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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Header by Rory Midhani
I love those weird flower shaped nipple stickers. They have been life savers for me.
Recommendation on where to get them?
Amazon! Just be sure to use the Autostraddle affiliate link.
If you search breast tape they pop right up.
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.
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.
I’d so love to regain the confidence to go braless. I found it a few years ago, but swiftly lost it after some idiot stranger called me a pancake.
Please don’t let one idiot interfere with you and SWEET SWEET FREEDOM.
UGH, stupid people. Same experience here; I get noticeable grimaces and the occasional assholish comment when I go out without a bra for the sagging 49-year-old boobs. I eventually stopped caring. Why should the opinion of a jacka** be of any concern at all to me? I hope you find that place too!
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.
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!
I have done all 5 of these things. And I thought I was alone!
I want so badly to not have to wear a bra daily, but being a big girl with a 40D bust makes it so hard. I’m definitely going to check out bandeaus though!
I second the big boob issue, can’t climb stairs without a bra…pretty sure it’s dangerous for me to do any activity without one…even though I’d love to.
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 =)
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!
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?
Urgh, same here. I get around it mostly with those tank tops that have ‘in-built bras’ (essentially just an extra bit of fabric with elastic around it) that minimise the ouch factor, but going completely supportless is kind of impossible.
It’s definitely not just you, I wear bra size 32G and walking down stairs braless is a special form of torture.
Agreed!!!! 34E stair hell.
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.
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?
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.
And the 6th best alternative to a bra:
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!
Thanks for the tip! Good to know!
All I know is ever since I watched The L Word, I’ve assumed that lesbians in LA never ever EVER wear bras.
I went without a bra for a whole year in my early 20’s. It was pretty fucking great.
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 -.-
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.
But peeing is a nightmare.
I just pull the crotch aside.
They make some with a hook and eye (I think that’s the term?) closure! I wore a few times a week for a year straight because it was so much more comfortable than wearing a bra and I felt like it gave me perfect lines under my clothes. I worked retail at the time and had like 20 seconds to pee and got really good at dealing with the closure, but it’s kind of a pain at first.
I can’t do the pull the crotch aside thing, in swimming suits or anything else I will ALWAYS pee on my hand and/or whatever clothing I’m trying to avoid peeing on. I don’t know if I pee extra boisterously or what.
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.
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.
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!
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.
I swear, I thought your first sentence said, “I began eating out of bras…” Which is a good reason for wearing one, I suppose!
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.”
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)
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?
I swear by plain old clear tape for all backless things. You’d think masking tape for easy removal, but it actually makes weird points under your shirt. The more you know!
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
Glad to find this article and the comments too. I have been 99% braless for a few years now because they make my skin break out – but I have found that my formally supersensitive boobs feel good and rarely hurt anymore(only occasionally with pms).
I normally wear a tank top. I am big chested and it makes some people uncomfortable, like my mom and my friends too. Geez. They accept it, because they have to – but they don’t like it much. This blows me away! Nature made swaying boobs, there is nothing wrong with it, they are beautiful. Why is there this stifled attitude about natural breasts when everything else is so explicit. And why does society think it is more proper to walk around with your boobs marching front and forward, pointing the way?
I have a friend who has mostly given up bras too, she loves it – and she has a friend…
Bras are hot, and I am not saying bras are bad – I just think the discomfort with bralessness is crazy. And it does make me feel uncomfortable too sometimes, but I am not willing to have constant breakouts just to comfort other people over something so ridiculous.
I am so glad to know that so many other women are going braless or else are accepting of it. Let them puppies breathe!
I’m a 40 year old man and I wear a bra. Before you condemn me as a pervert, let me explain. As a teenager, I didn’t go through a typical puberty. Instead of growing muscles and body hair, I growing hips and breasts. That’s when I started wearing a bra to help with my growing pains of my breasts. Fast forward to today, even at female standards, I am quite busty as I wear a 38 G in most of my bras. I just don’t like going bra less because I feel I attract more attention if I let “the girls run wild”. It’s difficult enough to deal with my gynecomastia, but a bra does help.
I don’t want to completely flatten, but I hate the wire and straps of the bra. I could go with a tube top kinda thing, but I am trying to go to more natural organic materials. I am working on designing my own type of bra that’s more natural. If I could make it clasp at my back like a bra but look more like chest wrapping or tube top, would that work??
I was never able to be trained to a bra in my early teens. While the other girls couldn’t wait to get one, I felt as though I was a horse in a harness. I have been braless for 45 years (I’m now 58) and I refuse to be bound. It just feels wrong. I run the gamut of camisoles, tube tops, layers in the winter and mostly nothing to get around other people’s discomfort with naturalness. I’m sorry if you can see my nips. If I wear a padded bra does that mean they don’t exist? (kind of like a tree falling in the forest makes no sound?) I’m freeeeeeee!
I wish I could go braless. But my work. :(
I hated all bras until I found these fruit of the loom seamless sports bras with thin straps. They are cotton and feel so nice and give me support. I’m a B size but my boobs feel slightly uncomfortable when I exercise or move around quickly without a bra. I also wear dresses with low arm holes sometimes and I need something under them otherwise I would be flashing boob and the fruit of the loom ones I like look like camis not a bra so it works for me. I bought 24 of them, I’m not even kidding. I’m afraid they’re going to be discontinued so I stocked up. I would love to go braless (as long as I’m not exercising) but my work is very conservative.
Before I started the job I would just wear camis with a boob shelf I got at the mall.
Without the support of bras, breasts will sag over time beneath their own weight. Bras are used to maintain the perky, youthful attractiveness of plump breasts over a lifetime. Old photographs of some aboriginal or pygmies tribes can be seen illustrating this natural occurrence. So it’s my belief that breast support is important, and even desirable.
However, modern bras are horrid (as are corsets). Although I’m on a search for knowledge myself, the few alternatives I’m currently aware of are bikini like strips of fabric like those the gypsies wore in the 1800’s,and looser corset like things which were worn over german dirndles.
I hate all bras! I’m a 36B but every bra I’ve tried hurts me. Feels too tight around my middle section. If I go a size bigger, it creeps up on me and yet still hurts. I hate shelf bras too as they are uncomfortable. I have a wide back and small stomach so tanks are too tight in the upper section or too loose in the stomach. Pasties are ok for some occasions but side boob shows if sleeves are open. I wish they would make tanks that have cups sewn in but no band that goes around the back side. Anyone know where I can find those? I’ll buy them all!
Thanks for the info! This will help a lot!
I’ve been wearing bras every day since I was 12, and I am now 38 and sick of them. I am tired of the sliding straps, the bands that dig in, the slippage in general, and not to mention, the cost! I also feel like I shouldn’t have to “hide” the shape of that part of my body, since I don’t do that anywhere else. I have a relatively large (not too large but ample) chest, so I am a bit hesitant. But I am really considering going braless, at least on weekends to start. Has anyone else been in my situation and made the transition? I’d be so nervous at the start!
Is there a size limit to going braless? I’m a ddd and like the support so I can breath but, even without underwrite it’s painful even at the correct size.