07/19/2024

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There’s an episode in season seven of Seinfeld where, like all things Seinfeld, Elaine Benes is irritated by something so incredibly specific that it borders on the irrational: her friend Sue Ellen Mischke refuses to wear a bra. Naturally, Elaine decides to take matters into her own hands and gives Sue Ellen a bra for her birthday, which Sue Ellen then proceeds to wear in subsequent scenes – in a blazer and no shirt.


“Is something wrong?” Suellen asked, noting Elaine’s horrified expression.

“Well, Sue Allen,” Elaine replied. “It’s not a top, it’s a bra.”

These days, that thought doesn’t get Elaine very far. Kylie, one of more than 50 enthusiastic bra wearers who spoke with me about this story, shared, “I haven’t worn a shirt in months.” She gave them up in favor of wearing only bras, usually under a blazer in a way that Elaine thought was ridiculous. These days, that combination seems to be everywhere. Not only on fashion shows and influential Instagram grids, but also on, say, Jenny, a first-grade teacher living in Washington, D.C., who told me she’ll “wear this particular pair every day for the rest of [her] life. if not for the unique constraints of her work environment.

Of course, wearing a braless shirt under a blazer or jacket is nothing new. There are many iconic references throughout pop culture history – some of which predate the Sue Ellen Mischke Seinfeld episode that aired in 1996. Famous examples include Brooke Shields at the 1983 premiere of the Alive movie (knotted navy bra, oversized white blazer), Iman’s 1988 Hollywood Viva AIDS Benefit (white bra, fitted white blazer), and Madonna in a Vogue music video released in 1990 (black bra, long black velvet blazer).


When I interviewed stylist Rachael Wang, she reminded me that this combination is also Jody Watley’s signature look, worn on the cover of her 1991 album “Affairs of the Heart” (black bra, casual yellow blazer). I reached out to Wang after seeing her street-style photos from Fashion Week 2019. In the photo, she’s wearing high-waisted pants and an oversized plaid blazer that opens up over an olive green triangle bra. I asked her, as someone who considers combining clothes for a living, if she could explain why this “trend” (if it’s fair to say that forgoing shirts and only wearing bras under blazers is a trend)) seemed to have some stickiness. Her explanation stems from the tension between being covered and not being covered: “It’s a very different kind of exposure, for example, a tight dress that exposes the whole body silhouette,” she says.


Multiple people I spoke with cited a similar appeal, and by that I mean a certain sexiness. One woman named Jes admitted, “Tight clothes or showing a ton of skin has never been my thing. So the bra/blazer combo has always been my favorite going-out look when I want to add a little chic sexiness while still being mostly covered up.” Another, Katie, stresses that it’s sexy without the “pressure or discomfort” of something more form-fitting.

“I think it really challenges some of the conventions about what is sexy or not sexy, or what parts of the body certain women can show off,” stylist and costume designer Shiona Turini told me. Turini is an outspoken advocate of wearing bras (or plunging tops) under blazers herself. For those of you who follow her on Instagram, there’s no doubt that this is her signature look. She also designed a Saint Laurent blazer and armor-style gold corset bra for Issa Rae on the cover of Vanity Fair in June 2021. “In theory, anything can be worn as a plunging top,” she declared, citing a Nike sports bra that she once paired with a pencil skirt and an off-the-shoulder blazer as relevant examples.

Alexandra Sickles, partner and chief marketing officer at Rebecca de Ravenel, a devoted wearer of bras under blazers, offered another perspective on the relevance of the combination. She believes this is because “most people own both items, so the trend is not specific to the luxury market.” It’s a tool to look cool and feel sexy (or “shiny,” as Sickles describes it) without having to go out and buy something new.

A July 2021 report by Allied Market Research found that the global lingerie industry will generate $19.28 billion in sales in 2020 and is expected to reach $32 billion by 2028 – an increase of more than one and a half times. Bras have never been more accessible from an availability, size or price perspective, and they’re only going to get more so. This growth is especially worth considering given the growth of breed-specific DTC lingerie brands (think CUUP, Savage Fenty, Parade) that are not only striving to offer more inclusive sizing, but are also highlighting through user-generated content on social media the option of designing bras as “jackets” at various events ” option at various events. CUUP Creative Director Laura Michael shared that showing their customer community how to “design bras first” was a deliberate part of the brand’s strategy: “We intentionally celebrate the details,” she said. It’s a testament to the impact bra mania has on all of us that even after the increase in the number of people working remotely (and the ensuing passionate tweets about embracing the bra-less), the approach remains as influential as ever.

“Bra culture is so grand these days,” agrees stylist Mecca James-Williams when I spoke with her via phone. James-Williams loves pairing blazers with brightly colored bras that pop underneath and is excited about how many fun options there are to try these days. With 36 DD cups, she knows “I shouldn’t wear bras like this because my boobs are too big,” but she’s never drawn any attention to them. “I think it looks beautiful,” she says.

Photographer Lydia Hudgens finds it sometimes difficult to find a plunging top she likes, but a bra – which can achieve a similar look, especially when paired with a blazer – is another matter. She tends to gravitate toward bra styles with more coverage and no steel hoops, such as ARQ’s Full Coverage Bra, which comes in 21 different colors and in sizes up to 3X. “It’s hard to find something in a larger size,” she says, “especially if you want to show a little skin but don’t want to be overly sexy.” For her, wearing a bra under a blazer is also an opportunity to feel sexy without looking too feminine. This sentiment was echoed by others I spoke with, such as Mehr, who called it “the middle finger to gendered dressing,” and Ashley, who said, “The look of a jacket under a bra allows me to play with gender expression empowerment in a way that I find. “

There aren’t many style choices that promote both self-expression and sex appeal, and that power is clearly the key to this trend’s appeal. That said, I can understand why some people might feel uncomfortable with an outfit that they still wear 99% of the time. For those who are intrigued by the look but wary of how to approach it, I’ll share stylist Dione Davis’ practical advice: she suggests opting for a less practical-looking bra, which not only helps temper the hello-me-underwear factor, but also works well from a contrasting perspective (the bra “should have shape, but not too much, because the blazer already has shape,” she says). Because the blazer already has shape,” Davis explains). If you design this combination with pants, Davis would advocate something more awkward in length – like a pedal – rather than true corporate-style pants, so you can safely avoid looking like the accountant who forgot his shirt on the way to work (unless, of course, that’s your thing). unless, of course, that’s your thing). If you want my two cents, as someone who has worn a bra many times under a blazer and lived to tell this story you’re reading right now, I like to compare it to the salt on dark chocolate. Weird in theory, delicious in practice – so much so that you can’t wait to have it again.

As for the Seinfeld episode I mentioned earlier, further bra-suit-jacket-wearing drama did, in fact, take place. When Jerry and Kramer spot Sue Ellen Mischke walking past her in her dress while driving down the street, they eventually become so distracted that Kramer crashes his car, which eventually (and absurdly) becomes grounds for filing a lawsuit against Sue Ellen. She prevailed, though – and not just because the lawsuit was dismissed. Twenty-five years later, Sue Ellen’s real victory has become a reality when it was finally proven that she had done nothing wrong by wearing a bra as a top, and that she was actually just ahead of her time.

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