There was a time when bras were bras and tops were tops. And then Madonna’s Blonde Ambition Tour happened in 1990 and the whole world turned literally inside out.
While Madge’s Jean Paul Gaultier-designed cone bra won’t be making a comeback anytime soon, the underwear as outerwear trend is shining brighter than Britney Spears’ Toxic bodysuit.
10 of the best: underwear as outerwear
In line with the trend towards relaxed dressing, the underwear we’re seeing is similarly chilled. Think slip dresses and bralettes more than bustiers and corsets (the corset belt being one exception).
Madonna’s famous “cone bra” began a massive underwear as outwear trend in the 1990s.
Frankie Anderson, general manager of product for Bras N Things, says lingerie’s current “moment” is driven by outerwear trends, including sheer dresses.
“People are finding they want amazing lingerie under these pieces. There was a time when lingerie was hidden and people didn’t want to show their bra strap,” she says.
Suki Waterhouse goes for the full net effect at London Fashion Week.
Snap on a bodysuit or slink into a bralette
One of the biggest trends is the bodysuit, says Anderson. Big in the 1980s and 1990s, she says the trend is particularly popular with young women who missed it the first time around.
Versatile and great with high-waisted skirts and pants, the bodysuit removes the bulk of tucking in a top or shirt, so long as you’re prepared to “de-snap” when you need to use the bathroom.
Another huge trend is the bralette, or soft-cup bra, which looks least “underwear like” in a long line that finishes at the bottom rib.
“[Before] the trend was around cleavage. It’s now around the natural shape of a woman,” Anderson says. “People want comfort – if you can get comfort and a great fashion styling piece, it’s a win.”
Blogger Jasmine Howell does leather and lace with a rock twist at the Melbourne Fashion Festival.
When granny pants are chic
At last year’s Logie awards, which are fast coming around again, Jesinta Franklin (nee Campbell), wore a green netted Camilla and Marc dress over a Wonder Woman-inspired strapless bodysuit. The look divided some critics but has since been imitated on red carpets the world over.
At London Fashion Week, actor Suki Waterhouse wore a tiered mesh skirt over black full briefs, a look that Kim Kardashian has practically patented as her own. This winter, keep it on trend with a thigh-high boot with an optional peeptoe in black suede or a stretch leather/fabric mix.
Anderson says when choosing a high-waisted under pant, try something with a design element that has more of a fashion shape than a traditional knicker.
Bring out your inner superhero like Jesinta Franklin at last year’s Logies in a bodysuit under a sheer dress.
Bend the rules on colour
When it comes to working out which colours to wear, look to the runway for inspiration. Soft pinks look great under khakis, so try a military-style jacket with a lacy camisole or bralette, or else team the colour of the moment – red – with a pop of canary yellow, pink or a metallic for a luxe look.
I recently interviewed Elle Macpherson, who told me she always wears a black bra under a white shirt for a bit of contrast. Beige just won’t do for The Body. Similarly, model Elyse Knowles turned a long white lace dress by Macgraw into a fashion statement at the Melbourne Fashion Festival by accenting it with black undergarments.
Elyse Knowles goes against the grain with black undergarments with a white lace dress.
Layer for extra support
Finally, a word for the ladies who have a more generous bust. Byron Bay lingerie designer Madonna Bain, whose range is 100 per cent ethical, suggests women who need extra support can still embrace the trend with some clever layering. Why stop at one bralette when you can wear two, or take a regular bra underneath a sheer camisole to still get the sexy effect.
And if you’re not a fan of lace, fear not. Bain’s range includes adorable cotton pieces that are good for your wardrobe, and the planet.
“Instead of having a hint of lace, I want to offer something for the cotton girls out there. A hint of print or something a little playful,” she says.
Blogger Jess Dempsey shows how to layer inside out, with this Fendi crop top over a frilly shirt.
Three of the best
Madonna Bain Eco Intimates, $110 (set).
Stella McCartney, $180.
Magali Pascal, $139.