Look at these two photographs. The same woman wears the same blue dress but the chances are, were you to pass her in the street, you’d judge her diffe
Look at these two photographs. The same woman wears the same blue dress but the chances are, were you to pass her in the street, you’d judge her differently in each case. And it’s all down to what she’s wearing — or not — underneath.
While you might consider the left entirely normal, the other will no doubt attract your attention because she clearly isn’t wearing a bra.
Be honest: does the absence of lingerie change the way you perceive her? After all, we live in a society that expects women’s breasts to be restrained.
The result of all those years of indoctrination is that we’ve come to see the natural, unrestrained female form as slovenly, uncouth and sometimes downright provocative. And those who choose to eschew bras are often dismissed as hippies or irate feminists.
As much as we may blame the opposite sex for such attitudes, the uncomfortable truth is that women can be just as judgmental of those who go bra-less. Imagine the looks you’d get if you turned up without a bra on the school run or at book club or a parents’ evening?
So dramatic is the reaction to a woman daring not to wear her bra that some have even lost their jobs. Earlier this month, a Canadian woman was fired after refusing to wear a bra or vest when working as a waitress at a golf club.
And last year, a girl from Kent was sent home from school for not wearing a bra. In fact, across the world, schools have reprimanded girls for similar infractions, saying their lack of underwear distracts boys.
Just as millennials questioned the societal expectation that women should wear high heels, they are now querying whether bras are necessary. And this sentiment is catching on fast.
Among the campaigners is 23-year-old fashion blogger Chidera Eggerue, the creator of the social media hashtag #saggyboobs matter which highlights the issues faced by women with larger breasts who go braless.
Chidera explains: ‘At 19, I decided to stop wearing a bra and I got so much criticism — they were “too saggy”, “slipper boobs”, I was told only girls with smaller boobs could “get away with it”.
‘I wanted to open up a conversation about how we view women’s bodies and why the world feels entitled to that policing.’
It would be easy to dismiss today’s rejection of the bra as aping the bra-burning feminism of decades past.
For a start, the bras women were railing against in the Fifties and Sixties were often uncomfortable and restrictive — more easily equated with women’s oppression.
These days, there is far more choice and comfort on offer so shrugging off your bra is more a rejection of the idea that you must conform for propriety’s sake.
Erin Saxcoburg, 22, a beauty therapist from the Isle of Wight, stopped wearing a bra a year ago and is astonished by some of the reactions. She says: ‘Even though my 32B chest is relatively small, people have often been offended by the sight of my nipples poking out.
‘When I walk down the street, men and women alike stare at them. I’ve had men come up to me on nights out and say: “Oh my God, why aren’t you wearing a bra?” I tell them that it’s my body and my business.’
However, Erin is clear that this isn’t about exhibitionism: ‘Socially, I wear tops with higher necks rather than risk bending over and giving people an eyeful.
‘Although I don’t go topless on the beach out of respect for others, I would love to. I hope one day women’s chests, like men’s, won’t be considered inappropriate.’ But we’re not there yet.
She’s also mindful of how she is perceived at work: ‘I tend to wear thicker fabrics or a jacket as I don’t want to be defined as “the one who doesn’t wear a bra”.’
This fear of judgment is what keeps most of us trussed up — particularly at work where the bra is inextricably linked to gender politics. Would you want to have a conversation with your male boss about a pay rise without the security of a good bra?
Any woman who’s ever had a male colleague talk to her chest will be fearful that, without a bra, she will be seen as provocative and won’t be taken seriously.
Lucinda Hurst, a 25-year-old social media manager from Leeds, tells me she fought against this urge to conform when she gave up bras four years ago. ‘I gave up bras after hearing the owner of a fashion brand I was working with ranting at some young models, telling them: “Why wear a bra in your 20s when your breasts are perky? Wait until you’re older and need one!”’
Now Lucinda wears Lycra tops for sport, and a soft bralette underneath a low-cut dress.
‘My mum is the only person who ever comments about my nipples being visible through my clothes, telling me: “Oh, Lucinda, do cover up!” I tell her that it’s my choice but she finds it embarrassing when we’re around family, so my brother’s forthcoming wedding should be interesting!’
Never mind work, there are plenty of social situations where even the most committed to the ‘bra-free’ cause feel the need to cover up in some other fashion.
Hollie Smith, 32, who runs a party company with her husband Colin, 40, ditched her bra six years ago for familiar reasons — ‘years of enduring the discomfort of bra straps rubbing my shoulders and underwires stabbing me’.
Although she ‘doesn’t care what anyone thinks’, the mother of three from Surrey ‘wouldn’t want to pick the kids up from school and it be glaringly obvious that I’m not wearing a bra’.
And on the odd occasion that she wears a fitted, white top, she will ‘begrudgingly’ put a bra on underneath for ‘decency’. But where do we get this sense of what is ‘decent’ from?
The fact is that we do judge other women if they’re not wearing a bra. Some say that’s in part because most clothes are ill fitting without a bra.
Admittedly if lingerie sales are anything to go by, this could start to change. Last summer M&S reported that sales of bralettes — the unpadded, wire-free alternative to a structured bra — were up 200 per cent year on year, while lingerie retailers, Figleaves, now sell bralettes in all sizes.
Not that all women are celebrating the demise of more supportive scaffolding. ‘A good bra is a psychological purchase,’ says Kelly Dunmore, chief lingerie stylist at Rigby & Peller.
While surveys have found that the wrong bra has a negative impact on self-esteem, a good one can produce the opposite effect.
In the end it comes down to a personal choice. And the key word is ‘personal’, whatever choice a woman makes, it should be free from the disapproval, or judgment of others.