They say that during bad economic times, women start to wear skimpier clothes.
That could be because we want to make a statement that we’re in control of our bodies during turbulent times — one theory behind the rise of the bikini — or maybe it’s because it’s cheaper for manufacturers to use less material. Whatever the reason, it seems we’re back in the thick of “less is more” fashion now.
A college professor friend — someone who is much more fashion forward than I — wrote to me recently: “I feel like such an old lady but I’m not sure how much more naked these kids could get without actually being naked.”
And some recent articles suggest she is not exaggerating. Last week, The Wall Street Journal asked: “Is a Bra a Shirt?”
The writer explained: “The piece has indeed become foundational like a T-shirt for some; celebrities such as Zoë Kravitz, Kaia Gerber, Gwyneth Paltrow and Florence Pugh, as well as regular women like a particularly with-it Brooklyn barista I met this year, are using bra tops as building blocks in their wardrobe for both day and night.”
Yes, to be clear. The bra is a building block — the kind that sits underground where it can’t be seen.
And then there was this from The New York Times a few days ago: “She’s Come Undone (on Purpose),” which explores why “the jeans of the young and stylish are unzipped, unbuttoned and unbothered.”
One model the author interviewed was walking through New York sporting a “lacy black lingerie top paired with an oversize pair of Levi’s High Loose jeans left unbuttoned and folded down.”
The model explained: “It looked a little baggy and oversized but without me having to worry about a little mishap. … The zipper did fall a little bit, but my pants didn’t fall off.”
Well, I guess we can count that as a win.
A film student at NYU who was also wearing her pants undone told the reporter: “You don’t have to feel bad if your pants don’t fit. Wear them unbuttoned and it will be sexy and cool.”
There is nothing like the optimism of the young.
Two University of Utah students recently showed up at a football game wearing body paint instead of shirts. The school issued a statement that said anyone violating Utah’s state statute on lewdness involving a child will not be allowed to attend games. One might have thought this would go without saying.
The truth is, if you’re a model or a film student or even a barista in a big city, you can get away with these looks. On the streets of New York, no one will bat an eye, and maybe they won’t in the coffee shop or the classroom. But I’m confused about which female subscribers to The Wall Street Journal will suddenly decide that they are going to wear bras around town.
And that’s what my friend was wondering too. “So if the bra top is the new favorite T-shirt, that’s all fine and good. But I am lecturing to future financial planners at a degree-granting accredited institution. And these women are seniors. Now I’m going to have to talk to them about dressing appropriately for their interviews.”
I warned her that doing so could constitute a Title IX violation.
To be sure, it’s not easy for young women going out into the business world today. For decades, there has been little guidance from schools and workplaces about what is acceptable attire. Dress codes are considered sexist. After a couple of years of working from home, many full-grown adults have lost track of how to dress, too. They have forgotten that, at work and at school, most women want to be taken seriously. They want to be respected and rewarded for their talents, not how many inches of midriff we can see.
Many young women have been taught that dressing in a sexy way will make people sit up and notice. As one of the other “unbuttoned” women noted: “If you wear anything with confidence, the people who see you will absorb your confident energy and I can assure you they will think, ‘Damn … they look amazing!’”
No one over the age of 25 believes this is true. As my friend noted, “The girls get self-conscious in those tops and then they are slouched over and looking uncomfortable, which makes the whole outfit much more sad than sexy.”
Indeed, most of the women wearing these outfits don’t look confident at all. They look like they’ve been caught wandering around in their underwear. Which they have.