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Bra Straps on Display: More Than Just a Y2K Trend Revival


It’s official that exposed bra straps and layered tanks tops are coming back. No Doubt performed their first show in over 10 years at Coachella on April 13 with pop sensation Olivia Rodrigo. Guts’ singer, Olivia Rodrigo, sang the band’s ska-punk classic “Bathwater”, paying homage to Gwen Stefani as well as the band’s Y2K punk aesthetic. She performed in a bright red bra and a white tank top.

Rodrigo’s crimson bra straps, which were bejeweled with rhinestones, made more of a fashion statement than a simple nostalgic one.

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Rodrigo’s choice of fashion, whether intentional or not was a reclaiming of women’s bodies in opposition to the politics that still surround them and what is “appropriate” to wear. It’s not as far-fetched as it may seem. Here’s why.

Rodrigo, it should be noted, is not the first celebrity to wear exposed bra straps. Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City may have been the first in pop culture to adopt the trend (and make it fashionable), but the trend was popular among millennials during middle and high schools. Our American Eagle and Bluenotes ribbed tank tops were layered to perfection. We let our La Senza Girls (or Victoria’s Secret if you had a cool mother) bra straps peek through, shouting: “I am a woman!” !”

Many young people considered wearing a tank top with straps exposed to be a fashion statement. The style was often met with judgment and stereotyping by those who were not in the tween or teen girl demographic.

Since the 1960s, young women’s bodies have been sexualized by a patriarchal society and institutions. For many of us, wearing spaghetti-strap tank tops or bra straps at school was an entry into young womanhood. We were often told that it was “too revealing”, or “inappropriate”. (Forget the fact that bra straps are essential clothing items, just like socks. No one holds their pearls if they appear.) But I digress.)

It is clear that the idea that bra straps that are prominent and visible are scandalous is meant to imply that exposing bra straps and “too much skin” is offensive and distracting for male students and that therefore, the entire female body is insensitive. This was a big issue in 2018 and it’s utter BS.

Even though many older millennials have graduated from high school, the bodies of women (especially BIPOC women), continue to be sexualized. Look at what happened to actress Sydney Sweeney. Sweeney, who made her debut in 2019 on HBO’s Euphoria as Cassie, has become a hot-button topic for her talent… and her chest. Eye roll.

Sweeney’s acting abilities aside, she has consistently been criticized and sexualized over something that is simply part of her body and has nothing to do with her ability. She is a harlot if she wears low-cut tops with thin straps; she is dowdy if she wears turtlenecks and wants to be taken seriously. It’s exhausting and a lose-lose scenario.

In recent years, there have been other instances of resistance to this type of policing of women’s bodies by fashion. Kim Kardashian’s Skims brand launched the Skims Nipple Bra in October 2023. It features two perky nipples which give the impression that the wearer has no bra. Some questioned these bras at first, but they have since become a symbol for women to reclaim their autonomy and control from the male gaze.

Now, 2024 will see the return of bra straps that are exposed. Kim Kardashian, in addition to Rodrigo, has also adopted the trend of exposed straps, wearing layered tanks in Paris during Fashion Week last March.

Brands like Reformation have also taken Rodrigo’s bra strap-exposing dressing to a new, somewhat retro level, releasing undergarment-inspired linen dresses, tops, and bathing suits for spring. Gen Z TikTokers are also following the trend, and have started to layer their tanks on social media. (They falsely claim that they invented this trend — sorry friends, it was millennials who did it first!) It has become mainstream and is not a big deal.

It’s the way it should be. Rodrigo and other stars, Reformation, fashion girls, and brands are all helping to de-stigmatize stereotypes about their bodies and themselves. It’s not bad for a bra that is red, huh?

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