American Vogue first mentioned the word “brassiere” in 1907. Seven years later, Mary Phelps Jacob patented the modern bra, and a century later, the bra is considered a necessary component of a woman’s wardrobe. While the average woman owns nine bras, more and more women are choosing to engage in 'free-boobing,' or going braless. Though it’s not a new concept, the 'bra-burners,' who introduced 'free-boobing' to mainstream culture in the 1960s, are still not quite the social norm. The concept is rapidly gaining popularity in the fashion world, however, and the Claremont Colleges seem to be embracing it wholeheartedly.
So, while bra technology is improving and bras are becoming more comfortable, why are women choosing to leave them in the drawer?
“It’s still just so much more comfortable. It’s freeing,” Neha Patel PO ’19 said. Indeed, this seems to be the reason that most people give when asked, “Why go braless?” Other motives include cost and ideology—a high-quality and well-fitted bra can cost anywhere from $50-$100, and some women believe that bras are merely an effect of the over-sexualization of the female body. Bras have even been compared to corsets, and while bras are less physically damaging, they both lend themselves to promoting an unrealistic and idealized body shape for women.
Bra advocates have valid justifications as well.
“I wear bras because I don’t like the look of 'nipping,' which tends to occur when I go braless,” Nicole Larson PO ’19 explained. “On top of that, having a large chest means that I need support.” This is a refrain of bustier women and is obviously a valid reason to wear a bra. Although this goes without saying, all people should feel free to wear whatever makes them feel happy and comfortable, but at this point in time there is still a stigma against exposing (or even not thoroughly concealing) certain areas of the body.
Luckily, it’s not difficult to subtly opt out of wearing a bra in any situation. Heavy, opaque, or patterned fabric as well as loose or structured forms are all helpful options for going tastefully braless. This is not to say that visible nipples are inherently undesirable, but many women don't want extra attention drawn to their chest.
“People make uncomfortable comments about it, kind of jokingly, but they’ll make their opinion known,” Patel said. This occurs to an extent even on the liberal 5C campus, but is noticeably worse in less socially conscious places. This is where the topic of going braless derives its significance: In the same manner that breastfeeding and censorship of women’s bodies is controversial, so is going braless. And as with the issues of breastfeeding and censorship, the problem with society’s reaction to a visibly braless woman is with the sexualization and objectification of women and their bodies. Women’s bodies don’t exist simply for the purpose of being aesthetically pleasing and are not open to critique.
Regardless of what someone chooses to do with their body, and whether or not it aligns with what you would choose to do with yours, it is not your place, or anyone else’s to comment on it. The vast majority of the population has two nipples–it’s time to normalize them.