Top Five Alternatives To Bras

Bra Week_Rory Midhani_640
WELCOME TO BRA WEEK! This week and next, the Autostraddle writers and some special guests will be giving you the scoop on over-the-shoulder-boulder-holders and otherwise-inclined chest-covering situations — fashion, history, feelings and so much more.


What started as a personal endeavor to find comfortable alternatives to bras became an anger-fueled struggle to answer the question, “why is it so bleepin’ hard to NOT wear bras?” Surely it is not the act itself, but the self-consciousness, nervousness, and embarrassment that come with it.

Whenever Jennifer Aniston made a braless appearance on Friends—quite obviously (cold set?)—I would wonder how she was able to do it. And whenever my high school soccer coach did the same, the whole team would be holding back our giggles. No, back then I wouldn’t even question wearing a bra — that just wasn’t an option to me. But after years of pain and discomfort from wearing bras, it was time to do what’s best for me and not follow some arbitrary public code.

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Needless to say, I am now that braless person. Funnily enough, the first modern bra, or brasserie, was created by a woman who felt uncomfortable with what was the only option that existed at the time: corsets. Mary Phelps Jacobs allowed women the painless, innovative alternative. By the 1920s, bras, in the form of bandeaus (strapless tight-fitting cloth), were majorly worn by women to achieve a more rectangular, boyish figure that at the time was on trend.

However, in our day and age, bras have become all about accentuating curves and busts, and appealing to the ever-so-skewed image of femininity. Mind you, I’m not against anyone choosing to wear bras. Wearing bras can be just as empowering and bold as rallying naked in the streets at Pride. But for anyone interested in not wearing a bra, here are some alternatives!

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Nipple Covers/ “Pasties”

If you’re like me, only conscious about the nips, “pasties” are a great to try out. As the name indicates, pasties are areola-sized concave silicones that you can stick to your nipples to avoid obvious nip protrusion. Unfortunately, pasties were made to be used on special occasions, and the adhesive on the pasties will eventually wear off. It can also be bad for your skin to wear pasties for an extended period of time, so take care and give your nipples a chance to breathe every now and then.


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Bandeaus

Bandeaus are a lot like strapless bras or short tube tops. You can find ones with padding and underwire, and you can find ones without. Its straplessness offers a newlevel of comfort in movement. It is literally a weight of your shoulders. Bandeaus are also awesome for when you want to wear sleeveless tops with low-cut armholes for the summer.


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Tank Tops / Camis

Tank tops and camis offer lose-fitting alternative for those who like to feel less like they’re wearing lingerie and more like they’re wearing an extra layer of clothing. However, these offer less padding, and might not be as effective in avoiding nip protrusion.


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Chest Wrapping

This would be the alternative I least recommend because of how easy it is to be incorrectly done. Binding with the wrong material, such as bandages or tape, can lead to serious physical damage such as blood clots, irregular breathing, and sore ribs. But there are safe ways to wrap your chest with the right products and materials! Read all about them in Binding 101: Brands, Care Tips and Health.


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5) Go braless!

Easier said than done, but I kid you not, going braless makes a world of difference. I’m still nervous and self-conscious whenever I go out braless, but after a while of easing into the process, I feel more confident and free than ever. To ease myself into it, I wear shirts with graphic designs or patterns so any nip protrusion is less noticeable. And honestly, if people are shaming you for choosing to go braless, remember that it truly isn’t a woman’s responsibility to keep people from being offended by her naked body.

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Header by Rory Midhani

Profile photo of Sunny

Sunny is currently studying visual arts and literature in upstate NY. She is from Bangkok, Thailand. When she's not busy daydreaming or getting herself into trouble, she manages fashion blog but-im-a-tomboy.com, eats good desserts, and reads Miranda July.

Sunny has written 1 articles for us.

44 Comments

  1. Thumb up 2

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    I’m glad to see this as someone who basically never wears a bra (except for Judo because ouch if I don’t). Normally I just go natural and feel fine about it – my comfort wins over the risk people might judge me (though I understand it’s not the same for everyone). I did recently buy a binder though it hasn’t arrived yet so I’m not sure how much I will use that.

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    I wear a lot of ribbed undershirts in place of bras. In high school I would frequently wear those camis with the built-in shelf bra thing. Also in the winter I just wear sweaters and sweatshirts because they’re thick enough that I never have to worry about nip protrusions.

    I do go braless a lot just because I find regular bras really uncomfortable and if I wear sports bras for too many days in a row the spot between my boobs gets red and kind of chafed-looking and that is no fun at all.

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    I went almost completely braless for about a year and a half. Although nipples showing wasn’t a big concern most of the time (doubtless because Scotland is so cold you have to wear lots of layers most of the time…), the reason why I started wearing sports bras again is because I didn’t feel comfortable wearing anything that was tight and / or stretchy around my chest. It always felt like I could never look sharp and neat, for lack of a better word – like tight / stretchy clothes never fitted me comfortably. Also I had to grab my boobs every time I had to run.

  4. Thumb up 3

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    I’ve been just wearing tank tops underneath for about a year. Though when I wear certain fabrics that cling and look too weird with a tank top I might start looking into bandeaus and pasties. Great post!

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      You can do it … I’m a big girl with ddds and I do it all the time … The only time I wear a bra is when I work and that’s more for keeping my boobs out of the way. You get used to the way your boobs move and it becomes natural although jumping repeatedly is dangerous =)

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      Check out breast nest, I am debating buying one my self, the only time I wear a bra is at work (I’m in the military and “appropriate undergarments” are mandatory) and usually I just wear a sports bra (rocking the uni boob!) but I am really tired of the sports bra thing (I long for bra free evenings and weekends) so breast nest looks like a great compromise!

      https://breastnest.com/

  5. Thumb up 9

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    am I the only one that finds *not* wearing a bra to be kind of uncomfortable? like it’s all well and good hanging out at home, but if I have to go up and down stairs, or walk fast, or move around much at all (especially bending over), there’s pain, especially if I’m pms-ing…

    are there ways to not wear bras but also not have my boobs move around in ouchy ways?

  6. Thumb up 3

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    I’m pretty busty, but I went without a bra for about six months in college to see if anyone would notice, and I totally thought I was getting away with it until my mom started heckling me to wear one again.

    It’s easy in winter. Wear an undershirt or a cardigan/sweater/hoodie and no one needs to know. I did become a lot less self-conscious about people noticing, but after a while the lack of support started weighing on me. Litrally.

    Then I discovered that soft-cup, no-wire bras exist in my size, and I have fewer complaints about bras now.

  7. Thumb up 2

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    ok, i HATE bras but a) like rachelmonster, general ouch when i’m moving fast or there’s bouncing involved and b) my nipples are REALLY sensitive and not wearing a bra is an all-pain no-pleasure encounter with friction. anyone have thoughts?

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      It might have to do with the material of your shirts!

      This is what I remember: Long-distance runners (especially dudes since they usually haven’t got nipple protectors like bras) sometimes cross the finish line with their nipples bleeding… But! If I recall correctly, it only became a problem with synthetic (moisture-wicking) material became the norm for runners. Cotton, for example, should be fine.

      I can’t speak for the moving fast/bouncing thing. I’m actually usually okay for a short burst of movement unless it’s around my periods. The bouncing happens but doesn’t hurt.

  8. Thumb up 2

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    I hate wearing bras and Hollywood Fashion Secrets Silicone Nipple Cover Ups are my faaaavorite thing ever. They last for an absurdly long time, though not quite long enough for me to be able to recommend them for every day wear. Highly recommend!

  9. Thumb up 3

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    Whoa! Just in time too cause this morning I was in such a hurry to catch the garbage truck I practically ran out the house then when I got to the driveway, my neighbor, his daughter, son in law and grandkid was there. And that kid ALWAYS says hi. I was like thank God I have this box I’m holding in front of me but what do I do when I have to go back and pass by all of them?? I remembered what my wife did one time, cross the arms. But SRSLY tho, WHY bras -.-

  10. Thumb up 2

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    You forgot leotards! That’s what I’ve worn for years and years. Colorful ones or basic black look great under a fabulous, well-cut white shirt of cotton or silk, whichever. They add warmth in winter, but if you get hot you can take the shirt off and still be dressed neatly, which matters if you find yourself in a stuffy room at a friend’s house for dinner, or even in a restaurant. Lycra holds you in nice and snug, and if you like to be a bit girly and/or sexy, they become that if you dress them up a bit with a necklace or whatnot, but if you don’t go for the girly look, they simply say “extra-tidy, clean-lined, and sophisticated,” all without fuss. Perfect.

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    Oh yay! As someone who has been preaching the braless bible to anyone showing vague interest (I have a few happy converts though, and friends who now like to go braless once in a while!), I was waiting for an article like this since the beginning of Bra Week.

    I can honestly say that ditching bras is among the top 5 best decisions I ever made: no more pain and irritation (and a bit more supporting tissue!), no more exasperating shoulder slipping, a freedom of movement in my clothes I hadn’t had since I was a preteen… It just feels right!
    Best of all, it helped me along the way to accept my chest the way it is, instead of trying to masquerade it into nipple-less orbs. I didn’t like bras, but I wore them because they let me hide what I thought was an unsexy breast shape.

  12. Thumb up 22

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    Last time I was supe drunk I took my bra off, but it was all I was wearing, so security asked me to put it back on.

    I’m told I then began educating everyone on why that was sexist.

    Yeah, my drunken mishaps are literally me giving feminism 101 lectures.

    HOW GAY AM I?!

    Pretty gay, considering I was dressed as zombie Jenny Schecter.

  13. Thumb up 1

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    I love this article! I went braless for about a year after ditching my awful bras and it was awesome. I never regretted it– It was empowering and it felt healthyfor my body. I eventually transitioned to sports bras and binders because I wanted a neater and more masculine look, but I really miss the freedom of putting on any shirt without having to deal with a bra… Thanks for reminding me about that!

  14. Thumb up 1

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    Three cheers for this post! I started years ago, gradually easing out of bras because they are just too damn uncomfortable. I’m also blessed with small breasts, so I don’t really need the support of a bra either. I actually get a rash now if I try wearing bras for even a day.

    I have a couple of tight but comfortable black H&M tanks that I could wear under pretty much everything. Which is good for example work where you need to be “appropriate”.

    However, whenever I feel completely comfortable with whatever I’m wearing to go completely bare naked under my shirt, then I rock that look. And honestly, if someone seem uncomfortable from seeing the shape of my nipples through whatever I’m wearing, then I enjoy seeing their discomfort.

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    I finally found these great bra/bandeau hybrids (made so you can wear the straps down like a strapless/bandeau, or up, like a bra) at the Target near my mom’s place and they’re perfect because they’re kinda cute and I don’t feel like I’m wearing a granny bra, but I also don’t feel like I want to escape my skin, because those little slidy things on “real” bras (not to mention the hooks) feel like tacks being jabbed in my skin.

    … and I’m glad I’m apparently not the only one who finds the bandeau/tanktop combination super cute. On one hand, I’m like a twelve-year-old girl, all “oh no my bra is showing!” but on the other hand, I’m like “yeah and I look hot as hell.”

  16. Thumb up 4

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    This is article is showing up at a fortuitous time. I say this with a grain of salt, but

    I’ve been reading about a 15-yr french study where it was shown that bras increase the likelihood of drooping breasts later in life. Something about not building up the pectoral muscles naturally while you are young (i.e. >35)

  17. Thumb up 5

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    I would love a “Make a thing: make your own bandeau” post. Especially if there would be one for really big boobs.

    I’m kinda fed up with “normal” bras because either the wires poke my chest or all of the weight ends up on my shoulders (ouch!) and that even happens with properly fitted bras. Are there even bandeaus for smallish frames with big breasts?

  18. Thumb up 0

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    Digging this post. It’s especially useful now that the weather is warm and I want to continue going braless (as I started doing this winter) but avoid nip issues. I bought some pasties and plan to check them out the next time I wear a tank top or similarly tight item

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