The Strange Allure of Black Bras Under White Shirts

The first non-training boulder holder I ever owned was a beige-colored full coverage Calvin Klein bra purchased from T.J. Maxx by the woman who birthed me.

“Go try it on in the dressing room under a white t-shirt to make sure it matches your skin tone,” my mom instructed. “It should be completely invisible under the shirt.”

This directive signaled my official introduction to the rules of wearing bras, and more specifically the rules of wearing bras under white shirts: Thou shalt not make its presence known.

Over the years, as I aged from first-time bra wearer to wizened teen, the invisible bra mandate perked up my rebel-with-a-small-cause antenna (which quickly transitioned to ramrod status when I considered the similar fear-mongering around Visible Panty Lines). Why, pray tell, are undergarments — an accessory more universal than the nose on your face — supposed to be kept “secret”? Furthermore, why is every other component of an outfit allowed to make a statement? Does the utilitarian mission of holding up a chest strip bras of their potential to be chic?

I think not.

Neither did Carrie Bradshaw, apparently.

Patron saint of the visible bra, Carrie (and Patricia Field by proxy) proved that anything from straps peeking out of a sleeveless tank, to demi cups paired with sheer tops, to backless dresses punctuated by the bold horizontal slash of a hook-and-eye clasp could successfully surprise and delight in the same vein as any compelling evidence of personal style.

Carrie’s loyalty to wearing black bras under somewhat sheer white blouses is my favorite of her contributions to visible bra advocacy in popular culture. I’ve been mulling over what I find so appealing about this particular combination and I think it’s twofold: not only does the punctuation of a black bra complement and therefore emphasize the feminine delicacy of a somewhat sheer white blouse (a quality I happen to find enchanting), but it also conveys a bit of sex appeal without eclipsing what the overall outfit is trying to say.

I’ve enjoyed this aesthetic statement for a while now, but this past year is the first in which I’ve really leaned into it with abandon.

The more I do, the more I like it. It’s a little funny to admit that something so simple can bring me so much sartorial joy, but in a way maybe that’s part of its strange allure — deliberate and effortless at the same time.

What about you? Do you hush up your bras or give them a microphone? Mine got ahold of one and they’re asking loudly.

Feature photo by Bill Davila/WireImage via Getty Images.

Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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