What is the current social acceptability of going braless?
April 25, 2013 9:44 AM   Subscribe

I don't really like wearing bras. I'm a 32 A/B. Is it generally socially acceptable to go braless?

Are there levels of jobs where this is ok and where it switches to being not ok? Currently I don't wear a bra if I'm wearing a sweatshirt or a thick sweater, but when t shirt season comes along, is it acceptable that nipple shape shows through thinner fabrics? (I would not be going braless in transparent fabrics.) Would I look shabby at a nice restaraunt? I don't have too much jiggling if I use proper posture and I would still wear a light bra for athletic activity, but for the everyday is it socially acceptable in the US to not wear a bra if its somewhat noticable from teh breast / nipple shape? I know that the real answer is that you can do whatever you want, but I'd like to guage how someone else would percieve this.
posted by WeekendJen to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (110 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
No, it's not generally socially acceptable to go braless if it's clear by looking that you're braless. I would think the exceptions center around outdoor activities- tank tops at the beach or park- but at a nice restaurant or almost any job, a bra is expected.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:46 AM on April 25, 2013 [35 favorites]

Hi, I'm really uncomfortable seeing nipples.

I'm 50, so take that into consideration, but there's something that strikes me as unprofessional about braless in an office environment or a nice restaurant.

I have some seamless bras and sometimes, if it's super-cold I see my own nipples and I feel self-conscious.

You're so lucky, I have huge breasts and my bras are like armour and just as comfortable.

You have a lot of great bra choices in your size and they should be comfortable.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:48 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

If people can tell when your nipples are hard through your shirt, then it's generally not socially acceptable. (You will definitely get looks, and probably some comments.) Certainly you can do whatever you like, but you'll definitely get some pushback.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:49 AM on April 25, 2013 [7 favorites]

Generally not socially acceptable, no.

If you don't like bra bras with separate cups and underwires and fasteners, you can buy simple pullover bralettes. Gap makes some nice ones.
posted by payoto at 9:51 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

but you'll definitely get some pushback.

I think it's highly unlikely anyone would ever SAY anything, but they'd probably think it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:52 AM on April 25, 2013 [13 favorites]

It is not acceptable in any professional environment, or when you're wearing a t-shirt where your nipple and/or breast shape shows through.

It is acceptable if you're wearing a casual top OR fancy top OR dress that is specifically designed to be worn braless -- such as a halter top, strapless dress, or the like. But in those cases the material is usually such that your nipples will not show through, and supportive enough to give a more "lifted up" shape.

If you don't like bras but don't mind athletic bras, you might be able to find a bra that isn't so annoying to you. They have "t-shirt bras" and similar items that are less annoying (to some people) than regular bras.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:53 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm trying to think of a professional job where I would not be surprised to see a girl who was clearly going braless and I can't think of one. I work in advertising, and even here, . .yeah. You need to look professional and part of being professional is not having your Upper Lady Landia swingin' in the wind.

It's one of those things that probably no one will say anything to you but it will have an impact on whether you get promoted or get invited to client meetings, get to be client facing, etc. If none of this matters to you, do whatever you want. I realize it ought not to matter, but in reality it does.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:55 AM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

I think it's highly unlikely anyone would ever SAY anything, but they'd probably think it.

Not at a restaurant or on the street -- but this is exactly the type of thing that managers dread having to discuss with their employees.
posted by payoto at 9:57 AM on April 25, 2013 [39 favorites]

I work in a government science research facility where it is ok to wear jeans and t shirts, and I think showing nip shape would be uncomfortable. I can't put my finger on why, it's not that it is necessarily sexual, but it just seems too personal somehow, like going to the bathroom in the office with the door open or making loud, private calls at your desk where everyone can hear.
posted by cakebatter at 10:00 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Maybe I feel differently because I'm in Europe but I don't think it's a big deal. No one cares when men's nipples show through their shirts/t-shirts (do they?) We all have em. Also it just pisses me off - the absolute hypocrisy of a society obsessed with tits, but that doesn't like them being seen when they're just, kind of, there as opposed to selling something/in a music video/etc etc etc. Especially in terms of breast feeding, but I digress. IMO your breasts are small enough to go braless in what you're describing clothes-wise, and still be perfectly acceptable, and actually quite fashionable. Do whatever you feel comfortable with and if someone has a problem deal with it then - or let them deal with it. It's their problem. Women have breasts and don't always feel like strapping them in - this is still shocking to some?
posted by billiebee at 10:01 AM on April 25, 2013 [69 favorites]

An ex-GF had small/medium, quite firm breasts, and often went braless. She typically used stick-on nipple shields. It looked perfectly "normal" (i.e., her girls were under control and she didn't look like a wild woman). I don't think I would have noticed she was braless if I didn't know--she took her time on stairs, didn't generally run on the street (although who does?), accessorized.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:03 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have small breasts as well. I usually wear a cami with a shelf bra if I'm wearing anything that might show the nipples. Works fine. If I'm in a professional or formalish type situation(work, going out to dinner), I'll wear a bra, but the cami works for normal day-to-day stuff like going to store, a bar, hanging out in general.
posted by Epsilon-minus semi moron at 10:03 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here is an Ask A Manager post about a braless coworker.
posted by payoto at 10:04 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree that it would be awkward in an American professional environment if you could tell someone was bra-less. You could try camisole+medium weight button down shirt, and see if its noticeable.
posted by tinymegalo at 10:07 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe I feel differently because I'm in Europe but I don't think it's a big deal. No one cares when men's nipples show through their shirts/t-shirts (do they?)

I am unclear on the OP's location but as a US type I am used to men wearing undershirts beneath their dress shirts, which means I see neither nipples nor chest hair. Living abroad and spending a lot of time with British and Australian men I have had to make a serious mental adjustment to the frequency of visibility of male nipples and chest hair in professional settings. In your average American office, male and/or female nippleage is neither normal nor professional.
posted by olinerd at 10:09 AM on April 25, 2013 [29 favorites]

Of possible interest: Nipples and the presentation of femininity

I would agree with the 'not at work' crowd. (For nipple reasons, not jiggle reasons)

I think small bras are poorly built these days -- most bras are crap, styrofoam-lined weirdness, and if you're making small ones perhaps the theory is that nothing matters as they are purely decorative? (despite generally looking cheap and wretched) -- and I enthusiastically recommend these Fruit of the Loom stretch cotton things which are wonderfully comfortable; no riding up/down issues, thick enough to do what others around you expect a bra to do ('strap them in,' obscure nipples)
posted by kmennie at 10:10 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am a pretty conservative dresser myself (I feel guilty when I don't wear a slip, not that I ever do). But I feel like there may be a little more room...to maneuver...here. If you're a straight-up A cup, I think you can probably go braless everywhere BUT work. At work wear an undershirt.

If you're between A and B, and let's say you lose a little weight and become an A, ok cool.

If you are a B cup, I feel like you're out of luck.

Posture and frame size matter. I am, like k.d. lang says, a big-boned gal from southern Alberta, so even when I'm not overweight, my overall build downplays the boob impact. Sometimes, rarely, I go to the store or out to coffee w/o a bra (36C). But if you're short and/or petite, it is a lot more noticeable.

Also, everyone's nipples are different, come on.

Not to work, though. I feel like work commando is only for AA types.
posted by skbw at 10:10 AM on April 25, 2013

I would be fine with knowing someone was braless, but not seeing nipples. YMMV.
posted by corb at 10:10 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Outside of work do whatever pleases you, but at work please oh please if you go this route also take steps to not make it apparent this is what you are doing. I am a boss type person and in general pretty laid back, but this is kind of a line not to cross. I would feel pretty uncomfrotable about talking to you about it, even as a quick no pressure aside, and you would as well. Yes find something comfortable, or dress in layers or whatever make you comfortable while also not showing nipples/breast deliniation.
posted by edgeways at 10:12 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

In our society it is generally not acceptable to go braless basically anywhere at any time if anyone could ever basically tell. Is this horseshit? Yes, of course it is.

That being said, I think the only place you'd ever get any serious social sanctioning about not wearing a bra is if you're somebody's employee. If you are the power-holder in the temporary relationship (the one ordering the food, patronizing the symphony, whatever), or if there isn't a power relationship (walking by people on the street), I think the most likely response will be silence or maybe the occasional catcall. You can handle that just fine with either a cheerful, "Nipples! Everyone's got 'em!" or a more direct, "Fuck off, dickwad," depending on the tone of the comment. As long as you're comfortable doing that, I wouldn't think you'd encounter any problems. My mother has not worn bras for most of her adult life and no one ever says anything to her face about it. Behind her back? She just gets called a hippie, which, hey, no surprises there.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:12 AM on April 25, 2013 [7 favorites]

[Just a reminder: please use this as a place to answer the OPs question and not start a fight about your own opnions on the matter. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:14 AM on April 25, 2013

Around the same bra size as you, and I find that I do not need a bra for any practical reasons. I wear a lot of camis and tank tops as undershirts instead. There's no *need* for a bra at our size as long as all bits are covered and you're appropriately dressed for work otherwise.
posted by lovelygirl at 10:14 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

My nipples are cutting glass 24/7 because I'm cold unless the temperature is in the 75 degree range so undershirts or bralettes do not conceal them (only padding does). My dislike of bras is not based in issues with bra fitting or being comfortable.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:18 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have significant breasts (I went braless for so many years that I actually don't know my cup size. I guess a C?) Nobody has ever bothered me about it. I make sure the exact breast shape is not legible through my shirt and that there are no visible nipples. Usually a cotton undershirt does it. If your shirt is thick enough (a thicker, slightly looser polo shirt or a sweater), regimental is OK. That worked fine for me back when I was presenting female at work, so I assume it will work for you.
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:19 AM on April 25, 2013

If your work environment is exceptionally casual, as mine is, I think you could get away with going braless if you don't wear clingy or sheer tops and maybe wore something with a built-in shelf bra or a camisole underneath a blouse.

I feel awkward about having visible nipples, and when I choose to go braless - usually because I'm wearing a bra-unfriendly dress, never at work - I sometimes wear those little pasties things. Maybe a pair of those would set your mind at ease?

I'd much rather see visible nipples than ass crack.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:23 AM on April 25, 2013

I've seen many nipples through clothes. I am quite OK with that. I am a lady not in the US.

I find the idea of sticking sticky things over your nipples absolutely ludicrous and faintly horrifying, but I guess that's your culture! If those were somehow obvious at work I would find that distracting.
posted by kadia_a at 10:27 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Would it be acceptable to wear a scarf around your neck (that dangles over your nipples) or a light vest or jacket? I think it is okay to be braless in some workplaces but that quality is generally not advertised. A female-dominated workforce (where you can't be accused of flashing nipples to get ahead) and a workplace that does not have face to face interactions with customers (to avoid innapropriate comments from customers) would be something to look for - especially if it is a position that values brains more than looks.
posted by saucysault at 10:27 AM on April 25, 2013

I would not care one whit. I work in an academic setting, and I see students in all sorts of different dress, so that is probably why. (I once had to tell a student to put on a shirt. That was a little much.)

Nthing people who are saying go for those little pasties that can cover up hard nipples, since apparently (based on a lot of the answers) you are going to make some folks uncomfortable. This is probably a decent compromise.
posted by King Bee at 10:28 AM on April 25, 2013

I have much bigger breasts than you so don't have this as an option - but at a BBQ or something I'd rather see someone in a backless dress with no bra and boob jiggle than see the back of their bra (seriously why do people wear regular bras with open/backless tops? ick!). Don't think braless is a big deal casually/among friends.

At work I would think this is sloppy and unprofessional though.

Also, I'm bewildered that people don't think people will comment on their nipples in the street. Has happened to me several times, along with general comments about whatever my boobs are doing.
posted by sweetkid at 10:29 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Sports bras! They make them with padding now, which will both solve your problem and definitely reduces the uniboob side effect. They are super comfortable, and are actually pretty cute. I wear them under tank tops or teeshirts to the office (I am a grad student and am not on campus a lot, but I dress semi-nice when I do go in).
posted by k8lin at 10:32 AM on April 25, 2013

I think if you are dressed otherwise appropriate to your environment (where i work women do not wear t-shirts for example) nipples exist and they wouldn't be an issue here. I am a guy, i don't wear t-shirts and for whatever reason my nipples always stick out. i got over it and no one has ever made reference to it (And i work with the kind of people who WOULD even in jest.) again, for me, its all about the general appropriateness of what you are wearing.
posted by chasles at 10:34 AM on April 25, 2013

Regarding the nipple action, one of my coworkers has extremely erect nipples 24/7. When other coworkers are talking about her, they typically don't even say her name, they just point their fingers straight out at bust level. I personally would not want to be known as the nipple lady so in your place I would ensure that they were covered when at work.

My breasts are approximately the size of my head so it is uncomfortable for me to go without a bra, but at home and sometimes when I go to bed I wear cami style "sports bras" from Target. They come in cute colors and while they can't possible work as sports bras for me, they make pretty nice leisure bras. I wonder if that cami pull on style would work for your concerns as well.
posted by crankylex at 10:40 AM on April 25, 2013 [13 favorites]

No one cares when men's nipples show through their shirts/t-shirts (do they?)

I have heard multiple women, including my wife, express a vague 'ugh' sort of comment about seeing men's nipple shape and/or hair (when the cloth is not entirely opaque) though dress shirts. These are not overly prissy women, though they certainly are more clothing/fashion oriented than a tshirt&jeans type like me.

I think you're probably on the edge of issue here; in our overly air-conditioned US world it's not remotely uncommon for me to see women who have the same reaction to the chill that you do, and I see nip even through bras. But I've heard others make the "she needs a padded bra" sort of comment.

As a straight man I find the visible nipple shape erotically pleasing and I know I'm not unusual in that regard. That's on us, not you, but if you're asking about perception, there you go. I don't think an ethical workplace should set standards on people based on the male gaze but I think many do. I don't think an ethical person alters their professional interactions with someone based on their erotic reactions to them, but many do.
posted by phearlez at 10:47 AM on April 25, 2013 [14 favorites]

An ex-GF had small/medium, quite firm breasts, and often went braless. She typically used stick-on nipple shields.

This is a great idea, if you would be ok with wearing nipple shields. Then you don't have to wear a bra but it's not obvious.

If you're between A and B, and let's say you lose a little weight and become an A, ok cool.

If you are a B cup, I feel like you're out of luck.

I want to comment on this because bra cup sizes don't work the way most people think they do. There is no B cup size that is the same for all women, because cup size is not an absolute measure of volume. Cup size is relative to band size. Smaller band sizes have smaller cup sizes. You've said you're a 32 A/B, which is a pretty small band size, so your breasts are also pretty small. I don't think you actually need a bra for support.
posted by medusa at 10:50 AM on April 25, 2013 [11 favorites]

This is obviously quite different in the US (I'm in Europe), but just one the "how to" side of things, I also tend to wear tight vests/camisoles to keep things in place. Instead of those nipple pasties I have been known to stick standard plasters over them (but then my nipples rarely show tbh).

(Also we've had this men's undershirts / chest hair discussion on here before, right? Sounds sooo familiar.)
posted by ClarissaWAM at 10:56 AM on April 25, 2013

Yeah, I don't know anyone who'd be comfortable with obvious visible nipples (male or female) in a professional setting. Seconding the idea of a soft, padded sports bra.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:57 AM on April 25, 2013

Smaller band sizes have smaller cup sizes

Not really. I'm a 32 and um...a lot bigger than B/C.
posted by sweetkid at 10:59 AM on April 25, 2013

I think medusa meant that a B cup on a 32 band is smaller than a B cup on a 36 band and so on.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:02 AM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

I suppose it depends a lot on your workplace culture. I've worked at jobs where this would be a total "the boss will end up talking to you about this if it goes on all week" and also a place where it wouldn't be abnormal at all. (The latter had a vibe that was ... hmm ... youngish / unreformed hippie / pretty liberal.) It only takes one uncomfortable coworker to turn it into an issue for your management, though, so probably best to read the place carefully.
posted by introp at 11:02 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I want to strongly object to the idea that you need to resort to padded/underwire bras lest there is any visible indication of a nipple.

If you're wearing an undershirt or a bralette, you've done enough to meet the social norm and everyone else can just deal.

PS: these are best of the Gap pullover bra/bralettes linked above
posted by mercredi at 11:02 AM on April 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

I'm a fairly liberal woman in Canada and very much a "to each their own" person. In general, at least.

When women don't wear bras it makes me uncomfortable. I never think of them as liberated or casual. I think of them as hypersexualized because any jiggling and nipple action simply draws a LOT of attention, probably much more than you think it would. People pretty much always comment once they are out of ear shot, and it isn't "She is classy" or "She seems really smart". I know that it shouldn't be that way, but every time I have seen a woman go braless in public I have seen eyerolls and people trying REALLY HARD to divert their eyes and also people staring/leering. I have heard every sort of comment from "That just isn't appropriate..." to "Man, look at those tits!" to "That's just gross.". For some people it gets REALLY uncomfortable because they really don't want to focus on it or notice it, but seriously it is a big stinking elephant in the room. Everyone seems to notice.

It isn't just the nipples I don't think, but a lot of it is the movement and jiggling of the breasts. We aren't used to seeing that kind of movement there and everyone's eyes just get drawn to it. It is like the T-Rex in Jurrasic park, only instead of delicious people it is boobs. Impossible to ignore boobs. And it doesn't take much sideways jiggling to trigger people's inner T-Rex. It is awkward. I don't think you want your boss and co-workers and clients' focus be on your chest instead of on your work, but it will be.

Going bra-less is going to garner a lot of attention and it probably isn't attention you want. It isn't positive. In my 30+ years I have only seen either 1) leering/sexual reactions or 2) discomfort/disapproval/disgust.

FWIW I am a big chested lady and for a long while I was wearing shirts that were prety low cut cleavagey. When I wore more work appropriate clothes I found that all my co-workers (men and women alike) seemed much more comfortable around me and took me more seriously. I really think going bra-less is on the same page as that, maybe to an even greater degree.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:04 AM on April 25, 2013 [17 favorites]

What medusa's saying is that the "B" in a 32B is much, much smaller than the "B" in a 38B. Cup sizes vary by band size.

Anyway, I'm about the same size as the poster and will occasionally go with a snug-fitting undershirt instead of a bra under non-formfitting clothing in a professional environment. (Under a buttoned shirt and suit jacket, who'd know?) If you can look at yourself in the mirror and not see a visual difference, do what you want.
posted by asperity at 11:04 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

No nips at work.
posted by rmless at 11:10 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think it's fine to go braless at that size. The nipple thing is the problem-I'd wear an undershirt at least- but I'm in the same boat as you about the temperature. I wear a bra and usually a shirt or two and they're still totally noticeable, but I've gone as far as I'm willing to go to accommodate other people's comfort level. It helps that I'm in the East Bay (San Francisco East Bay), so our office isn't formal.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:11 AM on April 25, 2013

An article I found really interesting, about "sister sizes," or the relative cup/band sizes. The graphic is an eye-opener.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:13 AM on April 25, 2013 [16 favorites]

I'd recommend you try something like Nippies.

I'm about the same size as you, hate wearing bras, and wear Nippies almost every day. They last quite a while, I just wash mine with hand soap and air dry every few days. They come with adhesive or not. Highly recommended!
posted by desertface at 11:14 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Erect female nipples/jiggling breasts = sexual arousal to most straight males. Public sexual arousal is generally frowned upon in the USA. So I would say not acceptable.
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:30 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

You're going to get a lot of differing opinions--but the fact that enough people react with horror should be a sufficient sign that being obviously braless at work will be problematic.

Unsupported breasts look and move differently under clothes--whether you have visible nipples or not, whether they are small breasts or not. If you want to minimize disapproval or other negative consequences at work, you'll need something between your body and your clothes. A cami with a shelf bra or a snug tank top (under your shirt, obvs., not on its own) or a yoga bra might be a good compromise in warmer months. In the colder months, just layering shirts under sweaters is probably enough.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:34 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Contra the apparent consensus here, I (and apparently a significant chunk of my social circle) think it's totally fine and not that uncommon for small-breasted women to go braless. Depending on context and the rest of the outfit, this can look shabby, or it can look sexualized, or it can look unremarkable.

Workplaces are more of a "go along with the existing culture/dress code" thing, though, which in most cases is going to mean erring on the side of covering up.
posted by ook at 11:37 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

As far as what to wear on the job, I don't think you can (or should, really) get around the current office culture, even if you're comfortable with it. But if I saw you at a nice restaurant, or just out and about? As long as you are dressed appropriately for the venue, this particular Honey badger wouldn't give a shit.

I have a real problem with society at large telling women with larger nipples that their bodies are somehow obscene, shocking, or inappropriate and they need to be shamed into masking them completely with band-aids or extra padding. However, that is the current state of things, and bucking that norm will probably cause people to comment on or think about it.

On preview, I agree with mercredi on my last point.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:40 AM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

The only time it's acceptable to go braless is when no one can tell you're braless.
posted by Kololo at 11:45 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Look at it this way: there's a reason celebrity pictures of braless screen-caps or erect nipple pics are so common and apparently interesting for people. I think someone assaulted me with one of Jennifer Anniston in a tank top the other day or was it of David Hasselhoff? Ugh.

It draws attention and focus from the person and the situation and is distracting even if it's just someone shopping at Whole Foods on a Saturday afternoon. This is probably why people are saying "keep it covered" because people notice, they look, they talk and sometimes it's just easier to avoid making a spectacle of oneself from something perfectly natural, normal and innocuous.

This is why we can't have nice tits.
posted by loquat at 12:02 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I just want to say: I had no idea that I have been causing so much discomfort when not wearing a bra on the weekends! My apologies for the pain my visible nipples have caused.

Just kidding. I don't give a shit. Wear whatever you want, OP, but be careful 'round the office.

It draws attention and focus from the person and the situation and is distracting even if it's just someone shopping at Whole Foods on a Saturday afternoon.

This may just be a function of living in LA where there are attractive people everywhere, and attractive people dressed ridiculously everywhere - a young woman in platform boots and a leather mini skirt at Ralph's the other night - but: Really?
posted by ablazingsaddle at 12:08 PM on April 25, 2013 [13 favorites]

As a straight woman...confronted with guys in tight pants...must I spell it out...it doesn't make me unable to work, but it IS distracting, no two ways about it. I don't feel the same way about guys' nipples.

Now. Thought experiment for the OP. Do you CARE if you have that effect on some, if not all, colleagues and/or people around you?

If you truly don't care, then maybe get a trusted friend (maybe 1 M and 1 F?) to vet your proposed office compromise outfits.
posted by skbw at 12:15 PM on April 25, 2013

When I was smaller (36A) I went braless most of the time, but not with t-shirts or other clingy clothes. My answer to the nipple dilemma was shirts with front pockets, especially if those pockets were embroidered (I loved my guayabera!). If the pockets didn't quite do the job, a couple of band-aids did. I was also a big fan of vests and jackets. No one ever mentioned anything to me or reacted in a way that suggested that it was obvious or distracting.
posted by ceiba at 12:24 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have several friends who are in the A cup-ish size range like you, who basically never wear bras. One of them specifically I'm pretty sure simply never does. And you know what? I didn't even notice until one day when she was only wearing a tshirt, and I had known her for years. I seriously think some people are overestimating how noticeable this is. If someone already knows you aren't they're going to be specifically looking for telltale signs they're going to go "AHA!", but I bet if they were told someone wearing one of those tshirt/thin fabric Aa type bras might not be wearing one they'd call that too.

It's kind of a confirmation bias thing with a lot of people I think, who are overestimating their ability to notice. Especially guys. As long as no one can blatantly see your nipples you'll be fine, that's how she flew under the radar essentially forever.

As a side note I love the ratio of people here going "I'd be able to tell!" To the people who've actually done it saying no one could tell. I'm firmly on that side, if you're not just wearing a tshirt.
posted by emptythought at 12:27 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I started work at a university as a Teaching Assistant, our week-long orientation featured a moment where the women were told they should probably wear bras while teaching.

And in the years since, when people have chosen not to (tenured professors, so not subject to TA oversight), there has been talk. Sigh.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:30 PM on April 25, 2013

I know plenty of people, both small and large of bust (myself included) who do not always wear a bra.
posted by aniola at 12:33 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

[Stop arguing, stop provoking arguments. More helpful less judgey, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:38 PM on April 25, 2013

Where are you located?

Putting the restaurant part aside, what kind of professional environment do you work in?

This question is about standards of decorum.

Nobody is going to care if some female engineer in the bay area or austin goes braless.

Admins in professional contexts aren't even allowed to wear jeans, let alone t-shirts.

Fancy restaurants don't let me wear ratty shorts and a tshirt or flipflops; so yes, being braless will probably get looks in that context in the same way that being underdressed in other ways will.

Context is everything and the post has none.
posted by rr at 12:43 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

wear a tank and call it good. Seriously - I work in a very professional environment and know from confidences that several of my high-ranking co-workers (similarly sized) don't even own a bra. They just go the tank route and it's good. I have never noticed, and I don't believe any of our co-workers have either. I think many many of the comments up thread about how it's always noticeable are talking about much larger chests. I think you're fine.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:58 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am impressed by all you band-aid wearers. There is no way I'm ripping band-aids off every night. Jesus.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:05 PM on April 25, 2013 [7 favorites]

I personally work in a warehouse office where there is no dress code except as it applies to safety and not looking completely rediculous (like no spaghetti straps, no hot pants). Jeans and tshirts are completely acceptable. I actually tend to dress nicer because...well because I want to so i usually wear slacks or a skirt and some sort of blouse.


I wanted this question to be general and not too specifically tied to my current state.

Also, some background on the question (which makes some of the answers really enlightening). My boyfriend came from Russia 7 years ago. HE noticed that I always take off my bra at home and usually don't wear one on the weekend but had a but load of them and was wondering why. So i explained how i wear them to work and hate it (padding feels like a prosthetic) to hide my nipples. He thought i was being overly obsessive about protruding nipples and said its a regualr thing for small ladies like me to not wear a bra and visible nipples are just something that happens if its cold or whatever and its totally normal and natural. We there were debating on whether its immodest or not and how acceptable it is. HE seemed to think thath it was acceptable if your nipples are visibly protruding if you are elsewise appropriately dressed for the situation you are in. While i thought thath the whole no nipple thing was a given, i hate it as it reeks of something to cause unecessary shame and worry to females and to feed into an industry built around such shame. but i put up with it because...money. Definitely seems to be an American phenominon.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:06 PM on April 25, 2013 [10 favorites]

I'm not wearing bras (and I'm a D cup). The end. But then I never cared about social acceptability, which seems to be exponentially worse in America concerning bralessness than in Europe. Only person to ever give me shit about it here was my sister (tut-tut). I like to wear undershirts/tanktops in winter.
posted by ZeroAmbition at 1:09 PM on April 25, 2013

Cool, I hadn't answered yet because you specified the US in your original question.

I'm also small; 38AAA small. By measurement, because bras that size I've tried - the few that exist on the planet, anyhow - do not fit. At all. Nor do 36AAA. It's yet another reason I started sewing my own clothes, actually; sports bras and bralets only go so far before looking childish under professional clothes. So, when I sew dresses and tops, I sew in an extra layer on the bust, as needed (it's not always). Problem solved.

I work in a consulting company currently, with 200-odd employees, and as a client-facing employee I've also been onsite at major French companies. A while back, when I was going through a nipple-conscious stage (after trying out two specially-ordered, expensive AAA-cup bras that did.not.fit), I looked around me. I saw nipple outlines on everyone save a rare few, including women with padded bras, and men wearing undershirts.

I asked around me discreetly (discreetly!!) and got chuckles from respected, client-facing women who said every woman they know, themselves included, goes bra-less at least occasionally. On the job. A lot like your boyfriend said: as long as you're appropriately dressed, everyone knows we're human.

Ever since then, I've simply respected my own comfort level, which is covering up enough that only a mild outline shows. I've even had remarks that I dress too prudishly, yes, at the office, which probably has to do with necklines and skirt lengths, since I don't go short.

And since professional reputation has been brought up... I have had regular promotions in spite of coming from a state no one here knows of, a university no one has heard of (for my BA) in this very degree-oriented culture, and being a foreigner in the most xenophobic part of France. In a French company. (I'm not an expat, meaning, I was not sent here by an American company; I've done it all on my own.) Never had any remarks, not even casual, including catcalls, about my breasts. (I get catcalls for, ahem, other parts. Don't get me started on the lack of pantylines here. Gasp. ;) )
posted by fraula at 1:34 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

As a male, I would hate seeing this especially in a work situation. It would draw my attention to the nipples of the person I was talking to and make me seem unprofessional. I try hard to make sure that I don't make women feel objectified in their personal interactions with me (ie, by looking them in the eye, not checking out their body, etc) and it would be much more difficult if I felt the other person's nipples were erect and "staring" at me through the shirt.

If you want to go braless, have you considered simply using nipple tape? That would greatly reduce the "nipple exposure" effect, and since your breasts aren't especially large (relatively speaking) I don't think jiggling would be a major factor here.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:38 PM on April 25, 2013

I want to strongly object to the idea that you need to resort to padded/underwire bras lest there is any visible indication of a nipple.

If you're wearing an undershirt or a bralette, you've done enough to meet the social norm and everyone else can just deal.

I wear a bralette in the office and sometimes yes, it is noticable that it's just stretchy fabric and not a vacuformed foam molded breast-shaped prosthesis. It's actually making me slightly sick to my stomach that so many people (including women!) would be so judgemental, but life is too short to capitulate to the haters.

I did used to not wear anything and found that sometimes (i.e. cold days) I was personally uncomfortable (crossing my arms in front of my chest, etc) so I think that's the metric you should go by.
posted by Juliet Banana at 1:38 PM on April 25, 2013 [10 favorites]

If people can tell when your nipples are hard through your shirt, then it's generally not socially acceptable.

I can't go braless at any time including while swimming (cup-size swimwear ftw) and you can tell when mine are even through a jumper. Is this a major faux-pas then?

I don't personally like to have visible underwear around/through my clothing - no deep-cut armholes or keyhole backs happening here - so there are times when going braless would be a great option to have. I have to say I've never noticed anyone going braless unless their shirt is sheer or close-to.
posted by mippy at 1:55 PM on April 25, 2013

I am also small-breasted.

Have you tried pasties or breast petals? You can also buy silicone ones that are reusable. I wore them for my wedding under my dress, and they weren't uncomfortable at all! It feels like you're wearing nothing, but you don't get nipple showing through.

You can also try to find shirts or things that have built in cups?

I think the only acceptable place for nipple-age is maybe in a swimming suit or at the gym - but I hate it there too and I wear padded sports bras. Personally I just find it distracting, even if mens nipples are poking through.
posted by Crystalinne at 1:59 PM on April 25, 2013

Honestly, there are a lot of things that we do (more for women but men to) to present ourselves in public and especially at work that are not totally comfortable or in sync with our own personal style. For example, I blow-dry my hair and put on makeup every day because I want to look presentable. I'm fortunately that I don't have to dress up (I work at a tech company in San Francisco) but I still try to look like an adult who cares about my appearance. I think it's clear from the responses here (which I agree with) that even if wearing a bra isn't something you enjoy, you need to do it because it's the societal norm. Unfortunately, being all "damn the man" doesn't get you very far in the workplace.
posted by radioamy at 2:05 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

This thread is astonishing.

I'm also very small-chested---probably 30not-quite-A at this point, so I wear 32A bras. My boobs shrunk a bunch after I stopped nursing. So after I stopped nursing, and my boobs were really small, I figured why wear a bra? So I stopped. And then I was mortified when a student decided it was a good idea on a student evaluation to say I needed to wear a bra. (This is why I wish there were a "respond anonymously" option on the green.) So now I do. But it's not something I pay attention to for other people.
posted by leahwrenn at 2:06 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

My feeling on visible nipples is that they are acceptable under all the same circumstances as visible armpit hair. If a hairy-armpitted coworker in a tank top would be fine in your place of work, then go for it; if not, wear a tank or a cami or something. In my experience, even if a camisole doesn't totally HIDE the headlights, it acts as enough of a damper to make things OK.
posted by KathrynT at 2:37 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

[One comment deleted. People obviously disagree, but please be decent to people on the other side. Also please don't widen this up into a broader discussion of women's general grooming/dress travails.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:37 PM on April 25, 2013

Nice restaurant, yes - it is acceptable to be sexy and/or comfortable and/or dress for yourself in that or just about any situation...except maybe work. I despise bras and avoid them whenever possible but if you have prominent nipples you may be out of luck when it comes to work. If nipples weren't an issue I'd say go for it.

I long for the day when this will not be the case. I've been in countries where everyone walks around in dental floss bikinis and still manages to have conversations with each other without focusing on omg omg boobies!!!! At least in the US, we're not there yet.
posted by walla at 3:03 PM on April 25, 2013

I think this really depends on what your job is.

If you work in a corporate environment, probably not.

I didn't wear a bra for years in a more casual work environment (film production) and I doubt anyone ever noticed. Certainly nothing was ever said to me, and there were people making far worse sartorial faux pas.

That said, agreed with others that visible nipples are bad form, and if your breasts are overly jiggly, you might need to wear a bra.

In a nice restaurant, as long as you look like whatever you're wearing otherwise is classy and presentable, I don't think it's an issue at all. I mean, if not wearing a bra makes you look like someone on the People Of Walmart website, wear a bra.

I would say that, in general, you want your breasts to not really be noticeable at all. If going without a bra makes your breasts noticeable, you should probably be wearing one.
posted by Sara C. at 3:09 PM on April 25, 2013

"I wanted this question to be general and not too specifically tied to my current state."

Yeah, the problem is that there is no general "culture." There are different rules in different places. Like, I'm in LA, and work with a bunch of 20-year-olds, and a significant portion of them come to work braless. I also see women braless all the time here, especially in the current fashion for the blouses that are just a front square of silk, and in sun dresses. I also know more than a few hippy women back in the Midwest that just go without because they don't like them.

So, like, at my current job? People dress professionally but also with a fair amount of flair and flirt, including the men. It's not a big deal, and after a bit you get over it. My girlfriend works in a much more conservative environment, so wears bras to work, and hates getting catcalled by assholes on the street, so wears bras out.

There's no one "socially acceptable," there's no one culture, there's no one context. Sucks that your underwear is part of a hotly contested zone of culture and that people police women's bodies, but I do think that's part of the discussion on bras and perception.
posted by klangklangston at 3:13 PM on April 25, 2013 [8 favorites]

I agree with klang. The question as posed can't really be answered by any of us, because there is simply too much variation in what is considered socially acceptable. Even giving us your state won't necessarily narrow it down sufficiently. I can walk out my door and see nipples galore, in public and private spaces, and it's cool; but I could drive a few scant miles in several directions, and prominent nipples would get you some serious frowny-faces.

Best suggestion would be to trust the evidence of your senses. Go without a bra, and take a read on how people are responding. Body language included. Based on that, if you are sensing that your breasts are causing consternation, you can decide for yourself whether to modify your bra-less behavior.

Really, this one is up to you, and how you value your comfort and freedom of bodily expression vs. social "norms".
posted by nacho fries at 4:13 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I worked in an US office with international employees. There was a background culture divide on this issue with the ladies from the US never doing it and the lady from Europe doing it occasionally. I found it distracting and vaguely inappropriate, though it wasn't something I thought about that often other than when I could see them.
posted by vegartanipla at 5:14 PM on April 25, 2013

I think it's all about your personal comfort level.

Like, *should* I feel uncomfortable if I know my nipples are showing through my shirt? No! *Do* I feel uncomfortable if I know my nipples are showing through my shirt? Yes! Indeed just thinking about how I would feel if my nipples were showing through my shirt is making me hyper-conscious of my nipples, to the point where I suspect they may currently be visible through my bra, camisole, and button-down shirt. But that's me. Maybe you feel different.

I don't have a problem with other women going braless, but I think it's a very specific fashion choice (in the US, anyway). Most of the obviously braless women I see read as either hipster or straight-up hippie.
posted by mskyle at 5:31 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

If I were you I think I'd want to settle the question of "can anyone tell." If you have a girlfriend or family member who is good at being frank and not the sort to lie to spare your feelings, try a few things on with her and ask.

It's been a long time since I was an A, but I remember wearing bras only occasionally. Of course my middle school years are far from a style guide, but I'm pretty sure my mom would have made me go back inside and put on a bra at the merest hint of immodesty.

How about cardigans for the office? I'm no authority but experimenting with layers seems like the way to make this work.
posted by bunderful at 6:46 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I already commented, but here is another way you may be able to self-evaluate.

Do you find underwear lines distracting or inappropriate?
What about if the edge of your bra shows under a t shirt?
Or a lacy bra showing under a t-shirt?
Are tight pants that show too much or go "up" places distracting to you?

These seem to be on the same level. Some people may have a problem with it, others might not but it's up to you overall.

I am very self conscious about these things, and do my best to now show them, that includes nipples. Therefore I notice it on other people. I do have my own exceptions, such as I'd rather have panty lines under yoga pants than run with my butt jiggling. I think it's completely up to you, and obviously everyone has a different opinion.
posted by Crystalinne at 6:54 PM on April 25, 2013

As others have noted, context is very important here. FWIW, I am from SoCal, am pretty liberal/sex+/body+/etc, and there are certain contexts in which I am totally unperturbed by fellow ladies going bra-less, and then there are others where my immediate reaction is to view the bra-less person as being slovenly or unprofessional. At the beach? Attending a non-classical concert like Coachella or Lollapalooza? In a sundress? No big D. I sort of expect to see bra-less women in those scenarios. Out shopping? At work? Eating dinner at any restaurant? Exercising? Please be wearing a bra. Mostly I think I'm really sensitive to people's silhouettes and I happen to pay a LOT of attention to people's body language when I'm trying to suss out things when interacting with others, and bra-less women tend to trigger something "off" for me. That's just how I am though, and I try to weigh a lot of factors before making a judgement about that person now that I'm more conscious of it.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:42 PM on April 25, 2013

I think if you're a small breasted woman (in the US), in a setting where you're wearing jeans and a T-shirt, and you are in your 20s it is socially acceptable to go braless pretty much whenever. Some people will notice and be judgy, but it is extremely common and very unremarkable. If you are wearing slacks and a blouse or other officewear, I think you become boob-protection-obligated, whether that's a bra, or a cardigan, or a buttoned blazer, or something. (In fact, in my 20s I had friends who wore suit jackets in preference to wearing a bra!)

However, as you get into your 30s and beyond, the acceptable public non-bra-wearing times become fewer and it stops looking like "casual college student" and starts having more of an inappropriately sexual vibe, just because women are expected to be more ... matronly, I guess? as they age. Casual bodily displays in your 20s that are totally unremarkable start to become sexually charged in your 30s. (I am sure there is a patriarchy dissertation in here about why relatively innocent displays of secondary sexual characteristics become "inappropriate" as women age.) So maybe you can go to the grocery store or take your kid to the park braless, but if you're meeting people for a picnic lunch, you probably have to wear one. If your vibe is "aging hippie" and you are okay with that, you can get away with it pretty much forever. For many women, not wearing a bra becomes more noticeable as they age as their boobs and bodies change shape, so I'm sure that's part of it.

Nipples show, though, that is just boobs being boobs. If you're wearing padded bras to hide nipples and that's uncomfortable, I think you're fine with unpadded bras. For whatever reason if you're wearing a bra and you're nipping out that is SOMEHOW OKAY because you've made the bra effort whereas if you're NOT wearing a bra then it's sexual? It makes no sense, but that's how it is. Unless you are presenting at the Oscars (in which case your stylist should be spending money on proper foundation garments), you've fulfilled your part of the nipple-related social contract by making the bra-wearing effort (or wearing a cardigan/jacket/whatever), whether your bra is padded or sheer. You've done your part, ignore the nips.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:43 PM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

I am a manager. I couldn't care less, and it wouldn't make me feel uncomfortable. I also would think less of someone who would have a problem with it.

Trouble is, someone would have a problem with it. Either a coworker or one of my bosses. And now I've got to deal with it. And that's going to be the second worst work conversation I would ever have (second to having to tell a black guy not to say the n-word in the office, on MLK Day.)
posted by spaltavian at 8:07 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Hey this thread is fascinating! I had no idea nipples were such a thing for people. I, personally, think bras are all about jiggle control. So, in my opinion, if you don't jiggle without a bra, I don't think one is necessary. In other words, I'm kind of saying what kololo said: if no one can tell your braless, then it's probably fine to go braless.

On the other hand, I don't notice a lot of nipples in the world, and I'm realizing suddenly that's because everyone wears padded bras? I don't think this was always so. Does any one else remember how in the 90s suddenly all the mannequins had nipples that showed through the clothes? That was remarkable to me and my pals. Anyway, I am a 36D, and I pretty much always wear a bra. I have a couple of very structured dresses with tight bodices and off the shoulder situations that I wear braless. The structure contains the jiggle.

On the other hand, I don't wear padded bras at all, ever, because I think they are really weird (and I don't need the extra volume, thank you very much) so possibly I am offending everyone all the time with my nipples and totally destroying the good will I am building by taming the jiggle. My nipples are fairly flat, though, and I'd have to be freezing for them to really call attention themselves, so maybe that excuses things? I'm curious about whether any degree of nipple outline view is acceptable to people or if they are completely verboten.
posted by La Marquise Marionette de Chaussette at 8:31 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am a middle-aged American woman who has a love-hate relationship with bras, and this is my two cents. I don't want to see your nipples, but I don't care whether you cover them with thick fabric, layers, padding, or pasties - you're keeping them to yourself, so it's not my business how.
Bigger-breasted women who wear inadequate bras make me flinch, because sympathetic pain. But they evoke my pity, not my censure or arousal.
posted by gingerest at 8:43 PM on April 25, 2013

I wear padded bras for this reason (American, thirties, academic). Should you? I don't know. I don't really think I should, but I do anyhow. I have no interest in having bigger breasts, I am actively *angry* about the nipple situation-- I don't think anyone has any right at all to be uncomfortable by another fully clothed human-- and I still wear the padded bras.

Why? Well, in high school I often skipped the bra (I was a swimmer. There were nipples. So it went). Then some ass my freshman year in college kept pointing them out, so I started wearing bras, and he shut up. Unpadded bras, though.

Which in my case weren't enough. A few years ago, a friend I've known since college and I were talking about something related, and he mentioned how I never wear a bra. I said "yes I do, I have since halfway through freshman year in college"... and that's when it got massively uncomfortable.

So I am angry, angry, angry. But I wear the damn padded bras now. Even though I think the reason people are uncomfortable with it is because most people hide their nipples, so they think nipples are unusual. Even though I think the only way to change the situation would be for a critical mass of people to stop trying to hide their nipples. Maybe it makes me a bad person for caving to the patriarchy, but whatever, I wear the damn padded bras. (And every so often the damn things are still visible. In that case I just glare deeply at anyone who says anything, because I'm not wearing steel armor, no matter how offended anyone might be at the suggestion of a nipple.)
posted by nat at 9:05 PM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think it's really dependent on your work environment, personally I would never do it. But even if you work in a place that's tolerant enough of it...hey, you might not care if it draws attention to your nips. That might be something you are comfortable with. Because it will. This thread clearly shows that some people will think it's appropriate, some people will be picturing you topless, some people won't give a shit.

I wouldn't be comfortable risking that kind of attention, so I would only go braless unless it was completely impossible to tell that I wasn't wearing a bra. Besides, I'm always cold.
posted by inertia at 9:38 PM on April 25, 2013

This question should be filed under cultural differences between USA and Europe.

"If going without a bra makes your breasts noticeable" - breasts shouldn't be noticeable? Pity the poor owners of such obtrusive features.

To be serious for a minute, I think small breasts are more noticeable in a bra than not. Uplift and separation and whatnot.
posted by glasseyes at 9:54 PM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'd probably tease you about it if we were friends but beyond that wouldn't care.
posted by spunweb at 9:58 PM on April 25, 2013

I would say that, in general, you want your breasts to not really be noticeable at all. If going without a bra makes your breasts noticeable, you should probably be wearing one.

I think this is kind of the key for more formal professional settings: non-noticeability. In some cases, the bra itself may be more noticeable than a lack of bra. I agree with other commenters that this is totally sexist/stupid though. Also that, outside of more formal/professional work settings, this falls into the category of other people's problems that I would encourage you not to care about.
posted by eviemath at 10:21 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just would like to offer a counter-point to the consensus here. My mother went to Barnard, burned her bra in 1965, and never donned another one except when breastfeeding her two children - one when she was 29, one at 39. She's now pushing 70 and still not wearing a bra.

She was in publishing and this did not hold her back; she is a very professionally accomplished woman. (Married, I would add, to a very corporate lawyer.) Her style was basically set by Halston in around 1979; I remember a lot of silk blouses and clothing that looked like this, and you could definitely tell it was braless and there was definitely no obscuring of nipple.

I just find it really unsettling that standards for women's attire have become more oppressive and more patrolled the last 30 years rather than less so.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:02 AM on April 26, 2013 [20 favorites]

So, I don't care whether or not you wear a bra. I don't like them, either. If you're worried about being the subject of gossip, workplace or otherwise, because your nipples show, you could try sticking bandaids on them.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 2:13 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am fascinated by this thread. Amending my opinion above - I would probably spend more time unwillingly and uncomfortably thinking about your embodiment if I could see band-aid shapes than if I saw nipples. And definitely this takes up under a tenth of a percent of my brain space dedicated to encountering other people, even in the workplace, plus I have known lots of people whose wardrobe decisions made me uncomfortable whose work was superlative, so do keep it in perspective, OP. I would think ill of you forever if you stole my yogurt out of the work fridge, but your visible areolas are not going to inspire more than a tiny bit of entirely inner awkwardness.
posted by gingerest at 3:23 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I never gave more than a passing thought to whether or not my nipples were visible before reading this thread. How fascinating and, frankly, a bit depressing. I, too, thought bras were about comfort (jiggle control), and maybe a little about style. OP, if you feel comfortable in a bra at work (after reading this thread I suspect you might feel more comfortable emotionally in a bra) you should wear a bra.

But you know what? If people don't want to see nipples, perhaps they should stop looking at breasts. What's that old saying? My eyes are up here.
posted by k8lin at 5:07 AM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I personally work in a warehouse office where there is no dress code except as it applies to safety and not looking completely rediculous (like no spaghetti straps, no hot pants).

Then you need to take the temperature of where you work, as there response is the only one that matters here. So think about how management and your coworkers would respond to you going braless. Even if everyone is ok with you, you'll probably turn heads just because it's something different you know? Doesn't mean it's a dealbreaker, just realize that you may be subject to sudden and possibly unwanted attention.

Management-is there a policy or rule book? Has this ever occurred before and if so, how did they handle it?

Coworkers-Any trustworthy friends at work that you could bounce this off of as possibility?

Keep in mind that management could be initially fine with it, but the response of asshole coworkers could create a problem that reverses their feelings. After all, *all* women wear bras to work, so why are YOU suddenly being difficult about this and disrupting the work environment?! See how non-existent problem becomes one passed on how other people react? Yeah, it can suck

Outside of work, do whatever obviously, but you'll probably get a bit of flack here and there. Fuck'em.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:31 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Halston in around 1979

Ah, yes; glad DarlingBri mentioned that. I was wanting to bring up the couture angle, regarding the part of the question dealing with fine-dining attire. There are definitely a variety of haute fashion looks nowadays that rock the no-bra approach. I think it looks terrific, and would be pitch-perfect in certain restaurants that are "of the moment".
posted by nacho fries at 1:37 PM on April 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Just as something I've noted: Most of the no-big-deal responses are coming from SoCal. I live in Los Feliz, just outside Silverlake, and go to a fair number of moderately upscale places, and braless is definitely A Look right now in SoCal. And it's definitely been A Look at the last couple charity galas I went to (like, for a couple of Assemblymembers).

So it totally depends on where you are and what you're doing. But out in public, it seems to be the sort of thing that you can rock if you've got the panache.
posted by klangklangston at 3:08 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would recommend wearing a bra to work.

But, outside of work - go braless if you want. You don't owe the world a bra!

I'm a D or E cup, so yes, you can tell when I'm not wearing a bra. But bras cause me severe neck and shoulder pain... no way I'm wearing a bra unless I'm getting paid!
posted by Year of meteors at 5:46 PM on April 26, 2013

"bras cause me severe neck and shoulder pain" They shouldn't, however big you are - says 5' missus 34 GG. Get yourself properly measured and invest in proper bras for busty women. You should always be able to see your feet.

I'm not being patronising, my daughters had to grow up and tell me this before I knew it. When I grew up a C-cup was as big as it gets.
posted by glasseyes at 6:32 PM on April 26, 2013

My bras are all properly fitted and everything, but that doesn't mean they're comfortable. I definitely need a "free boob" day here and there, and as such I wouldn't fault any woman from going braless.
posted by Sara C. at 6:43 PM on April 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

There is also the concept of whether it looks like it is on purpose. It's hard to define, but for example the commenter above wondered if she was making a faux pas because her nipples could sometimes be visibly erect even while wearing a bra. My opinion? No, of course not. To me, the idea of modesty (in this context) is about the appearance of making an effort.

Or the appearance of not making an effort. "I don't care if my nipples might be visible" is fine if that's the actual intent. But if it veers (consciously or not) into a bit of exhibitionism, sort of into the category of "if my body makes you uncomfortable it's your problem" then it becomes an issue. Because while it is true, that is a bit of a challenge to the world that doesn't belong in the workplace. Not because OMG nipples, but because it's an overt distraction.

The difference is the appearance of intent.
posted by gjc at 4:39 AM on April 27, 2013

I'm glad you asked this question. I've thought about asking it myself.

I have a chronic condition (hidradenitis suppurative, don't Google image search that unless you have a strong stomach) which involves frequently swollen, plugged, and infected apocrine sweat glands. It is to the degree that if I wear any bra at all, no matter how ridiculously loose, I break out under my arms and breasts the next day. So I've spent almost a year not wearing one for the most part (unless I am going somewhere really dressy or important... then I just accept that I'm going to break out.) And these can devolve into huge open weeping scarring sores.

I have asked close girl friends a couple of times if they've ever noticed that I'm not wearing one, and explained why I was asking, and they have said no, they've never noticed. So... try it, then ask a friend? (I'm a C-cup.)

This thread has given me a couple of things to Google (bralettes, t-shirt bras) and I'm hoping maybe one of those will work. My current issue is my shirt getting accidentally tucked in under my boobs and sweat showing up on my shirt. Don't want to wear a tank top under my shirt in summer but I may have to. (Ideas? Memail me! Trying baby powder.)

Last time I did put on a (sports) bra, it had seams inconveniently placed so they ran right over the center of my breasts, and my mom did say something - she mistook the bra seams for my nipples and thought I wasn't wearing one.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:11 AM on April 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

[One comment deleted; please don't argue with other commenters; thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:59 AM on April 27, 2013

I think you should dress in a way that makes you comfortable. And I also think that if someone worked braless at any of my past employers, it would not be a big deal, or even a deal. And if for some reason someone made it a deal, they'd not find a lot of support for that.
posted by zippy at 12:21 PM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just because this thread has me noticing more, when I was crashing an academic librarian training session yesterday, two late-30s, early-40s librarians were braless and still looked totally professional, if a little droopy. Both were wearing what I'd call hippy tube tops (like, elastic at the top, floral print circular tops) with open jackets.
posted by klangklangston at 12:32 PM on April 28, 2013

> Trouble is, someone would have a problem with it. Either a coworker or one of my bosses. And now I've got to deal with it. And that's going to be the second worst work conversation I would ever have

I've been on the other end of that conversation and it really was awful, especially because it was ungrounded (I always wore a bra to work) and second-hand (poor management). So I'm going to have to sadly say no, going braless is probably not acceptable at work.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:01 PM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

ThePinkSuperhero: but at a nice restaurant or almost any job, a bra is expected.
Except for the nice restaurant part. See any fashion magazine for proof.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:44 PM on April 28, 2013

I was just at an awards dinner on Thursday for Los Angeles PR folks, and a number of women who were dressed seriously up (designer suits, mostly) were also pretty obviously braless with plunging blouses.

(I was just there and it made me think of this thread. I'm a tall enough guy that it's hard not to notice sometimes.)
posted by klangklangston at 12:18 PM on November 9, 2013

There's a decent chance any woman who appears braless in a plunging blouse/dress is actually wearing Nu Bra (NSFW) or similar, which are stick-on bra cups that give support while remaining invisible. Very common for celebrities to wear these -- it's how you get the perky but visible look, and avoid the sag.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:27 AM on November 10, 2013

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