If you were to ask your great-grandmother what the purpose of a bra is, she would probably say function. If your great-grandmother were to ask you the same question, you would probably say fashion. This is because Vanity Fair started selling leopard print bras in 1953, which, according to Vogue, “transformed underwear to fashion statements” and forever changed “the way we think about lingerie.”
With each decade, bras have moved closer to the surface of wearable fashion. Rather than underwear, bras have become outerwear. While our parents’ generation most likely views bras as invisible garments worn underneath clothes, millennials and Generation Z-ers are styling bras to be hyper-visible in any outfit, and even doing away with shirts altogether. But this trend didn’t start with us.
Y2K fashion (from the late ’90s and early 2000s) has made a comeback, which is arguably where the bra-as-a-shirt trend originated. In 1996, the late singer Aaliyah was in a Tommy Hilfiger campaign sporting her then-favorite look: designer boxers and low-rise jeans. Instantly iconic, this look has since been imitated by a variety of brands and celebrities. Calvin Klein, Supreme, and Savage X Fenty have all turned this look into a bra and underwear set sold as simple cotton “undergarments” lined with a band featuring the brand name.
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Casual underwear sets are so commonplace in today’s fashion lexicon that it’s been easy to overlook the group—men—that wasn’t as well versed in this style. But no more. In the year of our style lord 2021, men are starting to discover what can be accomplished when one wears a bra for fashion rather than function—because obviously, anyone regardless of gender can wear a bra for any reason.
SHINee’s Taemin literally broke the side of the internet where K-pop fans dwell after releasing his latest MV for his title track “Advice.” Per usual, he showcased a variety of compelling looks, but none more compelling than a white cropped tracksuit revealing a matching Supreme set.
3 . Taemin – Advice Cropped Hoodie : pic.twitter.com/429SSDrtlD
— Legendary Kpop Outfits (@iconickpopfits) May 23, 2021
While fans are not quite sure if the top of the set is a bra or a cropped shirt, this look is a recreation of the casual underwear sets typically worn exclusively by women in the mainstream. The resulting look is androgynous, fun, and should be hanging in a museum.
Four days later, Holland posted a photoset on Instagram and Twitter of him wearing a bikini bra top with biker shorts. I repeat: the look is androgynous, fun, and should be hanging in a museum.
fitness boy🧦 pic.twitter.com/amJlegfuCI
— HOLLAND (@HOLLAND_vvv) May 21, 2021
Fashion is genderless, and yet bras are still gendered in the mainstream. While more underwear brands are launching genderless bras—for functional and fashionable purposes—it’s refreshing to see men like Taemin and Holland helping to break down any remaining bra-rriers (see what I did there?).
In addition, fashion has always pushed boundaries. This has spurred movements in which various articles of clothing have been deemed more fluid. Men donning bras joins a long list of clothing pieces that have switched from traditionally coded as feminine to genderless. Crop tops, skirts, and dresses have all been worn by the likes of Billy Porter, Frank Ocean, Tyler The Creator, Jaden Smith, Conan Gray, Harry Styles, Troye Sivan, Keiynan Lonsdale, Kid Cudi, and more who are toying with the construct of gender in important ways.
If men start wearing bras for fashion, this could help challenge the sexualization of women’s bodies. Of course, breasts are not sexual. While some have more fatty tissue than others, this is a phenomenon that spans all genders. And yet, it is women’s breasts that are controversial, immodest, and vulgar—a misconception that recently inspired a Florida high school to edit its female students’ yearbook photos for “dress code” violations.
A bra is a bra just like breasts are breasts. A person wearing a bra is simply a person wearing a bra. Sometimes it’s for function; sometimes it’s for fashion. If anything, I hope this is a style trend that catches on with all genders, because it is pretty fashionable by today’s standards.
It will be interesting to see how Taemin and Holland spark conversations around possible new fashion trends. It will be even more interesting to see how these conversations inspire a greater movement around more autonomy for all.
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