victory?

        “Because in sports, like a lot of other areas, there's a double standard,” says Barbara Harris, editor-in-chief of Shape, a popular women's fitness magazine. “For men in sports, the focus is on talent, but women are still judged by the way they look or the appropriateness of their behavior. And some saw the fact that (Ms. Chastain) took off her shirt in a spontaneous moment of exuberance as inappropriate.”

        What about the decidely unsexy sports bra underneath?

        “I want to ask the people who had a problem seeing that, "Where have you been?' ” Ms. Harris says. “That's what women have been wearing — without shirts — for running and working out for years. Seeing a sports bra, that's made to be worn as outerwear in the first place, shouldn't be new or shocking to anyone.”

        Opinions of underwear as outerwear seem to divide along age lines.

        Those 30 and under are much more comfortable with the trend, Mr. Esten says. “Older people tend to have a problem.”

        While Kathy Nies of Montgomery recalls the late '60s and early '70s when bra burning or going without were symbols of liberation, she doesn't see visible bra straps as particularly stylish. Her daughter Jennie, 17, tries to hide hers.

        “I'll wear more than one tank top so the straps spread a bit and cover the bra strap,” Jennie says.

        Cheryl Johnson of Norwood, who gives her age as 30-plus, recalls enduring the tedious pinning process to make sure straps stayed in place and out of sight.

        “I still think it looks tacky when you can see the bra,” Ms. Johnson says. “I won't wear something if I can't find the proper underwear to go with it.”

        While the debate over visible bra straps continues, another argument might be brewing.

        Should bras be heard?

        Victoria's Secret just introduced the Click Miracle Bra ($42). This push-up brassiere has a hidden mechanism which allows the wearer to literally pump up the volume of cleavage with one, two or three audible clicks.

BUILT-IN BRA
        Two years ago Linda Meltzer, president of Tease Tee's in Los Angeles, decided to add built-in underwear to her spaghetti-string tank tops.

        “If you have large breasts or if you're older, I just don't think the strappy look works,” Ms. Meltzer says. “What we did, adding built-in bras for support to tanks, is basically the same as what they've been doing with swimsuits and bridal gowns for a while.

        “Stores were reluctant to carry (the tanks) at first, but they've really taken off this year.”

        The Tease Tee's tank tops ($48-$54), which can accommodate cup sizes A to D, have been featured in Us and InStyle magazines and been spotted on actresses Cameron Diaz, Jenna Elfman and Courteney Cox. Soho in Hyde Park is expecting its first shipment in a week.

       



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- Bra straps have gone from taboo to trend
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