Keeping straps undercover
If you don't think exposed bra straps are an appropriate fashion statement, here are some tips for hiding them.
• Purchase a bra strap connector. The connector hooks onto both straps on the back of the bra so that the straps won't slip down the side and off your shoulders. There are several types of connectors. You can purchase them online or at lingerie stores, or you can even make your own with double-fold bias tape and some snaps.
• Use Braza Strap Keepers to keep your bra straps hidden. They come with seven pairs to a package, and you can purchase them online. All you do is peel off the adhesive liners from the tab, put your bra strap in the middle of the Strap Keeper and attach it to the underside of your shirt, blouse or dress to prevent them from slipping and showing.
• Use Comfy Straps, which are made of soft silicone that shapes to the shoulder. You attach these to your bra straps, and they keep the strap from slipping while making the straps more comfortable on the shoulders. They are hand washable and reusable, which is an added benefit.
• Use invisible bra straps on your bra. These straps attach to any bra that has removable straps. They are clear and blend in with your skin tone to make them hardly noticeable. You can find these online at very reasonable prices.
• Wear strapless bras to keep your bra from showing. You can purchase bras made of silicone, with no straps and no back, that are virtually invisible under sheer clothing.
Those are the answers, but what's the question: Do you let your bra straps show? Ask some women and it's a horrible fashion faux pas; ask others, and it's no big deal.
"I've lived my entire life with the knowledge you just don't show your undies, even a bra strap," says Chattanooga Realtor Susan Swicegood, the mother of two adult daughters. "I've pinned them, put little snap straps on, used tape or wore a strapless bra" to keep the straps from slipping out from under a sleeveless blouse or camisole. "That's what my mother told me to do, and her mother told her."
Lori Walker Boyd of Chattanooga says she thinks the look is OK.
"I have a few tops that show the bra," she says. "When I choose one of these tops, I make sure the bra I'm wearing has attractive straps. The straps are pretty in some sort of decorative way. The straps usually matches or is a good contrast [with the top]. They are not your plain bra straps. Would my mother have done this? No way."
The beginning of the exposed bra-straps look can be traced back to the '80s and early '90s when innerwear evolved into outerwear, according to a New York Times report. In 1984, Madonna burst onto the scene with her bra flashing through lacy tops and her fans followed suit. In the late '90s, there were fashion trendsetters such as Sarah Jessica Parker on "Sex and the City," whose sex columnist and fashionista Carrie Bradshaw treated her bra straps like just another part of her overall ensemble.
But older women, especially baby boomers, never quite cozied up to the idea.
"Believe it or not, I've even worn a slip and those straps didn't show either," Swicegood says. "Girls today don't even know what a slip is. It's cool if your strap shows if you're under 30 or wearing a sports bra. My daughters never got the 'your strap is showing' message."
And even younger women get squirmy when the look shows up on older women.
"My mom is one cool chick, but I would not want to show her bra," says Lesley Dale Greenfield, 30, special events fundraising director at March of Dimes Chattanooga.
Edie Redish, who owned the now-closed but once popular Stella Ardella, an upscale women's fashion boutique on the North Shore, is not opposed to exposed bra straps like others in her baby boomer generation. Redish, 60, says many women can successfully pull off the look if it's done in good taste. She says she's surprised that others may find exposed straps, especially for older women, offensive.
"It is a generational thing because bra straps were not supposed to show at all [in the past]," she says.
"In good taste" means the bra strap should be the same color as the blouse or camisole, Redish says, noting that she purposefully buys blouses to blend with her bras. "It's no added expense -- just thinking ahead before purchase," she says.
"I am amazed when people say I can get away with the look, but I do a little more 'over the top' fashions than most women my age."
Greenfield agrees that the fashion statement can be done tastefully, if you're careful.
"Showing bra straps is tricky, but I think it can be done to look edgy and cute," says Greenfield. "You have to make sure it's obvious you are meaning for the bra to show and it's not just sticking out. This should be obvious, at least to fashion-forward people, if the cut of your dress or shirt would not conceal a bra anyway. It also can look intended if the bra straps have a cool pattern, detail like subtle lace or metallic, but it must be subtle and not obnoxious."
But even some younger women are not fans of exposed strap. Lorean Mays, a 28-year-old professional model, doesn't like them. Period.
"It is inappropriate," she says. "I also dislike the clear straps. There are so many convertible bras out now that go with just about any type of top you can think of from halter tops, backless shirts/dresses, racer backs, plunging V-necks, etc."
Mays says the strapless bra is another alternative.
"Make sure you are wearing your appropriate size," she says, explaining that ill-fitted strapless bras are uncomfortable. "The majority of women are not wearing the right size. Your weight may drop or you may gain weight and when this happens, you should be re-fitted. I wear them when I wear a strapless dress or top.
Motivational speaker Sandy McKenzie, who works in Chattanooga and Central Florida, says that women in Florida, where styles are generally more casual, seem more comfortable with exposed straps. Up here, not so much.
"Clips and other contraptions are popularly sold to help conceal 'ordinary' bra straps," she says.
Still, she's not a fan of exposure.
"Showing ordinary bra straps may be similar to guys showing underwear -- most while wearing trousers down around their knees. Not cool," she says. "Showing ordinary or clear bra straps in public is not considered a good image statement to make about oneself."
But there is an exception, McKenzie says.
"As long as bra straps don't look like bra straps, but more like fancy camisole straps, they are acceptable in casual environments or special dressy social occasions, but never in conservative settings such as a traditional office or church," she says. "For now, Victoria Secret and others are probably making a fortune pushing these trendy colored, jeweled and metallic strands."
Contact staff writer Karen Nazor Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6396.
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...