We have an incredibly complicated relationship with bras (and, consequently, going braless). You may feel like we're exaggerating—the damn contraptions were only introduced when the corset faded out, right? Wrong. There's evidence of bra-like garments existing as early as the 14th century B.C., meaning women have long been interested in keeping their bazookas in place (be it for comfort or aesthetics).
Media outlets still metaphorically drop jaws and deliver guffaws when a celebrity deigns their look better without the "accepted" and "necessary" underpinnings. Instagram still wants nude breasts and nipples censored out—a whole six years after the #freethenipple campaign first started.
So the conversation rumbles on, and the truth is that this decision is so personal and so dependent on a host of variables. Many girls are still divided on how they feel about the concept (reality?) of going braless, but 63% of women who entered in our quick Instagram poll voted in favour of it. As further confirmation of this "trend" growing in popularity, comments to our Instagram DMs came in thick and fast when we asked for people to expand on their opinions.
Due to my own leanings against bralessness (i.e., I only employ it to avoid destroying a plunging neckline or backless dress, but am otherwise quite content keeping my 30Es safely harnessed in Simone Perele cups, thanks), I was expecting was a barrage of girls to agree with me. However, the ladies who followed up with their thoughts and tips could be mostly categorised into the other camp: braless trailblazers kindly offering solutions on how to do it successfully like styling out the idea in a less obvious way (apparently prints can help make the effect appear more subtle), methods for keeping your boobs in place if you're worried about popping out (yes, it's all about good tape, which you can get from M&S for just £5) or just why it feels so good for certain women (underwires are notoriously claustrophobic and restrictive, we know).
What also transpired were some common themes around why going braless can make one feel vulnerable in the first place—and many center around the male gaze. I don't like to assume that all men will look and objectify—there are surely many who would not, and let's remember that it's not just men who are attracted to women. Whilst less of a dramatic statement (and often not a statement at all, because why should it be?), the shift towards more conscious bralessness does tie up with a similarly feminist and empowering moment as it did all those decades ago, when women burned their bras in the '60s to draw attention to their fight for equality.
When talking to our audience, the bra avoiders out there appear to be more vocal, but before you assume this is a small-breasts-only kind of club, the evidence suggests otherwise. Once upon a time not so long ago, you would perhaps find that girls with larger bosoms were reluctant to be seen without the scaffolding in place, but I've noticed a wave of body-positive girls doing just that (and looking bloody brilliant in the process). Models like Naomi Shimada and Felicity Hayward are flying the flag for girls with fuller breasts roaming free.
Celebs are partial to this kind of reveal, but it's becoming less of a shocking styling move to make (remember when everyone did side boob on the red carpet?) and more a side effect of wearing whatever they like: Kim Kardashian West often goes braless (except for when she’s wearing just a bra, of course), and Emily Ratajkowski is the feminist pinup girl for the movement, not letting her bigger boobs get in the way of a spaghetti-strap slip dress. It may not seem like a huge deal, but the widespread message of choice has infiltrated social media, slowly chipping away at the stigma.
There are the health-related pros and cons to consider. We spoke to Panache’s head of design, Debbie Morley, to learn more—particularly for the women out there with bigger boobs: "In the short term, not wearing a bra at all may cause discomfort and pain to the breast itself, as well as the upper back area and shoulders," she tells us. "As for not wearing a bra long-term, the most up-to-date evidence suggests that the main downside is the stretching of the skin and breast tissue."
"In the long term, not wearing a bra—or wearing a bra where the back band is too lose—can mean that you lose muscle elasticity, negatively changing the shape of your breasts," explains Julia Faux, co-ordinator for Selfridges' Body Studio. "On the other hand, there's no medical evidence that it makes much difference to your health whether or not you decide to wear a bra. … Some research suggests women who don't wear bras develop more muscle tissue to provide a natural support, and the restrictive material of bras could actually prevent tissue from growing (and may actually encourage breasts to sag)."
"It's important that a woman is fitted correctly into the right size and style of bra to protect the health of her breasts," Julia adds. "An ill-fitting bra will not be properly supportive and can displace breast tissue. It could also be dangerous to have a cup that's too small, as the wire rubs on the breast tissue. This can be especially harmful during pregnancy, where it can obstruct the increased blood flow to the breasts and cause mastitis (discomfort and inflammation)."
Women who find wiring uncomfortable but aren't yet ready to fly into braless territory are finding a middle ground via the rise in supportive bras that are either cleverly constructed bralettes or traditional silhouettes sans wiring.
"Due to the popularity of influencers on Instagram highlighting trianglular non-wired bras and bralettes, we've seen a huge increase in customers requesting the likes of For Love & Lemons, Love Stories and Calvin Klein," says Julia, adding that it's often an older demographic who gravitate towards the non-wired styles, particularly Triump's highly rated Doreen bra.
"In conclusion, it may be better to not wear a bra at all than to wear an incorrectly fitted bra," Julia explains, which definitely just encouraged us to go shopping for all manner of backless, strappy, beautiful things…