Goodbye heaving cleavage, hello small and 'au naturel' - How fashion burned its (push-up) bra
Published 15/05/2016 | 02:30
If there was anywhere on Earth where one would expect flesh to come cantilevered, it is Cannes: the Croisette being the arena in which starlet mettle is tested. But what is this? It seems the customary straining bosoms are a no-show.
Model Bella Hadid attended this year's opening gala sporting low-slung, expansively cleavaged breasts, a million miles from the up-and-at-'em approach of former festivals. Fellow catwalk darling Lily Donaldson followed suit, revealing a diminutive, natural bosom, her assets remaining resplendently unhoicked.
Even the formerly va-va-voom Victoria's Secret model Doutzen Kroes traded plunge and padding for a discreet guise in which her cleavage was missing in action.
Actress Kristen Stewart has gone braless, both in a cut-off white T-shirt and sheer black blouse with strategic pocket placement. While, for the juxtaposition between old-school and new-broom breast brandishing, one has merely to consider Susan Sarandon and Naomi Watts embracing at the premiere for Money Monster, a moment in which pneumatic uplift confronts the free-range.
Matters at fashion's recent Met Gala were much the same: more skin may have been on show by way of exposed waists, hips and crotches, but chests were emphatically back in their box/ binding. For fashion is having a breast moment, and it's the polar opposite of the breast moments we have come to enjoy: less loud and proud than "put 'em away, love".
The chest of choice is small, unshowy, low-slung, natural, unsupported, and limply pointy-cum-triangular rather than the round, pertly ball-like apparatuses thrust at us over recent years. Think the Seventies' bosom: a little bit French, and a lot like Elizabeth Debicki, the beauteous moll in The Night Manager, with her elongated approach to siren dressing.
The latest issue of Grazia mourns the end of the padded bra, heralding triangle styles, crop tops, and non-underwired numbers as architects of the new tit in town. I recently interviewed Heidi Klum, queen of the Intimates range, who confirmed the "organic" breast movement: "I think there's a beautiful, natural shape to the breast instead of having all that push up.
"I want to keep it cool: less underwire and padding, something simpler, more racerbacks."
Even the traditionally super-hoisted Victoria's Secret label has introduced a flimsier, unpadded cup.
Soft cups now make up 30pc of Net-a-Porter's bra sales, while Selfridges' new 37,000sq ft Body Studio is awash with little lace nothings.
Where once women declared "Hello, Boys" with Wonderbras, now they're bidding farewell with modest American Apparel, Calvin Klein and Stella McCartney numbers, all long-time enthusiasts for the Seventies' breast.
Meanwhile, if HBO's twentysomething drama Girls is anything to judge by, the untrammelled bosom appears to be the millennial preference. Every episode, the viewer is assailed by pointy, unfettered mammaries fit to take one's eye out. To be sure, no one I meet under 30 appears to even own a bra, padded or otherwise. I feel old and somewhat Les Dawson-breasted.
For some of us are destined to be buxom. Forgive the brag, but my own full, high and resolutely non-pointy numbers have previously been deemed an asset outside of fashionable circles. Experts may have identified seven shapes of breast, but Betts women's come in only one size, and that is massive.
Witness the fact that, as a 34E, I was known as "Tiny Tits," relative to my sisters' proportions.
Inside the fashion world, the attitude has been one of unmitigated horror. I was once advised that Vivienne Westwood clothes were for women who want to look as if they have breasts, not those already boasting them. Elsewhere, a male designer stared at my unclothed form and stuttered, "Hourglass!" in horrified tones.
The lush, homoerotic environs of high style have always been down on dugs, designing on paper rather than the body, and replicating its lack of dimension. Clothes hang better on rakes, runs the theory, making the bee stings sported by Kate Moss, Erin O'Connor, Alexa Chung and their ilk the ideal.
Of course, there have been other natural nork eras. Flappers flattened their bosoms in the Twenties, while Sixties dolly birds favoured child-like buds.
Seventies hippies let their orbs roam free, as did grunge girls in the early Nineties before the Wonderbra took hold, followed by contourless size zeros in the 2000s.
This is emphatically another of those anti-curvy girl moments. For, if you cannot claim the breast du jour, nothing else in vogue will suit you - witness the shapeless shifts and clodhopping shoes currently making hourglass gals look pregnant.
As ever, we are told that this spells another take on feminism: women dressing "for themselves" rather than rigging themselves out as so many animated blow-up dolls. However, the "It tit" is no less a statement about class, distinguishing chic sheep from de trop goats.
For now that everyone can afford what writer Jay McInerney once referred to as "party tits," a heaving cleavage has become the benighted preserve of women who conflate E-list celebrity with an E-cup; leaving the cognoscenti seeking to distinguish themselves via the fried-egg affairs born of green juice and Pilates. Even among the fake-it crowd, the look is considerably more realistic. The most common request among patients 15 years ago was for an ample double-D cup. Surgeons report that today's patients would rather have a medium-ish C.
Perhaps the dye was cast when Victoria Beckham signalled her transformation from footballer's wife to serious fashion designer by ditching her breast implants. Where once her embonpoint preceded her, now it's a shrunken affair, concealed under oversized pullovers. What are we so-called "real women" to make of it, not least as Britain's average bra size is a voluptuous 36DD? While the Seventies' breast might be perfect for sitting in a field with a bubble perm consuming a Cadbury's Flake, it may feel less fitting in the office where a padded bra has long been favoured as setting the appropriate architectural tone.
As for conducting oneself in public - where merely possessing breasts is enough to plunge one into a mire of everyday sexism - the craze for an unencumbered bosom sounds like too much hassle.
For a while, Planet Fashion will content itself letting it all hang out - with "it all" in this context meaning "not very much". Still, we big girls will be back, damn it.
And if, in the meantime, fashionistas spurn us, we will continue to remain popular with the chaps.