By Tegan Lyon
After two years of remote work and study, Zoom calls, and being periodically confined to our homes, a lot of us grew accustomed to a bra-free existence. What was the point of strapping on a bra to cook penne alla vodka or take the bins out? A quick scroll through social media or a glance down Melbourne’s busiest streets suggests that this relaxed, comfort-focused approach has translated into our post-lockdown lives as well. We know fashion is cyclical and that women have intermittently ditched the bra over the years, but with the overwhelming number of youthful, perky, svelte women on my social feeds and what I see via online retailers, it’s clear that this fashion trend wasn’t designed with my body in mind.
In a pre-pandemic world, I couldn’t fathom leaving the house wearing an underwire-free bra, let alone going completely braless. Even at home, I felt most at ease strapped in and hoisted up. But at the height of the pandemic and the peak of Melbourne lockdowns, it felt like we took a collective fashion pause. Our priorities shifted; we wanted comfort, and bras were the first constricting item to go. I also took the plunge and found that the bra that made me feel supported just wasn’t necessary at home. Lockdowns are now mostly a thing of the past, but this breast liberation has informed current Millennial and Gen Z fashion trends.
Celebrities have a long history of catapulting fashion trends out of the media and into mainstream society. A quick search of 90s ‘braless fashion trends’ will always lead to Kate Moss’ iconic sheer slip dress moment, while Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry embodied the bra-free look on stage in the 70s, and today, women like Rihanna, Kendall Jenner, Hailey Bieber, Zoë Kravitz, Emma Chamberlin and Bella Hadid are spearheading the post-2020 ‘braless movement’. As Allure Magazine’s fashion director Rachel Wang said in 2016, ‘Going braless is as old as feminism.’
There is something both modern and historical about the re-emergence of the braless trend, but my dive into the past reiterates what I already see reflected in today’s sartorial fads: the exclusion of big busts. In-store brands and online retailers are dominated by backless, halter, scarf, plunge, and handkerchief tops and dresses, all of which cannot be feasibly worn with a bra.
I know I’m not alone in feeling like certain fashion styles are off-limits to my body—simply uttering the dreaded term ‘low-rise jeans’ is enough to make most people who were alive in the early 2000s shudder. Just the idea of trying to cover my bust with only spaghetti straps for support is enough to induce anxiety. Shopping has become something of a streamlined activity for me purely because I operate on a basis of process-by-elimination. Over time, I’ve discovered a handful of incredible Australian brands that are size-inclusive or designed specifically for big-busted women, but even in the saturated online retail market, such gems are few and far between.
I fully support (pun intended) the choice to either go braless or wear a bra, but with such measly offerings when it comes to tops and dresses, I can’t help but feel like I don’t have that choice if I want to move through the world with the same level of comfort.
I was in grade six when I had to be fitted for my first bra. During swim lessons at fourteen, I was mortified by the catcalls from male classmates when I forgot to bring a t-shirt to wear over my bikini. At twenty-nine, I’ve adapted to my size and the clothes I feel most secure in, but there are still times when my bust feels like a hindrance. My large breasts have, somewhat unfortunately, always been a part of my identity. I’ve reached a point where I’m mostly comfortable in my body or feeling neutral about it. I stopped trying to ‘hide’ my breasts somewhere in my early twenties when I reconciled the fact there was no t-shirt baggy enough to hide them. And why should I? Why should any woman, regardless of cup size?
A big part of me wants to join my fellow women and embrace the braless look for myself, but there are a few things holding me back. First is the potential for greater neck and back pain—something I already experience to a degree. Second is the concern that my uncaged breasts won’t have the same effortlessly chic appearance of a smaller cup size. The third is the inevitable staring. While the braless movement and campaigns like ‘Free the Nipple’ are making strides to desexualise breasts, we still have miles to go. I have only ever existed in this body, so I can only speak to my own experience, but I’ve received unsolicited comments about my breasts since they developed, and I fear that ditching my bra in public will only invite further commentary.
Logically, I know that I can wear whatever the hell I want, but overcoming that mental roadblock and undoing years of brainwashing is easier said than done. For now, I’ll start by dipping my toe into the world of underwire free bras. Baby steps.
Tegan Lyon is undertaking a Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing. She’s most comfortable in a pair of overalls and thinks all bodies are worth celebrating.