Sunday 16 December 2018

How the 'power bra' became a feminist statement

Pop Life

Dua Lipa sports a yellow bra at Electric Picnic
Dua Lipa sports a yellow bra at Electric Picnic
Leslie Ann Horgan

Leslie Ann Horgan

There were two big fashion takeaways from last weekend's Electric Picnic. The first was that glitter is in - on girls, on guys, on teens, on grandparents, in hair, in beards, in elaborate face paint, in packets to be flung in the air as you dance. The second was the emergence of the power bra.

Unlike the ordinary, everyday bra that stays shyly beneath your clothing, the power bra is worn to be seen. This garment does not merely play a supporting role in your fashion statement - it underwires your whole outlook on life.

Though the idea of dancing about a field in Laois in your underwear would heretofore have seemed unthinkable in a country where 'bringing a jacket' is ingrained in our psyche, last weekend saw thousands of young natives confidently step out wearing nothing but a bra on top. (Well, nothing besides the glitter, that is.) Low-cut lace, floral bikinis, sequinned balconies, athletic crop tops, those ones with the criss-crossing straps at the front… Every type of bra was on show.

Greeted with this sight, my instinctive reaction was to avert my gaze and mutter middle-aged clichés like, "I bet their mothers don't know they're out like this," and "they'll catch their deaths". But when I eventually got over myself and actually started to look at the crowd, I had no option but to be impressed by the carefree attitude displayed by young women of every bust size and, crucially, every body shape.

At Electric Picnic, the most powerful of all the bras belonged to chart-topping popstar Dua Lipa, who played to one of the biggest crowds of the weekend. The Kosovo-born, London-based singer appeared on the Main Stage clad in bulky silver trousers (which looked to have been designed for the lovechild of a tradesman and an astronaut), a palm tree-print shirt flung wide, and a yellow bra. Granted, it's not unusual to see a popstar in her underwear: poor Britney Spears appeared in getting-smaller-by-the-song lingerie, which only served to underline the depths of her career plight, throughout her gig in Dublin last month. But there was something so, well, ordinary about Dua Lipa's sunny demi-cup that it seemed to be no big deal that it was on display.

This bra - with its split straps and little bows - wasn't sexy, it was confident. This bra wasn't peeping from behind undone buttons, it was front and centre. This bra said "yes, I have breasts, but they're not something to be ogled at or ashamed of". This bra said, "I own my body and I won't be judged for it". This bra was empowered. This bra was power dressing for 2018.

Of course, the power of the bra has long been known. Mata Hari captivated the continent as she slowly stripped down to just a jewelled brassiere. Eva Herzigova caused silly boys to crash their cars while leering at her Wonderbra. Dita Von Teese has made an estimated €7m by parading about in lingerie - and selling it too. And then there's Madonna, who in 1990 lifted and separated herself to icon status in a Jean Paul Gaultier bustier. (Incidentally, men have tried to get in on the act of power underwear too, but Justin Trudeau's Star Wars socks were never going to be a match for Madge's cone bra.)

But where the women of the past used the power of the bra to proclaim female sexuality, today's 'woke' young generation are employing it to reclaim theirs. In a year where abortion has been legalised in Ireland, where the British parliament is considering classing misogyny as a hate crime, where the #MeToo movement has put an end to the casting couch, and where a plus-sized model like Tess Holliday can grace the cover of Cosmopolitan, the trickle-down effect is young women feel they can be more free with their bodies without fear of judgement or harassment.

When I was their age, I considered having a bra strap showing to be inappropriate, never mind your entire bosom. How far we've come from that - quite literally - buttoned-up time, when women's body image and fashion choices were saturated with 'good girl' notions and Catholic guilt.

So, no their mothers don't know they're out like that, and yes they'll probably catch their deaths, but the bra-burning feminism of old has been replaced by a new, bra-baring brand. The ideological corset is dead - long live the power bra.

Irish Independent

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