UN-BRA-LIEVABLE Will the Madonna look enter the workplace?


Back in the '50s, the Maidenform model dreamed that she "went to work," "painted the town red," "stopped them in their tracks" (take your pick) in her Maidenform bra.

Well, the dream has come true.

You, too, can go to work wearing your bra for all the world to see. And it needn't be a Maidenform, either.

This spring, designers by the dozen are offering bra-style tops as an alternative to blouses.

Often looking more like bikini tops than bras, they're done in pinstripes and plaids, gingham checks and tie-dyed denim, silk shantung and sequined chiffon. And they're paired with career, casual and cocktail clothes.

When the New York designers introduced their spring '92 collections late last year, most of the young, hip ones featured bra tops.

There was a sporty underwire number in grass green by Michael Kors, teamed with a matching linen blazer and tailored navy pants. And a glamorous, off-the-shoulder style in silvery brocade by Roland Nivelais, topping slim evening skirts of chocolate-colored organza.

Carmelo Pomodoro did a Palm Beach bra look -- a simple, white bra top in stretch pique paired with silky brown jacket and shorts. And a Caribbean look -- a vivid, sequined bra with billowy "flamenco" sleeves worn with slim lace pants.

And there were more: bra tops in tooled leather, wooden beads, fabric flowers and (from Todd Oldham) coconut shells -- which pretty much put the whole crazy infatuation with the bra in perspective. It's an idea best not taken too seriously.

French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier has been baring the bra for years. But it was that consummate exhibitionist, Madonna, who popularized the idea of underwear as outerwear in the late '80s.

By the start of the '90s, the bustier -- a tight, strapless, waist-length version of the bra -- was a popular topper for play clothes and evening wear.

But the sweet nothings that are showing up in this spring's collections are not bustiers. They have all the trappings of the classic brassiere -- underwires, adjustable straps, hook-and-eye closures and variable cup sizes. Only the fabrics are different.

Instead of the traditional satin and lace, the new bra tops are made of fashionable clothing fabrics, from everyday cotton-Lycra blends to elaborate brocades. Some designers, reflecting the renewed interest in menswear fabrics for women, are using blends of wool, linen and rayon patterned with stripes, checks or plaids.

When these business-like bra tops are paired with matching jackets, skirts or pants, the look is chic and amusing -- on the runway.

But will women wear them to work?

Only -- like that Maidenform model -- in their dreams.

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