The abandoned bra trope is not something that I have ever understood. I would not leave my bra – certainly not the I.D. Sarrieri one – in anyone’s musty bed no matter how quickly I wanted to scarper. That beloved thing would be accompanying me home come hell or high water! If the mattress had to be upturned at the expense of someone’s slumber to do so then so be it. Lie-ins are a waste of time anyway, I’d exclaim (definitely not believing it myself).
Bras are, evidently, quite important to me. Perhaps as important as Madonna’s Jean Paul Gaultier cone bra was to her nascent career. This might have something to do with the fact that, in certain items of clothing, it is abundantly clear when I am not wearing one. Frankly, it makes me look and feel like a woman who is carrying two water balloons on her person at chest level. While this may well be something fabricated by my crippling social anxiety, the fact remains: bras give me the structure and support I need to feel safe. If I could put one on my whole life I would.
People who dislike bras tend to have a lot to say about how uncomfortable they are. In my opinion, it is only ill-fitting bras that are uncomfortable. If you bother to get properly measured, this becomes less of an issue. Besides, you can’t experience the relief of removing a bra if you aren’t wearing one in the first place. And that’s not a sensation I wish to relinquish in a hurry.
I also like bras for superficial reasons. Why would I deny myself something that I enjoy aesthetically? Especially when – most of the time – only I will know if I’m wearing a particularly nice one. If someone sees mine it’s because I chose to show them. Sure, they might not appreciate its craftsmanship (in fact they almost definitely won't) but ultimately it doesn’t matter because I didn't wear it for them – I wore it for the good of my precious boobs. And me.
I’m wearing a bra to the office. It feels, and not to sound overly dramatic, terrible. Like I’m cheating on a former self, my pandemic self, the one that has become comfortably accustomed to extrapolating this harness over the last year.
Perhaps you can relate to such newfound nerviness? In this time of Deep Reflection, we’ve re-evaluated our lives, shed dead skin (quite literally), questioned all that we thought made us happy but were, really, just exhaustive habits in need of bulldozing. Frankly, strapping myself in never made me happy. It was just something thrust upon me - aged 12, after a rather arduous turn around M&S with my mother. Why I had to resign to covering myself up in such alien and skin-digging apparel forever more was far beyond the reach of tweenage understanding (as Melissa Bank’s girl protagonist in The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing details, “my breasts seemed to say something about me that I didn’t want said.”)
Of course, standing in that hideously bright changing room was the beginning of a journey, being forced to view my body through someone else’s lens. As not merely a physical vessel to move through the world but as something to be concealed, protected, lest it invoke public scrutiny. In later, adult life, as something to be decorated. For whose benefit? Mine? Hindsight points to a distinct ambivalence. I remember an ex gifting me an underwear set one birthday; it left me feeling a bit perturbed, as though this somehow made my body, me, more appealing. More desirable. Like a naked Christmas tree in desperate need of lashings of tinsel before the big reveal. Though it’s unsurprising, for both men and women, to internalise this as a truism, when you consider the optics we’ve been fed over the years, in films to magazines. Last summer, flicking through a friends archive copy of Woman’s Journal in the 1960s I was struck by one advert, for Cupid Bras (“pre-shaped a new way to create the firm, naturally feminine young beauty-look that is fashion now…admired always!”) The tagline: the way to more beauty. God, give us a break.
To be clear, I have no interest in convincing anybody to go braless. Some are exquisitely beautiful artefacts in and of themselves (@illisasvintagelingerie, by way of an example). There’s ornamental value to them, they hold a quasi-liberating, seductive charm. Though, like any piece of cloth you don, it should be an individual pursuit, rather than one guided by a coating of societal shame (as Germaine Greer once said, bras were a “ludicrous invention” but “if you make bralessness a rule, you’re just subjecting yourself to yet another repression.”)
I’m just bored of pretending I like them anymore.
header image | @susansarandon