It’s true: Bras are just a holdover from the days when women wore corsets. During World War I, the metal used to make them was redirected to the war effort, shrinking corsets down to the bras we wear today. In that way, the bra “sprung from a perceived necessity, and also from an attempt to create necessity where there is none or very little,” Hillary Brenhouse wrote in her 2017 New Yorker article, “The Joy of Not Wearing a Bra.”
Our image of bralessness goes back to the bra-burning feminists of the 1960s. Today, Lina Esco’s Free the Nipple campaign has garnered the support of celebrities including Rihanna and Chelsea Handler. Kendall Jenner, Kim Kardashian and Chrissy Teigen leave their headlights on in public all the time. Meanwhile, high school students in Florida and Montana have boycotted for the right to go braless, rightly pointing out that they should not be disciplined for having a female body.
Theoretically, I love the idea of tearing off my bra — for good. But the reality is that, as a 30GG, I’ve been socialized to feel uncomfortable and self-conscious if I leave the house without one.
But the attitude of the real women we spoke to is: Who cares? “Last I checked, which was a very long time ago, I was a 34DDD,” Brenhouse said. “I’ve got nothing to recommend to anyone other than that they dress so as to feel good. I feel good in high-waisted bottoms, so typically my tits are hanging … just above my waistband.”
For many women, dressing to feel good means foregoing a garment with straps that leave indentations in their shoulders or underwire that digs painfully into their skin. Lizzy Martinez, the teen who started the Florida “bracott,” decided to not wear a bra because her shoulders were painfully sunburned.
Consider the dress code.
But how can you actually feel comfortable going braless in your day-to-day life? At work, at your cousin’s graduation party, at parent/teacher night? And, when it comes to work, is bralessness even legal?
The answer, Monica Torres wrote in HuffPost, “is yes and no. Yes, your employer can make you conform to a dress code.” But, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, your boss can’t create or enforce a dress code that institutionalizes gender inequity. So if an employer wants people to cover up on top, they have to draft rules that place the burden on men and women equally.
Sarah Wasilak, a fashion editor at Popsugar and a size 30B, steps out sans bra three to five days a week. She thinks society needs to get over its fear of women’s nipples but noted, “I’d never make co-workers feel uncomfortable by violating our own dress code at Popsugar, for example. I think remaining tasteful is important, of course, and … it’s necessary to read the rules and regulations that HR has set in stone.”
Rachelle Hampton, an editorial assistant at Slate and a 36D (“last time I was measured”), said her office doesn’t have an official dress code. “I don’t freak out when I see my male co-workers’ nipples because it’s cold in the office. You know, it happens to men, too,” she said. “I don’t really abide by the idea that you can get distracted by someone’s body when it’s just there.”
Yet the fact is that office dress codes differ in their stringency. What follows is a blueprint for tastefully taking your free-range breasts to the office — no matter their size.
Wear a bralette or camisole instead of an underwire bra.
“I haven’t worn a real bra in two years,” said Hampton. She “adores” Urban Outfitters’ bralette/cami hybrids (take a look at these two) and has her eye on Calvin Klein’s racerback bralette. Busty gals will want to check out these popular styles by Cosabella and Lively.
Try a bodysuit or other tight garment.
A bodysuit can be a good bra substitute, providing compression and a feeling of security. Hampton likes crop tops and bodysuits “tight enough that my boobs aren’t necessarily moving a lot, because that’s uncomfortable.” Try a Lululemon bodysuit for day and a sexy Eloquii version for night.
Pop on a blazer.
The cut of a blazer should cover up any areas you’d be concerned about, and the fabric is typically thick enough to conceal everything.
“I feel great going braless in oversize cozy sweaters and under thicker blazers,” Wasilak said. “Here’s an example of one I wore recently to work and ditched the bra!”
Wear dresses or tops with corset-style backs.
“Typically, tighter-fitting [clothing] works better for me. It kind of binds [my breasts] down a little bit and makes them not move around as much,” Hampton said, laughing. This is where a corset-style top or dress can come in handy — the shape provides structure, and those with functional lace-up closures can be adjusted until you feel secure.
Invest in some pasties and double-sided tape.
When you’re letting the girls hang free, pasties and shapers are your best friend. Use double-sided fashion tape to adhere loose fabrics or drapey necklines to your skin, or to close the gap between buttons on a shirt. And let us not forget the power of gaffer tape in place of a bra, as demonstrated/immortalized by Kim K.
Brenhouse, who said she exists in “a permanent state of bralessness,” has only worn a bra once in recent years: to her own wedding. “I don’t suggest that anyone wear a bra, or anything else, with the sole intention of bringing pleasure to their loved ones, let alone colleagues they barely like,” she said. And even if you love your colleagues, at the end of the day, it’s yourself you’re dressing for.
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