The ‘contour cup’ bra top giving red carpet looks a lift

a'Unless you’re getting your bra top custom-made, it’s strictly for the small of cup,' says Tamara Abraham
'Unless you’re getting your bra top custom-made, it’s strictly for the small of cup,' says Tamara Abraham
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It is just over 20 years since Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl halftime show made headlines across the globe.

Justin Timberlake, a surprise guest during the singer’s set, pulled at her Alexander McQueen bustier, revealing a (nipple shield-covered) breast to 150 million viewers. Of course it was Jackson on the receiving end of the grief, not Timberlake. The reaction to so-called “Nipplegate” hasn’t aged well.

Regardless, it would barely register on our radars today. The risk of a wardrobe malfunction is par for the course at premieres and awards shows, and Jackson’s costume is modest in comparison to the “contour cup” half-bra tops that are currently proliferating on the red carpet.

This weekend was no exception. At the Baftas there was Florence Pugh in a Harris Reed look, her figure sculpted by a silver corset and neckpiece. Then there was Poppy Delevingne at the Vogue after party in a David Koma bra top and ruffled evening skirt. The footballer Chloe Kelly also wore a Koma bra top to the designer’s London Fashion Week show on Saturday. As did Lily James, who wore a cream version with a floral skirt suit to the Erdem show earlier that afternoon.

Lily James
Lily James - getty

It’s not the most forgiving look, but for those who have dedicated hours of their life to the gym, it’s a perfect way to show off a toned body. That’s only once you’ve met the rather significant barrier to entry: these garments come in dress sizes, not bra sizes, so unless you’re getting your bra top custom-made, it’s strictly for the small of cup.

It’s even limiting for celebrities – unless their fame is on a par with Pugh, they will only be offered the chance to borrow catwalk samples for events, which demand catwalk model proportions.

“They offer no support whatsoever,” says the celebrity stylist Kyle De’Volle, who works with Lily Allen and Ellie Goulding. “I can’t speak for women in the majority, but I know most of the women that I style and are bigger-breasted wouldn’t feel comfortable in that type of outfit.”

That’s not to say  De’Volle isn’t a fan of the look. It’s a trend for a reason; it feels playful and modern. “Everyone has done bra tops in their latest collections,” he says. “I think it’s a great look if you have the confidence to pull it off. We’re living in a society where women have taken back their power and they’re dressing for themselves.”

Momentum for the contour cup has been building for some time: think Olivia Wilde in a minimalist leather version by Gabriela Hearst at last year’s Vanity Fair Oscar Party; Zendaya in 2002 vintage Versace at the 2023 NAACP Image Awards; Lila Moss, daughter of Kate, at the Fashion Awards in December; Kristen Wiig in Giambattista Valli at January’s Golden Globes. We’ve seen more of Margot Robbie’s abs over the past six months than I’ve seen members of my own family – and who can blame her; I would too, if I looked like that.

Olivia Wilde
Olivia Wilde - getty
Zendaya - getty
Lila Moss
Lila Moss - getty
Kristen Wiig
Kristen Wiig - Getty
Margot Robbie
Margot Robbie - AP

“I love the accentuation of the bust line that is created with a contoured cup,” says David Koma, whose body-conscious partywear has also been worn by Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna and Kylie Minogue, to name a few.

The contour cup is a key part of his spring/summer 2024 collection, as seen over the weekend on Delevingne and Kelly. “I specifically developed a sculptural two-layered cup,” he explains. “The inside part is constructed from a transparent form-hugging tulle framed with a graphic black trim, while the outer cup extends out, creating a winged, cat eye shape… It is the opposite of the classic sweetheart neckline, projecting sophisticated sex appeal and strength.”

Before you dismiss this as a look that should be left to exhibitionists, there is a real-life friendly way to wear the contour-cup top. Perhaps you want to channel your inner French woman and unbutton your blouse a little further than usual for an evening out, revealing the bra top beneath. It would also work well underneath an oversized suit as a party look – and this way, there’s no obligation to show off your midriff if you don’t want to.

Kate Winslet
Kate Winslet - AP

The key is to find a top that fits you properly, which is harder to achieve the more support you require. If you’re well-endowed, begin your search in the lingerie department, and seek out more substantial bustier shapes – there are designs that look more “top”, less “lingerie”, but if in doubt, go for the less lacy option.

“If the materials used have structure to them and have been cut in a way that allows for both cup capacity and support, [contour-cup tops] can definitely be supportive,” says Georgia Larsen, the founder of lingerie label Dora Larsen, which has carved a niche in the market for supportive bras in elegant colour combinations that demand to be shown off.

“Some fashion designers don’t have much experience or technical ability when it comes to making lingerie or corsetry, and so support is often an afterthought, but there are more and more emerging designers who do consider the wearability of corsetry-focused designs as time goes on,” she says.

And an element of risk is no bad thing, says Koma. He believes it’s an important ingredient in a memorable look. “There are so many celebrities who will be classy, they will be beautiful, but they will not do risk,” he says.

This applies to you and me too, he adds: “You need to go a bit out of your comfort zone, no matter who you are.”

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