Victoria's Secret's sky-high cleavage falls out of favour

Kendall Jenner at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show last week in New York City. Profits, sales and market share of the company have all fallen over the past year as natural cleavage comes into fashion.
Kendall Jenner at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show last week in New York City. Profits, sales and market share of the company have all fallen over the past year as natural cleavage comes into fashion.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Victoria's Secret has a whole bunch of problems right now.

Its New York fashion show last week was overshadowed by comments made by its boss, Mr Ed Razek, about how it would be inappropriate to cast "transsexuals" in a show "about fantasy", for which he has since apologised. Profits, sales and market share have all fallen over the past year.

However, the real trouble for Victoria's Secret is that it is selling the wrong kind of cleavage.

All breasts are beautiful, but some are more fashionable than others. The scaffolded cleavage - hoisted and cantilevered by a push-up bra, twin globes held rigid - is still the style at Victoria's Secret.

On the New York catwalk, Gigi Hadid wore a shiny blue checked bra with matching knickers, a billowing tartan cape and a bumbag in the style of a sporran.

Kendall Jenner was dressed in a black and silver glitter push-up bra with a multi-strap knicker-harness hybrid and frilly wings.

There was the odd legging-and-sports-bra concession to athleisure, but the hoisted boob reigned supreme. And, in 2018, this is the wrong kind.

The right kind of boob, by contrast, can be seen on the cover of this month's American Vogue, where singer Lady Gaga leans towards the camera in a low-cut Brandon Maxwell dress, her cleavage in its natural position, rather than lifted skywards.

The no-bra scenario is emphasised by one of the straps of the dress falling off her shoulder. The Vogue-approved cleavage is the natural kind.

See also the most famous cleavage of the Instagram age.

Boobs do not get any more political than model-actress Emily Ratajkowski's. When she was arrested in Washington, DC protesting against United States Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's appointment a month ago, her choice of outfit - a white cropped vest with no bra - was deemed by many headline writers the most newsworthy element of her detainment.

Not wearing a bra has been associated with feminism for half a century, but the natural cleavage seen on Gaga's Vogue and on Ratajkowski's Instagram feels in step with fashion.

The push-up bra will always be controversial.

When Eva Herzigova starred in that Wonderbra campaign, with a strapline that read like the male gaze with subtitles, many women hated it. But at least then, the look had the frisson of the new and daring.

The problem for Victoria's Secret is that the look has become quaint. You can get away with most things in fashion, if what you are doing is new, provocative and compelling. But being old-fashioned? That is unforgivable.

The rise of athleisure has affected all of us - even if you think spending £80 (S$143) on leggings is absurd and you would not be seen dead in a crop top, I can almost promise that it has affected your silhouette.

Trousers in more fluid fabrics and slouchy, fine-gauge knitwear have infiltrated all of our wardrobes, bringing with them a new kind of underwear that works with them.

An old-school push-up bra was designed to work under a scoop-neck top or a darted white shirt; the protruding-headlamp silhouette ruins the elegance of a wide-shouldered slouchy jersey piece.

But this is not just about clothes. It is also sex, romance and the potency of female beauty.

The pushed-up cleavage, as seen on the Victoria's Secret catwalk, worn with excess blusher, knee-high socks and cheesy grins, conjures up a cheerleader-datesquarterback-meet-cute - and that feels like last century's fairy tale.

As I say, all breasts are beautiful, but the most fashionable ones are no longer - how can I put this? - quite so in your face.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2018, with the headline 'Victoria's Secret's sky-high cleavage falls out of favour'. Print Edition | Subscribe