Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
Side boobs! Upper thighs! Top butts! Red carpet fashion is completely insane these days, but the fact that everything (mostly) stays put amid the slits, slices, and serious deep Vs seems to require a hefty mix of black magic and miracles.
How, exactly, do the good women of Tinseltown show their bits without going full Britney? First, you get yourself a good stylist, and second, you let me interrogate her or him about what lies beneath every panel, plunge, and reliable stick-on pasty.
I nearly tore a nipple off vis-à-vis a sticky front-clasp bra last year, so you can imagine my surprise when everyone rolled up to the Golden Globe Awards with their very own pert set on display. Hollywood is a strange town filled with surgeons, sure, but even that couldn’t explain the phenomenon of women collectively parading a display of indefatigably perky boobs. Real human women who have birthed real human children were walking around with A-plus racks, boasting both lift and cleavage in plunging gowns. How did they do it?! The answer: a mix of seamstresses, body shaping, and so, so much tape.
Stylist Lindsey Dupuis, who dresses Sharon Stone, Brittany Snow, and Peyton List, touts Fashion Forms as an ideal choice for making navel-grazing necklines a possibility. “They have pieces that stick to the side of your boob, so you get a bit of cleavage and coverage at the same time,” she says. Seeing styles like the Silicone Skin Cleavage Enhancer, Voluptuous Silicone Lift, and Le Lusion for the first time feels like watching Unreal as a fan of The Bachelor: It all finally makes so much sense. (It’s not magic, it’s just Bring It Up breast lifts!) Still, making the girls look great takes a bit of MacGyvering as well. Dupuis has deconstructed strapless bras — the seashell-shaped ones with a center clamp — and taped the pieces on at different angles until a desired effect was reached, even shoving shoulder pads into a bra for extra lift at a photo shoot.
For more extreme plunging necklines, it’s time to go where no pseudo-bra has gone before: everyday adhesives. Stylist Karen Raphael, whose red carpet client list includes Cindy Crawford, Sarah Rafferty, and Lana Parrilla, appears to be some kind of sticky tit magician. She considers medical tape a “savior for chest support,” but has gone as far as using clear shipping tape — at a client’s request — to tape her breasts up in a daring dress. (“It actually worked like a charm!”) Despite swearing by Hollywood Fashion Secrets’ nipple covers, Raphael tells me some of the most challenging bra-less complications come by way of extremely thin fabrics. After trying silicone covers, fabric covers, medical tape, and even Band-Aids for a client’s award-show outfit, she wound up Scotch-taping an “X” over each nipple to perfection. It was a slam-dunk discovery she now uses regularly on wispy frocks.
Still, undergarments are only half the battle. “Tailoring is just as important to keep things in place and to make sure that the garments fit your clients properly,” explains Ade Samuel, who creates bold red carpet looks for Kelly Rowland, Yara Shahidi, and Jhené Aiko. For the form-fitting, plunging gown Rowland wore to GQ’s Man of the Year Awards, no tape or newfangled bra was needed; after tailoring, the garment simply fit her body perfectly. Double-stick tape, too, appears to be so necessary that a few even call it their “best friend,” recommending Topstick and Flash Tape for aiding with topless blazers, temporary hems, and loose straps. “It’s just the best thing they could have created for stylists [and] for people,” says Samuel.
While there seems to be nothing more than late-night prayers ensuring the soundness of those upper thigh slits, it’s thanks to the stylists’ true artistry that we’re still referencing Angelina Jolie’s leg and not her labia. Though Dupuis calls her tailors “masterminds of illusion” who can generally eliminate the need for undergarments entirely, both she and Raphael swear by one item you’ve never heard of and will soon never forget: stick-on strapless G-strings. “One of our tricks for thigh-high slits and sheer clothing is Shibue Couture underwear, which is seamless and stays on with an adhesive,” said Raphael, as my brain exploded inside my skull. “It completely eliminates unsightly lines.” Dupuis takes it a step further, suggesting that “you can create your own, if you use Topstick [tape] and get crafty.” If you thought turning down an appearance at President Donald Trump’s inauguration was the weirdest part of being a celebrity in 2017, you must not have been aware of the existence of sticky underwear.
Still, when these eye-popping outfits explode across E!’s pre-awards coverage, how close are we to witnessing an onslaught of accidentally exposed naughty bits? Not close at all, it ends up. Every look is so figuratively buttoned up by the time they sashay towards Ryan Seacrest’s pearly whites that everything simply stays put. “There are so many careful hands that go into creating a red carpet look... it takes a village,” Dupuis explains. “By the time you get on the carpet, you should feel super secure.” Are the days of celebrity nipple slips truly behind us? They very well may be.
Part of it, too, is that not every garment is as see-through as you think. For tricky cutouts, such as Nikki Reed’s Golden Globes frock, Dupuis added a front-only opaque lining that gave the illusion that Reed’s gown was more transparent than it truly was. And when pairing sheer panels with shapewear, Raphael is careful to have it line up correctly with the dress’ lines and match the color to the client’s skin tone, touting Spanx’s Trust Your Thinstincts high-waist shorts as her go-to.
Every stylist we spoke to swears by Spanx for shapewear and Commando for its thin seamless underwear, with Wolford, La Perla, and body shapers by Maidenform and Miraclesuit also receiving top marks. But bad news if you hate Pilates, because the reason some celebs look divine isn’t thanks to Sara Blakely at all — it’s their actual figures. For Ade Samuel’s clients, “usually there’s just tape and the person’s natural body, that’s it.” *cries*
Still, the butt pads and Kardashian-esque waist training all of Hollywood seems to be doing is not as prevalent as you’d think. Every stylist we spoke to had never used a corset on the red carpet, and some were vehemently opposed to false enhancements as a whole. “I’m extremely against that stuff, because I don’t think it’s real,” explains Samuel. “I think every woman should embrace her body for whatever it is naturally.”
No matter which route you go for a red carpet look, all the tailors, fittings, double-stick tape, Spanx, and breast petals in the world can’t save you when you’re taped into a dress, alone in the bathroom, and have to pee — something the right stylist will have planned for in advance. Two words: crotchless shapewear. “It definitely happens,” confessed Raphael. “When clients are wearing dresses that are [difficult to remove], crotchless panties are the only solution — and they make clients’ lives a whole lot easier during events.”
It takes so much wizardry to make an iconic red carpet moment happen, but watching the Oscars in that stretched-out sleep bra and loose elastic undies sounds like a real, real good option.