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Italian actress and producer Gisella Marengo braless at the 66th Venice Film Festival.

In Western society, there is an increasing trend towards bralessness among a number of women, especially millennials, who have expressed opposition to and are giving up wearing bras.[1] Being seen in public while not wearing a bra is becoming more acceptable, encouraging more women to go without. In 2016, Allure magazine fashion director Rachael Wang wrote, "Going braless is as old as feminism but it seems to be bubbling to the surface more recently as a direct response to Third Wave moments like #freethenipple hashtag campaign, increased trans-visibility like Caitlyn Jenner's Vanity Fair cover ... and Lena Dunham’s show Girls (which features young girls often without bras)."[2] Going braless, which for many years was considered a political statement, has in recent years become fashionable.[3]

Women choose to go braless due to discomfort, health-related issues, their cost, and for social reasons, often having to do with self acceptance and political expression.[4][5][6][4][7] Women have protested the physical and cultural restrictions imposed by bras over many years. A feminist protest at the 1968 Miss America Contest is often seen as the beginning of the anti-bra movement. Women and school-age girls in China, Malaysia, Canada, England, and the United States have been harassed and prosecuted for not wearing a bra.

Bras are increasingly an issue for women in the workplace and academia. Women have sued employers who have attempted to require them to go braless, and for harassment and even termination as a result of not wearing a bra while on the job. Young women in high school have been disciplined for going braless; the young women often criticize administrators and faculty for failing to educate boys that girls should not be harassed or given undue attention because they are braless. They also complain that the requirement to wear a bra is unequal treatment, given that boys are not required to cover their breasts or nipples.


The word braless was first used circa 1965.[8] Other terms for going braless include breast freedom, top freedom, and bra freedom.[9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16] Activists advocating going braless have referred to protests as a "bra-cott".[17]

World-wide trend[edit]

In France, it has been common for women to go braless in public for a number of years. Buxom French journalist Sabina Socol has not worn a bra in years.[18] In 2010, former model and France's first lady Carla Bruni welcomed Russian president Dmitry Medvedev at a state dinner in a tight dress that revealed she was braless.[19] British gardening expert and buxom TV personality Charlie Dimmock, who hosted her gardening show Ground Force from 1997 through 2005 on BBC, became well known for going braless at all times in all weather.[20][21] Celebrity chef, television personality, and businesswoman Clarissa Dickson Wright only wore a bra on special occasions.[22] Many celebrities world-wide have been seen braless in public for a number of years.[23][24][25] A number of models and celebrities are commonly braless in public,[26] including Kim Kardashian, Chrissy Teigen, Christina Milian, Kourtney Kardashian, Bella Thorne, Kendall Jenner, Demi Lovato, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lawrence, Claire Danes, and Rihanna.,[27][2][28][29][30][31] Rihanna once quipped, “If I’m wearing a top, I don’t need to wear a bra.”[18]

Among young Chinese women in large cities like Shanghai and Beijing, some are adopting the braless trend, locally called "free the boobs."[32] South Korean singer and actress Sulli drew attention when she posted photos of herself braless on Instagram.[33] In Kenya, Africa, celebrities like news anchor Janet Mbugua, television personality Vera Sidika, and Kenyan socialite Risper Faith are following the example of western celebrities and have gone braless in public.[23] During March 2019 in Ghana, buxom socialite and Instagram star Mona Montrage marked the country's Independence day by wearing traditional Kente cloth and posing braless.[34]

Health issues[edit]

Western women have been taught to believe that bras are sometimes required for medical or physiological reasons. New York OBGYN Niels Lauersen wrote,

There is no medical reason to wear a bra, so the decision is yours, based on your own personal comfort and aesthetics. If you have always worn a bra, age and breastfeeding will naturally cause your breasts to sag.[35]

Susan M. Love, a Clinical Professor of Surgery at UCLA, is a founder of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, she wrote, "Except for the women who find bras especially comfortable or uncomfortable, the decision to wear or not wear one is purely aesthetic - or emotional. If you don't enjoy it, and job or social pressures don't force you into it, don't bother."[36]

Cancer fears[edit]

A woman braless in Central Park, New York City

Many women choose not to wear a bra based on one study and a controversial book that linked wearing bras and an increased risk for cancer; the 1991 study found that premenopausal women who do not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer compared with bra users.[5] This study and the controversial 1995 book Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras has been cited by many women as the source of their concern about the link between bras and cancer. A 2002 survey found that 31 percent of women agreed that "Under-wire bras can cause breast cancer" and another six percent were not sure.[37]

Scientists at the American Cancer Society responded that there is a little credible scientific evidence supporting any correlation between wearing bras and cancer;[37][38] the New York Times reported, "There is no scientifically credible evidence... and the proposed mechanism—that bras prevent elimination of toxins by blocking lymph flow—is not in line with scientific concepts of how breast cancer develops. Internet traffic on the issue is mostly inspired by one study with several scientific flaws, Dr. Gansler said; the study, never published in a peer-reviewed journal, did not adjust for known breast cancer risk factors that might be associated with bra-wearing behavior, like weight and age. Also, study participants knew the hypothesis before taking the survey."[39] The United States National Cancer Institute states that bras have not been found to increase a woman's risk for breast cancer,[40] and the American Cancer Society stated, "There are no scientifically valid studies that show wearing bras of any type causes breast cancer."[41]

A well-regarded 2014 study by researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found no direct link between wearing a bra and developing breast cancer;[42] the report noted, "no aspect of bra wearing, including bra cup size, recency, average number of hours a day worn, wearing a bra with an underwire, or age first began regularly wearing a bra, was associated with risks" of breast cancer.[43] The study included detailed studies of women's lifestyle and bra-wearing habits and found no correlation between bra use and cancer;[44][39] the study did not include women who did not wear a bra as a comparison with those who did. Despite the contradictory scientific evidence, women cite the fear of breast cancer as a reason to discontinue wearing bras.[45]

Bra fit and discomfort[edit]

A variety of factors make it difficult for women to find a bra that fits properly; these include widely varying international manufacturing standards and measurement methods, the variety of bra sizes, and the wide anatomical differences among women.[46][47] In some women, one breast is slightly larger than the other.[48] More obvious and persistent asymmetry in breast size occurs in up to 25% of women.[49]

Women tend to find a bra that appears to fit and stay with that size for a long period of time even though they may lose and gain weight.[50] Medical studies have shown that most women experience pain as a result of wearing a bra, and shown that it is difficult for women to find a correctly fitting bra;[51][52] as a result of these factors, 80–85% of women who wear a bra are wearing the wrong bra size. In one study, 70% of women wore bras that were too small and 10% wore bras that were too large.[53][54][55]

Women complain of breast, shoulder, neck, and back pain, migraines, indigestion, skin abrasions, and restricted breathing due to wearing bras.[56][55][57] Women who have large breasts are more likely to experience discomfort. Large cup size has been correlated with an increase in shoulder and neck pain.[58] One researcher found that 40% of women who rode horses reported breast pain.[59] Women often cite the discomfort and pain associated with wearing bras as the primary reason for disliking them and for giving up wearing one.[46]

Breast sagging[edit]

Some women incorrectly believe that breastfeeding contributes to breast sagging,[60][61] but researchers say breastfeeding and weight gain during pregnancy does not influence sagging. Instead, they identified the key factors as age, significant weight gain or loss, high BMI, whether a woman smoked cigarettes, and the number of pregnancies a woman has had. Hereditary factors influencing sagging include skin elasticity, breast size before pregnancy, and breast density (the ratio of fat to glandular tissue).[62][63][64][65]

Another common misconception is that that bras are required to keep breasts from sagging later in life.[60] Researchers, bra manufacturers, and health professionals cannot find any evidence to support the idea that wearing a bra for any amount of time arrest, slows, or in any way affects breast ptosis.[66] John Dixey, former CEO of bra-maker Playtex, explained on a British TV Channel 4 interview, "We have evidence that wearing a bra could not prevent sagging, because the breast itself is not muscle, so keeping it toned up is an impossibility.... There's no permanent effect on the breast from wearing a particular bra; the bra will give you the shape the bra's been designed to give while you're wearing it."[67][68]

Benefits of bralessness[edit]

Braless woman wearing a sheer cover over bikini bottoms

Researchers have found health benefits for going braless. One researcher found that women who didn't wear a bra experienced less shoulder and neck pain and for women with large breasts, and may be a preferred treatment over reduction mammaplasty.[58] According to a study published in the Clinical Study of Pain, large-breasted women can reduce back pain by going braless. Of the women participating in the study, 79% decided to stop wearing bras completely.[69]

In another study, eleven adult female subjects aged 22–39 wore a correctly fitted bra for three months and then went braless for three months. After the bra-wearing period, when compared with the bra-free period, the distance between the woman's right and left nipples became wider, and their breasts sagged more.[70]

Professor Jean-Denis Rouillon, a sports science expert from the University of Franche-Comté at Besançon, France, conducted a 15-year long study that studied the benefits women get from wearing a bra, he discussed his preliminary research in 2013, generating considerable media attention in France and elsewhere.[71][72] In a controversial finding, he concluded that the nipples of 330 women aged 18 to 35 who never wore bras were on average 7 millimetres (0.28 in) higher in relation to their shoulders each year than regular bra users.[73][74] He concluded,

Rouillon noted that all of the study volunteers were between 18 and 35 years old and that the study results were still preliminary, he said that women 45 years or older would not benefit from discarding their bras. "But a middle-aged woman, overweight, with 2.4 children? I'm not at all sure she'd benefit from abandoning bras."[76] His conclusions were supported in part by plastic surgeon Dr. Stafford Broumand from Mount Sinai Medical Center. "For younger women, not wearing a bra will lead to increased collagen production and elasticity, which improves lift in a developing breast. Also, tension on the connective tissue and ligaments supporting the breast can be beneficial to prevent sagging."[74] Rouillon's research has gained currency among some women who use it to bolster the argument that wearing bras is unhealthy and unnecessary,[73] his study is cited by a number of articles that use it to support the idea that it's acceptable for a woman to go braless.[77][77]

But Rouillon's findings were ridiculed by some in the French media,[78][79] his results and research methods were also questioned by some who challenged his findings because they were not published in a medical journal.[80][81] Critics and skeptics noted that they cannot locate the actual study Rouillon is reported to have completed, but only reports about it, including the initial interview on French radio that sparked widespread coverage.[82][83]

As of 2006, about 10% of Australian women didn't wear a bra.[84] Surveys have reported that 5–25 per cent of Western women do not wear a bra.[22][85][86]

Social issues[edit]

Going braless, which for many years was considered a political statement, has in recent years become fashionable.[3] An increasing number of women feel more comfortable about not wearing a bra, and what they wear is based more on what they want and not due to social norms or feminist ideology. Jennifer Maher, a gender studies professor at Indiana University, says wearing or not wearing a bra is no longer "a feminist tenet."[87]

Feminist reaction[edit]

In 1968 at the feminist Miss America protest, protesters symbolically threw a number of feminine products into a "Freedom Trash Can"; these included bras,[88] which were among items the protesters called "instruments of female torture"[89] and accouterments of what they perceived to be enforced femininity. A local news story in the Atlantic City Press erroneously reported that "the bras, girdles, falsies, curlers, and copies of popular women's magazines burned in the 'Freedom Trash Can'".[90][91]:109–110 Individuals who were present said that no one burned a bra nor did anyone take off her bra;[89][92] however reporter Lindsy Van Gelder covering the protest drew an analogy between the feminist protesters and Vietnam War protesters who burned their draft cards, and the parallel between protesters burning their draft cards and women burning their bras was encouraged by some organizers including Robin Morgan. "The media picked up on the bra part", Carol Hanisch said later. "I often say that if they had called us 'girdle burners,' every woman in America would have run to join us."[92][93]

Feminism and "bra-burning" became linked in popular culture.[94][95] While feminist women did not literally burn their bras, some stopped wearing them in protest.[96][97] Feminist author Bonnie J. Dow suggested that the association between feminism and bra-burning was encouraged by individuals who opposed the feminist movement.[88] "Bra-burning" created an image that women weren't really seeking freedom from sexism, but were attempting to assert themselves as sexual beings.[88] This might lead individuals to believe, as Susan J. Douglas wrote, that the women were merely trying to be "trendy, and to attract men."[98][88]:130[99][100][101] Some feminist activists believe that anti-feminists use the bra burning myth and the subject of going braless to trivialize what the protesters were trying to accomplish at the feminist 1968 Miss America protest and the feminist movement in general.[102][103][104]

The trope of feminists burning their bras was anticipated by an earlier generation of feminists who called for burning corsets as a step toward liberation. In 1873 Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward wrote:

So burn up the corsets! ... No, nor do you save the whalebones, you will never need whalebones again. Make a bonfire of the cruel steels that have lorded it over your thorax and abdomens for so many years and heave a sigh of relief, for your emancipation I assure you, from this moment has begun.[105]

Some feminists began arguing in the 1960s and 1970s that the bra was an example of how women's clothing shaped and even deformed women's bodies to male expectations. Professor Lisa Jardine listened to feminist Germaine Greer talk about bras during a formal college dinner in Newnham College, Cambridge, in 1964 (Greer had become a member of the college faculty in 1962):

At the graduates' table, Germaine was explaining that there could be no liberation for women, no matter how highly educated, as long as we were required to cram our breasts into bras constructed like mini-Vesuviuses, two stitched white cantilevered cones which bore no resemblance to the female anatomy; the willingly suffered discomfort of the Sixties bra, she opined vigorously, was a hideous symbol of female oppression.[106]

Germaine Greer's book The Female Eunuch (1970) became associated with the anti-bra movement because she pointed out how restrictive and uncomfortable a bra could be.[107] "Bras are a ludicrous invention", she wrote, "but if you make bralessness a rule, you're just subjecting yourself to yet another repression."[108]

Susan Brownmiller in her book Femininity (1984) took the position that women without bras shock and anger men because men "implicitly think that they own breasts and that only they should remove bras."[109]

Feminist author Iris Marion Young wrote in 2005 that the bra "serves as a barrier to touch" and that a braless woman is "deobjectified", eliminating the "hard, pointy look that phallic culture posits as the norm." Without a bra, in her view, women's breasts are not consistently shaped objects but change as the woman moves, reflecting the natural body.[109] Young also argued that training bras are used to indoctrinate girls into thinking about their breasts as sexual objects and to accentuate their sexuality,[109] she wrote in 2007 that, in American culture, breasts are subject to "[c]apitalist, patriarchal American media-dominated culture [that] objectifies breasts before such a distancing glance that freezes and masters."[110]:31 Academic Wendy Burns-Ardolino wrote in 2007 that women's decision to wear bras is mediated by the "male gaze";[110]:30–32 some women choose to go braless as part of a "new wave of feminism" and an opportunity to challenge social expectations of how they should act and look.[7]

In March, 2017, actress Emma Watson was braless in a Vanity Fair photo shoot, she was criticized by some who thought she was a hypocrite for supporting feminism and showing some skin. She responded, "Feminism is about giving women a choice; feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it."[111]

Bras as a form of protest[edit]

In 1966, during the height of the hippie era in San Francisco, two women students at San Francisco State College protested a proposed law that would require women to wear bras by walking topless near the campus.[112][113] On August 1, 1969, an Anti-Bra Day was declared in San Francisco to protest societal pressure to wear constrictive, feminine garments; the protest drew large crowds, blocking traffic, and a few women took their bras off from under their clothing in the Financial District.[114][115]

In May 2007, Fiona Simpson and Rosemary Menkens, members of Queensland, Australia's parliament, along with about ten other women, hung up the bras—some with edged with frilly lace—across parliament's front gates, they were demonstrating support for opponents of the state government's plans to require local councils to merge.[116]

In May 2018, a student at Cornell University was upset by her professor's criticism of her for wearing cutoff denim shorts as she prepared to deliver a draft of her college scholar senior thesis; the student said the professor told her that her clothing would distract men's attention from her presentation's content. She responded that she was "not responsible for anyone's attention because we are capable of thinking for ourselves and we have agency". To protest the professors' "oppressive beliefs", when she delivered the final thesis, she stripped down to her bra and panties. Twenty-eight other male and female students joined her protest and removed their outer clothing.[117]

In September, 2018, Ng Lai-ying was sentenced to 3-½ months jail for "assaulting a police officer" with her breast during a chaotic protest against mainland Chinese cross-border traders in March. Ng Lai-ying told the court that she yelled "indecent assault" when the inspector's hand landed on her left breast after he tried to grab the strap of her bag, but the judge said that she had "used her female identity to trump up the allegation that the officer had molested" her. He said she had harmed the officer's reputation. Lai-ying was found guilty of bumping the arm of the police inspector with her chest. Around 100 Hong Kong residents including men wearing bras staged a "breast walk" to protest her sentence outside the Wan Chai district police headquarters, they chanted "Breasts are not weapons—give back our breast freedom" and "Shame on police". Ng Cheuk-ling, an activist with Hong Kong Women's Coalition on Equal Opportunities, told reporters, "How can breasts be a weapon? We are angry but we also fear that this precedent exploits women's rights to take part in protests."[118]

Bralessness as a fashion[edit]

Braless woman wearing a Bebe T-shirt

In 1968, shortly after the feminist protest against bras and other feminine products at the Miss America pageant, actress Marlo Thomas began going braless on the prime-time television series That Girl. "God created women to bounce, so be it." Thomas said in an interview in Good Housekeeping magazine. "If I bounce, I'm glad to be a girl."[119][120] On August 5, 1970, the New York Times wrote that "the braless look has established a beachhead in Manhattan....Generally speaking, the braless woman is under 30 and small‐breasted, but grandmothers are also among the throngs, as are C and D cuppers—who get the most comment, both pro and con, from male oglers."[121] The young female characters on Lena Dunham’s controversial HBO show Girls (2012-2017) were often without bras."[2][122][123][124]

A Harris Poll commissioned by Playtex in 2009 asked more than 1,000 women what they like in a bra. Among the respondents, 67 per cent said they prefer wearing a bra to going braless, while 85 per cent wanted to wear a "shape-enhancing bra that feels like nothing at all." They were split as regards underwire bras: 49 per cent said they prefer underwire bras, the same percentage as those who said they prefer wireless bras.[125] Apparel company Ruby Ribbon surveyed 3,000 women in 2014 in advance of National No Bra Day about their attitudes towards their breasts and bras. Among respondents, 92 percent said they simply want support and comfort and are less interested in sex appeal or fashionable colors and designs. Twenty-one percent rated their bra "An Enemy – I wish I had never met her", and nearly half (46%) answered, "A Business Partner – I put up with her"; when asked to describe their bra in one word, the most popular term was "uncomfortable."[126][127] Many women look forward to the time of day when they can take off their bra.[127] One editor wrote, "Taking your bra off is an extremely liberating feeling, and one we females look forward to -- every day, all day long."[127]

An increasing number of women question previously accepted medical, physiological, anatomical, and social reasons for wearing bras,[61] they recognize that they wear bras for psychological, aesthetic, or practical reasons.[128] An informal movement advocates breast freedom, top freedom, bra freedom, or simply going braless.[129][130][131][132] There are a large number of magazine articles and YouTube videos in which women describe their motives and offer guidance on how to go braless.[133] Poet Savannah Brown of London published a YouTube video, "sav's guide to going braless", which has nearly one million views.[134][135][136]

Religious issues[edit]

In 2009 Somalia's hard-line Islamic group Al-Shabaab forced women to shake their breasts at gunpoint to see if they were wearing bras, which they called "un-Islamic".[137][138] A resident of Mogadishu whose daughters were whipped said, "The Islamists say a woman's chest should be firm naturally, or flat." [137]

Free the Nipple campaign[edit]

A campaign participant at the World Naked Bike Ride in London, June 2015

Women took part in the Free the Nipple campaign after a movie of that name was made in 2015, they protested the undue attention given women who don't choose to wear bras. In many Western countries, women used social media to show their support of the right to go without a bra. In Iceland during Free the Nipple day in 2015, some female university students purposefully wore clothing that revealed they were not wearing a bra and a few others chose to go topless for the day.[139]

No Bra Day[edit]

One outgrowth of the resistance to bras was the formation of No Bra Day in 2013. In 2017, the unofficial day was observed by women in 30 countries,[140] including New Zealand, Romania, Malaysia, Scotland, India, and Ghana.[141][142][143][144][145] More than 82,000 women posted pictures on Twitter and Instagram using the hastag #nobraday.[146]

Empowerment of women[edit]

Some media outlets have capitalized on the no bra phenomenon with exploitative stories; the tabloid website TMZ posted an item about "Happy No Bra Day" with an image of Selena Gomez wearing a see-through top. Another site featured a photo gallery titled "#NoBraDay: 15 Celebs Who Frolick About With Their Fun Bags Freed".[147]

Whether a woman wears a bra or not has progressed in some social circles from discussions about appropriate clothing to "the body shaming and sexualizing of women"[148] and a "societal debate on the equality of men and women, as it pertains to their bodies."[149]

One woman commented, "The reason is that I tried being braless, and I liked it better, it wasn't a political decision, except insofar as everything a woman does with her body that isn't letting someone else dictate what she ought to do with it is a political decision."[133]

French journalist Sabina Socol commented, "I never liked wearing bras; I always felt suffocated in them." She grew up in a household where going braless wasn't seen as sexual or taboo. "Even as a woman with breasts, I do what I want with my body. Every human has nipples. There shouldn’t be any shame [in showing them], but if you want to hide them, that’s okay, too, as long as the choice is yours."[18]

In June, 2017, Sarah Starks organized a protest in Charleston, West Virginia in response to the social expectation that women and girls must wear bras and shirts to avoid offending or arousing others. "It's sexual because people say it is," she added. A West Virginia University professor of social work commented that "if other people are made uncomfortable by it, that's cultural and that's social..." Starks commented that breasts are "like this separate, sexual part of us, and if you want to be taken seriously as a woman, cover them up."[150] The protest's purpose was to show that nipples and breasts are not sexual objects; some of the marchers went braless, others topless, and others fully clothed.[151]

Opposition to training bras[edit]

In Western culture, the bra is sometimes viewed as an icon of popular culture,[109]:192 and purchasing a girl's first bra is seen by some as a long-awaited rite of passage into womanhood,[152][110]:36 signifying her coming of age; the age at which girls first wear bras is sometimes controversial.[153][153][154] Within Western cultures that place great value upon youth, bras are marketed to women of all ages by emphasizing their ability to preserve a youthful appearance.[152]

Young girls may begin to develop breasts as early as age 9 or as late as 18; the early stage of breast development is known as "breast budding" and is measured on the Tanner scale.[155] Some believe that girls who are developing breasts may be self-conscious and desire a bra to conceal their emerging breasts and for psychological comfort.[156] A girl developing breasts has no physical need for support, so training bras serve only social and psychological purposes. Bras of all kinds are often designed and marketed for fashionable rather than functional purposes;[157] the training bra is marketed to help young girls become accustomed to wearing lingerie.[158]

Critics of training bras say companies are appealing to very young girls' desire to feel more sexy and attractive;[109] the opponents believe that manufacturers market training bras as a way to sexualize young girls and indoctrinate them into thinking about their breasts as sexual objects.[152] The critics believe that businesses benefit financially by encouraging precocious sexuality in girls and exploiting their fears about self-image and social norms.[159][160]

Legal issues[edit]

The number and variety of legal issues faced by women about whether to wear a bra or not illustrates the depth and complexity of the subject in society.

Security issues[edit]

In Chatham, Ontario, Canada, police came under criticism after it was revealed that they required a woman to remove her bra while in a holding cell. A judge rebuked the police department after a woman held in custody was required to remove her bra before a breathalyzer test; the police stated that they required women in custody to give up their any item which could be used as a ligature – including necklaces, ties, shoelaces and bras – to protect them against using their bras as "ligatures for self-harm or strangulation." According to her lawyer, the woman doesn't normally go braless in public and was "terrified and upset" by being required to remove her bra. In 2013, a judge required York Regional Police to change the same policy. Vancouver police also required women at that time to remove their bra.[161] Police subsequently amended their policy from a blanket requirement to a case-by-case assessment.[162] In a similar case in Osaka during 2017, a female defendant was forbidden from wearing a bra while in custody. Police rules allow women to request a bra for a court appearance, but her request was denied, her attorneys filed a complaint with the Osaka Bar Association, claiming that denying the woman's right to wear a bra was a "breach of human rights".[163]

In November 2010, Tammy Banovac, a 52-year-old woman who had been featured in Playboy when she was 42, wore only her bra and panties through a United States Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at Will Rogers World Airport. Banovac, who uses a wheelchair, is usually hand-searched, she said she felt violated by an intrusive search two weeks earlier. She said, "If it happened anywhere else, it would have been sexual assault." She failed to pass security when officers detected trace amounts of nitrates on her wheelchair. She returned to the airport the next morning, also wearing only a bra and panties, and put on clothing after passing through screening.[164][165]

Workplace dress codes[edit]

Some employers require women to wear bras.[166] Shea Allen, a local US TV reporter in Huntsville, Alabama, wrote about her reporting duties on her personal blog, she said, among other things, that "I've gone braless during a live broadcast and no one was the wiser". When she was "terminated without cause" three days later, media reports speculated that it was due to her comment about not wearing a bra on the job.[167] One commentator responded that "These sorts of corporate rules are just a way of forcing women to walk an extremely thin line between being conventionally feminine (wear skirts and dresses, not pants!) but without doing anything that could be construed as sexual (but don't even allow a hint of nipple to be visible!)"[168]

In January 2011, a German court ruled that employers can require female employees to wear bras or undershirts at work. An airport security firm argued that requiring bras was essential "to preserve the orderly appearance of employer-provided uniforms." The court also agreed that the company could require employees to keep their hair clean and male employees to be clean shaven or maintain a well-trimmed beard.[169] In Germany employers and companies are permitted to require their female employees to wear a brassiere as part of the dress code, and may dismiss female employees who do not wear them.[170]

In August 2011, Wendy Anderson of Utah sued her employer for sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In her suit, she claimed that Derek Wright, her employer, attempted to require her to adhere to a dress code that included a "No Bra Thursday", she alleged that he regularly discussed Anderson's breast size with her in front of other employees. Anderson and her former employer reached a mediated settlement in August 2013.[171][172][173]

Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Rail in Britain, caused an uproar among his female train attendants when he introduced new uniforms in May 2013. A number of them complained that the new blouses they are required to wear are too revealing and expose their bras to the public. Virgin Rail offered a voucher worth £20 to allow the unhappy employees to purchase a top to wear underneath the new blouses.[174]

Genevieve Loiselle protested when the female manager at the restaurant she is employed by in Timmons, Ontario, Canada demanded that she wear a bra to work. Loiselle said the manager pointed out that she could see Loiselle's nipple piercings. Loiselle obtained the restaurant's dress code found it did not mention bras, and that the requirement to wear a bra is discriminatory; the manager later denied that she had required Loiselle to wear a bra.[175] After publication of the story, the restaurant chain relented and told Loiselle that she was not required to wear a bra. Case law in Canada is beginning to establish that employers can't require gender-specific clothing unless there's a "non-discriminatory, justifiable reason for doing so," according to labor and employment lawyer Morgan Rowe.[176]

In Selkirk, Manitoba, Canada, 19-year-old Kate Gosek complained when several managers at the McDonalds where she was a cook harassed her about not wearing a bra to work. Gosek thinks bras are uncomfortable; the McDonald's dress code did not require women to wear a bra, but the manager told her, "it is an expectation." Gosek received an apology from two managers in October 2018. Christina Schell was hired as a server at the Greenside Grill located at Osoyoos Golf Club in Osoyoos, British Columbia in May 2018.[177] After three weeks, her manager asked all employees to sign a new dress code agreement which stated, "Women must wear either a tank top or bra under their uniform shirt." When Schell questioned the requirement, her manager told her the dress code was for her protection. Schell had stopped wearing bras at age 23 because they were uncomfortable. Schell refused her manager's demand and was fired, she filed a complaint with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal against the golf club. Schell said the dress code is "gender-based and that's why it's a human rights issue," she said. "I have nipples and so do the men."[178]

Academic dress codes[edit]

School dress codes are increasingly contested by students who resist rules that are enforced based on a person's weight or gender. Bras are a focal point among students who think the codes are gotten too invasive.[179]

In 2006, administrators at a school in Singapore discovered during the physical education class that some girls were wearing colored bras, contrary to the dress code, which required light gray, beige, or white bras; the girls were ordered to return to the bathroom and remove their bra, which was then confiscated. The braless girls were embarrassed to be seen afterward, especially by the male staff.[180]

After getting badly sunburned, 17-year-old high school student Lizzy Martinez wore a boy's loose, oversized, long-sleeve, crew-neck T-shirt without a bra to school in April, 2017, she was called out of class to the dean's office where she was told she was causing a "distraction". They stated that boys were "looking and laughing" at her and that she was violating the School District of Manatee County's dress code, although the district's dress code does not require females to wear a bra,[181][182] she told them she was sunburned, and they required her to wear an additional shirt. The dean told her that her nipples were still showing through her T-shirt, and told her to obtain adhesive bandages from the school's clinic to cover her nipples; the American Civil Liberties Union wrote a letter to the school district protesting what they described as their discriminatory enforcement of the school's dress code.[181][183]

Martinez continued to refuse to wear a bra to school, stating, "I was wearing a shirt given to me by a male friend and I'm 100 percent sure he wasn't wearing a bra the countless times he wore it to school."[184] Martinez said, "If the boys in my class were so distracted, shouldn't they have been talked to and educated about the situation and not me being pulled out of class?"[185] She organized a "bracott" two weeks later during which she encouraged female students to attend school without a bra, or to wear a shirt with a supportive message.[184][186] During the protest, about 30 female students didn't wear bras, and several students marked their backpacks with adhesive bandages in the shape of an X.[181] University of Richmond law professor Meredith Harbach, who has written about sexualization and public school dress codes,[187] said that the school was "foisting this notion that unrestrained breasts are sexual and likely to cause disruption and distract other students."[181]

In Montana, senior Kaitlyn Juvik at Helena high school was reprimanded on May 25, 2016 for wearing a black, off-the-shoulder, black top without a bra, she had stopped wearing a bra a year earlier. She was told she was causing male students and staff to feel "uncomfortable." The school handbook doesn't require bras, but forbids students from showing a bra strap.[188] The principal insisted the issue wasn't about whether she wore a bra, but her dress that made others uncomfortable and prompted him to ask her to "cover up." A friend of hers created a Facebook page named No Bra, No Problem about the issue, which quickly attracted over 1,200 members.[189][190] About 300 fellow students joined her in protesting her treatment by attending school on May 27 without a bra. Several male students wore bras outside their shirts to support the protest; the school's reaction and her protest drew international attention.[191][192] Juvik stated that the issue of women wearing or not wearing a bra is larger than about whether a woman wears an article of clothing, she told People that it's about "the body shaming and sexualizing of women." "Wearing a bra is a personal choice. It's my body. Why is it anybody else's business whether I'm wearing a bra, especially when I'm covered up and dressed appropriately?"[148][191][193] She created an Instagram page "Warrior without a bra" that attracted tens of thousands of subscribers within just a couple of weeks.[189]

A high school student attending Beaumont High School in Southern California wore a black bodysuit and baggy jeans to school when an assistant vice principal told her she had to put on a jacket; the vice principal told her "that because I wasn't wearing a bra, she didn't want people to think anything bad of me or talk inappropriately or have anything bad to say." The high school dress code does not require girls to wear a bra.[194] In a similar incident during 2018 in Texas, a high school girl commented, "It is not a requirement in the dress code at my school for me to wear a bra. Stop blaming girls’s outfits for boys not being raised right to respect women."[195]

In Montreal during 2018, a girl attending Le Pensionnat du Saint-Nom-de-Marie, a private girls school, was asked to cover up because she wasn't wearing a bra under her T-shirt. In response, students started a petition requesting the freedom not to wear a bra at school; the school stated that their dress code doesn't formally require wearing a bra. The school head said that the issue of wearing a bra is "a societal debate on the equality of men and women, as it pertains to their bodies."[149][196]

High school girls in Quebec began wearing yellow squares on their clothing during March,2018, to protest a "restrictive and sexist” school dress code. Female students demanded the right to go without bras. Célestine Uhde, one of four students who organized the protest, wrote that bras can be uncomfortable; the students "launched the movement to fight the culture of rape and hypersexualization. We want the equality of men and women both in our treatment and how the world views our bodies." She said, "We as women shouldn't be put down because of our bodies."[179]

In popular culture[edit]

Prior to strict enforcement of the Hays Code in mid-1934, actress Carole Lombard was always braless, as was Jean Harlow.[197][198][199] Many pre-code movies were characterized by sexual energy, including scenes of women obviously braless. After the code was enforced, bralessness was not shown in film again until the 1960s.[200][201]

Significant instances of women braless in popular culture include:

  • Clara Bow plays Nasa “Dynamite” Springer in the 1932 pre-code film Call Her Savage. Wearing a flimsy white blouse, she is obviously braless in multiple scenes.[202][203]
  • In April 1957, Italian actress Sophia Loren was being welcomed to Hollywood by Paramount Pictures at a dinner party at Romanoff's restaurant in Beverly Hills. Busty American actress Jayne Mansfield was seated between Loren and Clifton Webb. Braless and wearing a deeply plunging neckline, she at one point purposefully stood up and leaned forward, exposing her 40D bust and her left nipple.[204][205] Photographer Delmar Watson captured Loren staring at Mansfield's breasts, and Joe Shere caught Loren looking side-eye at Mansfield's bust. Both pictures went viral, receiving world-wide attention.[206]
  • The success of the television show Charlie's Angels was sometimes attributed to the scanty or provocative clothing frequently worn by the female stars. Actress Farrah Fawcett once said the TV show's success was due to what critics described as "Jiggle TV",[207] she said, "When the show was number three, I figured it was our acting. When it got to be number one, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra."[208] The show was a runaway hit during the 1976–77 season.
  • Director George Lucas required actress Carrie Fisher to forego wearing a bra during filming of Star Wars. He told her, "There’s no underwear in space."[209][210] He later explained to her that human bodies expand in space, and that her bra might have strangled her, she replied sarcastically, "Really? Now I understand it."[211]

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