summer 2021

Free the Boob!

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Noel Vasquez/GC Images

Join me — if you will — in picturing utopia.

You’re freshly showered, ready to get dressed. It’s Friday evening, or maybe Tuesday afternoon. You’re going to an important business meeting or a late-night roller disco. You open the door to your closet, select the three most comfortable items of clothing you own and put them all on over your slackest pair of underwear. There are no wires, no zippers, no pinching or cinching. You’re comfortable and cool, and your big ole boobies, or your proud little boobies, or your completely medium-size boobies are flapping, or standing, or flopping in the breeze, not confined by any bra at all.

Subtracting the late-night roller disco, or being freshly showered, this utopia existed in some form for many boob-havers over the past year. (For the even more dedicated among us, it has existed for all time). Having nowhere exciting to be, combined with the grief of a year spent isolated from loved ones during a global catastrophe, made it much easier to prioritize comfort. “I slowly progressed from taking my bra off sooner in the day to only wearing it on Zoom to never wearing one,” one friend told me. “Bras are uncomfortable, and they make me feel like I’m supposed to be going somewhere, so they began to feel sort of rude since there was simply nowhere to go.”

During the pandemic, bras fell several hundred spots down the list of important things for many people, right below Everybody Loves Raymond and licorice Twizzlers. The motto: “Nowhere to be? Then boobs be free.”

As the world begins to feel safer, bras are coming back, albeit changed. Summer is typically a time when, by and large, bralessness is commonplace, but with work meetings and dinners to attend and other humans to encounter for the first time in over a year, our jiggling boobs are starting to feel too obvious, too exposed. For that reason, the reports are in that we’re not necessarily going bra-free entirely but are instead reconfiguring our bra choices, going from underwires to bralettes.

“There has been a general reassessment of what women want in their lingerie. Confidence and comfort are coming out on top,” Vanessa Friedman wrote at the New York Times. “It used to be aspirational to be skinny and rich,” Joanna Griffiths, chief executive of bra company Knix, told the Times. “Now what’s aspirational is liking yourself and liking who you are.”

But what if I like myself and who I am when I’m not smushing my boobs into a bra?

I have 38D boobs and have been wearing a bra since fifth grade, so the thought of returning my boobs to any state of confinement has left me horrified. How could I go back to imprisoning my ladies after a wondrous year of letting them roam? In the words of Kate Lambert, “I see women out and y’all are wearing bras again. I THOUGHT WE HAD AN AGREEMENT.”

The question of whether we are wearing bras again this summer, a post-vaccination summer that many have suggested will be one long orgiac bacchanal, is a polarizing one. For women with larger breasts than me, going entirely bra-free would be uncomfortable. “While I’m doing normal things, they get in the way, they’re everywhere,” one woman with J-cup boobs told me. “Part of it is tied to feeling productive. If I’m not wearing a bra at home, it’s because I’m relaxing.” It would be painful to go braless, she said, so instead she invests heavily in getting her bras professionally fitted. “It makes a huge difference.”

For others, the return to bra-wearing is tied to feeling like the pandemic is really over. “They help me feel like I’m reclaiming stability,” one friend explained. There are people in jobs where not wearing a bra could be interpreted as impropriety and insubordination. (As a remote worker, for better or for worse, hardly anyone cares about anything I do.) “I feel like I’m supposed to be all liberated and say hell no [to bras] but the truth is that I don’t feel oppressed by bras at all,” one friend said. “Plus, I’ll be so hype to see my pals again that nothing — especially not bras — could bum me out.”

For some of us, however, after a year of bra-free life, bras are the biggest of bummers. The pandemic has ushered in a sea change for previously dutiful bra-wearers, even those of us with big boobs, and we’re suddenly questioning everything. “I will definitely wear a bra less than I used to this summer, and will certainly not be wearing underwire bras at all,” one friend told me. “After a year without them, they feel terrible to me now. A completely fucked garment for me personally.”

These boob-havers will find metaphorical support from the fashion world. Rachel Tashjian, a style writer at GQ and writer of the Opulent Tips newsletter, said “From a fashion journalist’s perspective, this is the summer to go without a bra.” Why? “After a zillion years of the dominion of the Old Celine silhouette, which skims over the body beautifully but tastefully, the skin-tight fit is what almost all the coolest and weirdest designers are doing.” She continued, “What I love about this trend is that the body itself is the silhouette, rather than the garment shaping or harmonizing with your figure. It is all about your own human form, the natural shape of your breasts. All about your living, breathing, sweating, shivering, laughing, moving body.” The underwire digging into my side? The spiritual opposite of goddess-giving life!

In the 20-plus years I have been wearing a bra, I have not liked doing it once, and yet my decision to shun a bra into perpetuity could be interpreted as being a political decision. Babe, I assure you, it is not about politics — it is about comfort. A few years back, a dear friend wrote about her bra-free path, saying that the decision to not wear a bra was not political, “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.” That sounds about right to me. (That said: If you see me out, and it’s obvious that I’m wearing a bra, just know that I am doing it out of some heldover difficult-to-dismantle notions of propriety for your sake, and I am deeply unhappy about it.)

My boobs sag, they are loose, and sometimes my nipples show, but after this year, I’ve felt I have bigger things to worry about than how to restrain some fatty tissue on my chest. In this post-vaccination summer, bras and their straps and wires and lace and cups can simply step aside — I’m only here to have fun.

Free the Boob!