The rise and rise of peek-a-boo bras

The low-key lingerie trend seen at Cannes is here to stay.

Harper's Bazaar India

"Wardrobe malfunction" used to be a headline—now it’s a fashion statement. Back in the 2000s, tabloids would have a field day with any kind of celebrity slip—a sans-bra celeb papped on their morning coffee run; an underwear band exposed above a low-rise jean; or (gasp) a bra strap just in sight.

Well in 2023, all fashion ‘controversies’ are not only considered trendy—but are actually pretty chic. Fashion has ditched the bra; sheer looks (softly layered over flashy lingerie) are everywhere and those cheeky bumsters are back. In essence, the days of safekeeping your lingerie for yourself and significant other are well behind—and it’s no more obvious than with the latest “peek-a-boo bra” trend seen at Cannes.

While underwear-as-outerwear has been big for a while, here’s a quick fashion rundown on how the exposed bra came to be at cinema’s glitziest event. First, came Bridgerton in 2020 with its corsetry consume—which inspired a new wave of tightly-cinched party dressing to millennials and Gen Z. Then in late 2021, anyone who was anyone was lacing up before they headed out—with the 2022 Met Gala only reinforcing that boudoir-inspired looks can fashionably leave the bedroom. Style icon (depending on who you ask) Julia Fox then famously followed in a most risqué grocery shopping get-up, which included not much more than an Alexander Wang underwear set.

In the year since, we’ve seen a myriad of celebrities and social media stars take on the covetable lingerie trend, including Dua Lipa at the GCDS show during Milan Fashion Week. Few of these bare-all fads—such as the micro bra and g-string dress—have managed to resist the rapidly-shifting trend cycle and claim a more permanent space in the style spotlight. That is until the exposed bra came along.

While some celebrities have been ditching the bra in favour of freeing the nipple, others are making an equally sexy and empowering fashion statement by showing theirs off at The Croisette in Cannes.

Scarlett Johansson led the celeb pack in a pink Prada column dress for her Asteroid City premiere on May 24, which featured an attached white peek-a-boo bra detail. That same evening, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley debuted a Fendi couture look, which also boasted a sequinned brassiere-like neckline. And most recently, Sydney Sweeney was spotted at the Hôtel Martinez with a visible baby blue bra peeking out the top of her silky Miu Miu slip dress.

But getting on the bra-baring trend doesn’t have to be as overtly glam as the Cannes crowd make it out to be. Just take a look at Kim Kardashian, whose Time 100 Gala get-up included a slip dress by John Galliano featuring split straps with clasps, reminiscent of a bra; and even Hailey Bieber—who was way ahead of the trend. Last year, she showed us how to dress down the look by layering a mint bralette under a blazer.

On the Bieber-approved bra and blazer combo, Harling Ross previously wrote for Harper’s Bazaar: “There aren’t many stylistic choices that facilitate both self-expression and sex appeal in equal measure, a power that is clearly at the crux of this trend’s charm.”

It’s perhaps this balance that positions the peek-a-boo bra as a once-wardrobe-malfunction look with staying power. It’s head-turning and sexy—while still offering just a little sartorial mystery. All the while, it still looks intentional and sophisticated. Don’t worry, it doesn’t give the impression you just woke up.

As we enter into an era where fashion battles between conservative ‘quiet luxury‘ looks and ultra-sexy, body-baring naked dresses, the peek-a-boo bra strikes the perfect balance. Regardless of which way the pendulum swings—whether skin is deemed in or, in fact, out by the masses—the visible bra will always poke out.

Think of it this way: if you’re spending upwards of $70 (approx. ₹5,800) on a bra, why not give it the attention it deserves?

This piece originally appeared in Harper's Bazaar Australia