One of my first forays back into the world after being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 was to visit a café in the West Village that I love. Sitting outside at a table, latte in hand, I engaged in my favorite NYC pastime: people watching. As a fashion editor, I adore scanning the streets to see what people outside my little editorial bubble are actually buying and wearing and how they style them. But on this day what stood out to me more than anything was that something was missing. Not a single woman was wearing a bra.
OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I’d venture to put the number at about 75-80 percent. And it wasn’t just those with small busts in backless dresses either. Boobs of all shapes and sizes were clearly hanging loose under everything from silk slip dresses to puff-sleeve blouses to thin white T-shirts. And I am not the only person to notice this phenomenon. In the coming days, four friends independently and unprompted asked me, “so, are bras officially out? Why is no one wearing them anymore?” I recently discovered multiple Reddit threads posing the same questions. After doing a bit of a deep dive into this growing trend, I think I have some answers.
First, many of us got used to going braless or rocking minimalist bralettes regularly during quarantine. Now that the world is opening back up, there are two main post-pandemic attitudes developing toward getting dressed—embracing the glory of a world in which it’s OK to wear sweatpants and bike shorts literally anywhere, or going all out with revenge outfits that are wonderfully over the top. In both instances a bra isn’t always necessary. Why put on an uncomfortable underwire if you’re cozying into an oversize sweatshirt? Why struggle with a backless bra if you’re sporting a backless or cutout top? “We ain’t got time for that,” appears to be the motto du jour.
Next is the fact that a lot of the most popular tops and dresses for summer 2021 aren’t bra-friendly. Backless dresses, dramatic cutouts, scarf tops, blouses with loose ties at the front, spaghetti straps—none of these work particularly well with a good old-fashion T-shirt bra, or even a strapless one, for that matter. Sure, you could wear some sticky boobs underneath or try one of a dozen TikTok hacks to transform a regular bra into one that works with an open-back blouse, but summer’s heat has already skyrocketed rendering adhesive cutlets useless and those viral tricks just never seem to work as well IRL as they do on social media. Life is too short to be bothered trying to work brassieres in with the latest fashions we adore so much, so why attempt to work with them at all?
My final hypothesis, and perhaps the most interesting one, is that this is a larger generational shift that won’t fade away once our post-pandemic revenge shopping hype dies down. Millennials got the ball rolling years ago with the “Free the Nipple” campaign, arguing that women’s nipples shouldn’t be deemed more vulgar than men’s simply because they are attached to boobs. We shouldn’t feel ashamed or overly sexualized for going braless or even for entering a cold room in an unlined bra. Gen Z, however, has taken that zeal to another level, embracing the idea of genderless living to a much greater degree.
With regards to fashion, they’ve pushed nearly every sartorial boundary, questioning why certain clothing items have such gender-defining power and what the word “flattering” really means. Why is it that we’re expected to wear bras in the first place? And what are the consequences if we don’t? (Besides potential back pain.) To Gen Z, and a growing contingency of other generations too, it shouldn’t be a big deal to give your gals a break, no matter your breast shape or size. It doesn’t matter that your breasts flop to the sides or resemble a Madonna cone bra rather than conform to the round perky standard of old.
In the same way that women of the ‘60s dared to show their thighs in miniskirts, women of the ‘80s transformed men’s suits into something powerfully feminine and women of the last ten years have fully embraced clothing that prioritizes comfort over sex-appeal (hello, prairie dresses and dad-approved sneakers), Gen Z is standing up to say, “I am the only one who can decide whether or when I need to wear a bra.”
Whether you’re sick of strapping your gals in every morning because you want to push back against societal expectations, or you simply got used to the freedom of walking about your home nipples out during the pandemic, going braless is now a rather popular choice of action. And we think it’s one that’s here to stay. So you do you, dear reader. (Though we don’t suggest forgoing sports bras unless you’re ready to deal with a world of back pain and unfortunately placed chafing…)