The return of the nip slip

·3-min read
Licorice Pizza (Universal)
Licorice Pizza (Universal)

Sometimes, there is nothing sexier than a woman in a t-shirt. Exhibit A is Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film Licorice Pizza, in cinemas from January but already causing a stir.

It is the story of teenager Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), falling for a slightly older woman, 25-year-old Alana Kane (Alana Haim, of the band). On the film’s poster, she looks effortlessly cool in a cream t-shirt, nipples unapologetically visible. Licorice Pizza is set in the 1970s, when bras were out of vogue – and the film’s release coincides perfectly with the return of the nip slip; a deliberate reveal of your nipples.

Just choose your audience wisely - unlike Madonna, who fell foul of Instagram’s rules when she posted an admittedly confounding image of herself with her nipples on full display and had the photos banned. It’s renewed the campaign to free the nipple, with Madonna saying: “it is still astounding to me that we live in a culture that allows every inch of a woman’s body to be shown except a nipple. As if that is the only part of a woman’s anatomy that could be sexualised.”

But unless you are going for Madonna levels of attention, the nip slip is more subtle. As fashion statements go, this one is as close to effortless as it gets. You don’t even need to wear a bra – in fact, it is better if you don’t (the current drop in temperature helps).

A t-shirt and no bra may not instantly equate with being a femme fatale but this is actually part of the return of sexy dressing. On catwalks and at Christmas parties, sheer fabrics dominate – at Molly Goddard and Simone Rocha’s shows, and Victoria Beckham has a line in gossamer-thin silk dresses and tops. Jane Birkin is queen of the nip slip, pouting her way around Paris in a white t-shirt with nothing underneath.

Not revealing enough? Embrace the cut out like Harry Styles and go for the full nipple reveal. It is a gender neutral look – on the front of Dazed magazine this month, Harry Styles wears a top with a cut out, showing his nipples (he has four). It is a different way of looking sexy, one where you are in control. Look at JW Anderson’s lines for inspiration.

Harry Styles for Dazed (Dazed Magazine)
Harry Styles for Dazed (Dazed Magazine)

The nip slip is the latest step in a move away from cleavage, which went out of fashion long ago. It is too try-hard, too synonymous with the era of Wonderbras; the underwire digging in and claustrophobic padding pushing breasts up into a cartoonish approximation of sexiness. See Lady Gaga’s character Patrizia Regazzi in House of Gucci when she is making a last, desperate bid to save her marriage. In contrast, the new object of her husband’s affections, played by Camille Cottin, never shows her cleavage, instead wearing cool girl square collars and polo necks.

The last time nipples were this ubiquitous was 2019, when we campaigned to free them on Instagram. Fashion mirrored social media, with Victoria Beckham bearing hers in a sheer red shirt. Plastic surgeons on Harley Street report that where people used to ask for breasts like Pamela Anderson, they are now asking for tweaks to their nipples so they can be more like Beckham, as well as Megan Fox and Christina Ricci. In Sex and the City, back next month, Samantha Jones once got fake nipples.

JW Anderson for Loewe (JW Anderson for Loewe)
JW Anderson for Loewe (JW Anderson for Loewe)

But trying too hard defeats the point of this look. That means you can ditch uncomfortable cantilevering. Too many women have wasted too many years wearing the wrong size bras. Like jeans, the ideal bra is hard to find - 80 per cent of women are wearing the wrong size. You can wear a bra if you must, but go lightweight – M&S, Hanro, les girls les boys and Cos all do chic non-wired bras that won’t mask your nipples. This is about liberation.

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