I felt nothing short of vindication when I saw a photo of Colbie Smulders strolling through New York City sans bra.
Here was a fellow bra-less warrior in arms, I thought, who was giving a good face, and even better tatas, to the good fight.
The How I Met Your Mother star looked chic in her black romper, with the flash of side boob and slight outline of her nipples only adding to a sense of casual sexiness.
The MailOnline actually commended Smulders for her “daring” choice to go bra-less.
This was all the more noticeable, considering that the Mail skewers nip-slips with the same relish that Elizabeth Báthory bathed in the blood of virgins.
It was refreshing to see praise for the bra-less look. I’ve long been a proponent of ditching the bra, but I do so less than I would like out of fear of being branded at best a hippie and at worst trashy or, more realistically, slutty.
I still remember two summers ago when I decided to go bra-less after an admittedly questionable study, which declared bras were potentially bad for your health. Despite the dubious science, I didn’t need much motivation to ditch the bra.
As clichéd as it sounds, it felt liberating, but within a few hours of embracing the trend, self-consciousness encroached. I couldn’t make it an entire day before texting my then-boyfriend to bring me a bra before we went out for dinner. He said something to the effect of, “Babe, the sixties are over.”
But the bra-less tide has turned over the past few years. Going bra-less and even—clutch your pearls—letting your nipples be exposed has gone from wardrobe malfunction to purposeful styling choice with increasing social acceptance.
“Showing your nipples is the trend of summer 2015,” a co-worker tells me when she hears I am working on an article about going bra-less. “Just walk around Brooklyn.”
Or just compare the MailOnline’s reaction to Miranda Kerr going sans brassiere two years ago to her choice to ditch the bra this spring.
In 2013, when the supermodel wore a black lace ensemble without a bra, the style was criticized as a “wardrobe malfunction,” by the MailOnline. “Miranda Kerr hit headlines for all the wrong reasons. Her decision to go bra-less underneath the sheer outfit backfired—resulting in her flashing a bit too much,” declared the very judgey denouncement of Kerr’s bra-less look.
Flash-forward to March 2015 when Kerr was described as “looking positively breezy” when she went bra-less in a low-cut leotard and skirt.
In the nearly two years between Kerr’s two ensembles, the bra-less look has become not only more prominent but, in many cases, respected.
Perhaps the most famous example during that interim was Rihanna’s sparkly, see-through dress at the CFDA Awards in June 2014.
The singer only wore an itty-bitty thong underneath, forgoing even pasties to cover her nipples. Awards host John Waters praised Rihanna for her “fashion balls.”
In 2015, going bra-less also speaks to the disproportionate censorship of female bodies on social media. The discomfort around women’s nipples seems strange when contrasted with the more graphic, sexual, violent images that have become permitted on Instagram.
Rihanna is one of a number of female celebrities who have decided to pick a battle with the social media outlet over the restrictions specific to the display of the female body.
In these cases, the choice to go bra-less—or even topless—seems more than merely stylistic. It actively invites a viewer’s unease with the unstructured, uncovered female breast while encouraging other women to dismiss the judgment and stigma for going sans bra.
Going bra-less becomes a larger statement, challenging societal views towards the female body and sexuality.
Of course, a woman’s choice to ditch the bra has been coded as a form of social rebellion at different points of feminist history.
While bra-burning as part of the Women’s Liberation Movement is based on a myth surrounding the feminist protest at the 1968 Miss America pageant, going bra-less became a fashion trend in the late 1960s and 1970s.
For one, women were rejecting the highly-romanticized, highly-structured bullet-bra looks of the 1950s and feeding off looser hippie styles.
“The rise of the hippie counter-culture did a lot for women to step away from constricting clothes,” Patricia Mears, the deputy director at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Museum, told The Daily Beast. “Not only going bra-less, but seeing breasts was something you saw on the runways.”
In the most elite fashion circles, Yves Saint Laurent promoted the look.
“Yves Saint Laurent was experimenting in the 1970s with going bra-less and exposing the nipple,” said Mears. “He was young and had his finger on the pulse. He surrounded himself with cool, hip young women who were part of larger social changes, pushing the envelope.”
Saint Laurent, as well as Halston, specifically designed dresses where women couldn’t wear bras and purposefully exposed the nipple, said Mears.
However, she noted this trend wasn’t restricted to high-end fashion designers.
“If you look at pop culture, you see more women bra-less. In the famous poster of Farrah Fawcett, you can clearly see her breasts and nipples,” she pointed out.
As much as the 2015 bra-less trend can be interpreted as very specific to female body censorship issues of today, it can also be read as part of the overall 1970s revival that is in full swing this summer.
“The 1970s are very big now,” said Mears. “If you look at fashion magazines, there are very direct references to Halston and Yves Saint Laurent.”
The abundance of high-waisted pants and skirts, as well as the return of the crop top, also speak to the stylistic throwback.
Yet, despite four decades of political and social changes, the bra-less trend of today appears to largely follow one of the 1970s prerequisites for the look: the bra-less breasts have got to be perky—and as a result, relatively small—to pull it off.
There are some notable exceptions to this “rule” when it comes to celebrities—Scout Willis among them.
However, in the civilian world, smaller-breasted women are the ones who tend to feel comfortable with ditching their bras.
“Seriously, the big advantage to having small breasts is I don’t have to worry about it [wearing a bra],” one friend told me.
A different friend, one with larger breasts, told me that leaving her apartment without a bra on would induce a sense of “insecurity” because “it is already ingrained ‘don’t go bra-less if your boobs are too big or unappealing.’”
She even described the bra-mandate for bustier women as “part of an unwritten social contract.”
There’s a very un-feminist contradiction at play if we go along with the thesis that ditching bras is a privilege reserved for only women of a particular breast size and perkiness, while simultaneously viewing the trend as a larger message of female empowerment.
If 2015 is the summer where we (re-)embrace the bra-less trend, it’s about time we make it acceptable for all women.
That may make me sound like the hippie I was once accused of being, but there is something innately liberating about not wearing a brassiere.
Physically, it is certainly more comfortable, but it is also a bit of a “screw you” to pervasive norms about how a woman is supposed to shape or censor her body.
But if you want to fight body censorship, then you’ve got to fight body stigma, as well. If going bra-less is actually to become a fashion trend with some semblance of larger social merit, it’s important for all women to feel comfortable embracing it.
And with that, I call on my sisters of all breast shapes and sizes, throw off your bras. As Karl Marx would have said, had he ever had to entomb his tatas on a hot summer’s day: You have nothing to lose but the chains of your 36DD bra.