Fashion, Lookbook

The feminist power of the underwear-as-outerwear trend

Bralettes and body suits are currently super trendy - and they can also be pretty political.

One of the most iconic scenes from the movie Easy A is the one where Emma Stone’s character, Olive Penderghast, decides to drastically change her wardrobe. She buys lingerie, sews a red ‘A’ on each outfit, and proceeds to wear an impressive array of sexy corsets to school. In a time where it certainly wasn’t trendy, she was rocking the underwear-as-outerwear look. This, of course, both shocks and tantalizes her classmates.

She does this after being slut-shamed at school after a rumor began to circulate saying that she lost her virginity. Things reach a fever pitch when her best friend calls her a slut and they argue, leading to her wardrobe overhaul. Initially, she hid from the rumors, but once she began to play up her sexuality, she started seeing it as a source of pride instead of a source of shame.

Olive was truly ahead of her time. Indeed, both her underwear-as-outerwear wardrobe and her attitude would fit into 2018 pretty well. Click To Tweet

Easy A was a 2010 movie, set in 2010. It came out before the current ‘wave’ of feminism when certain trends became an act of resistance. It was before wearing your underwear as outerwear had become mainstream: it was before the Slutwalk, before the Women’s March and before most of us even knew what the term ‘slut-shaming’ was.

Olive was truly ahead of her time. Indeed, both her underwear-as-outerwear wardrobe and her attitude would fit into 2018 pretty well.

Emma Stone as Olive Penderghast in the movie 'Easy A'. In this GIF, she's blowing a kiss while wearing a red corset with the letter 'A' sewn on the front.
Image description: Emma Stone as Olive Penderghast in the movie ‘Easy A’. In this GIF, she’s blowing a kiss while wearing a red corset with the letter ‘A’ sewn on the front. Via GIPHY.

The trend of wearing underwear-as-outerwear isn’t new, as writer Hanna Brooks-Olsen points out. The 1920s saw flappers wearing teddies, which looked like undergarments. Madonna iconically popularized a bustier in the 1980s. In the early 2000s, it was cool to wear a thong that stuck out of your jeans.

It's not simply provocative in the sexual sense: it provokes political discussions around bodies and sexuality. Click To Tweet

This doesn’t mean, though, that underwear-as-outerwear isn’t influenced by our current politics. Movements like Slutwalk and #FreeTheNipple have made it edgy and subtly political to hint at female nudity. Barely-there bralettes and sheer shirts are all over Instagram, challenging the cissexism and patriarchy of Instagram’s Community Guidelines. It’s not simply provocative in the sexual sense: it provokes political discussions around bodies and sexuality.

Growing discussions around sex education and consent also mean more people are talking about – and accepting – BDSM. For instance, when the 90s tattoo choker trend was revived a few years ago, it eventually became more fashionable to wear BDSM-like collars in public. We’re destigmatizing conversations around sexuality, bodies, and consent – so it’s no wonder we’re destigmatizing underwear, too.

We're destigmatizing conversations around sexuality, bodies, and consent - so it's no wonder we're destigmatizing underwear, too. Click To Tweet

Part of the reason why the underwear-as-outerwear trend is so popular right now is that it’s relatively accessible. Selfies make it easy to show off your outfit without even leaving the house. While few people would show off their bralettes in public, more people would feel comfortable taking a photo of themselves in underwear. If you have insecurities about certain parts of your body – parts that could be exposed when wearing sheer clothing or underwear – filters and photo-editing exist. All these factors mean that it’s more appealing to wear underwear as outerwear than ever before.

Of course, this accessibility is limited. The underwear-as-outerwear trend feels like it’s dominated by thin, white, cis women who are conventionally attractive. While the fat acceptance movement and trans activists are challenging those beauty standards, those standards are still pretty prevalent in our current society. So, while I love selfies of pretty bras and lacy bodysuits, I can’t help but wonder about those who feel too undesirable to wear provocative clothing, and those who’d love to hop on the trend but are afraid of the reaction.

I’m not a fan of being nearly-naked in any context, and I know the trend isn’t for everyone. A modest dress can be pretty empowering for many people. You obviously don’t need to wear provocative clothing to be a feminist, to feel empowered, and reclaim your body. But for many people, this trend is a useful tool in self-expression, and there’s something beautiful about that.

Feminism has always asserted that the personal is the political – that conversations about so-called ‘private matters’ like domestic abuse, sexual assault, and menstruation should be made public. We live in a world where we look at the private and ask why it should be shrouded in shame; we’re doing the same with our underwear. Wearing underwear as outerwear epitomizes ‘the personal is political’ like no other fashion trend.

Wearing underwear as outerwear epitomizes ‘the personal is political’ like no other fashion trend. Click To Tweet

In a society where many marginalized people are reclaiming their sexuality, it’s no wonder why it’s popular to take lingerie and make it public. Destigmatizing personal matters has always been a part of feminist agendas, and now that mentality is affecting the way we look at clothes, too.