TLDR: If wearing a bra doesn't provide you comfort (they don't for me!), then it's just a silent but nagging cultural cue that our femininity doesn't belong in the workplace. Don't listen.
When I design shirts and dresses for my slow fashion brand, one of my top priorities is that the top can be worn without a bra.
Here's why I support women going braless at work:
To be clear, any and every shirt in the world can be worn without a bra, and in the most ideal universe, women's nipples wouldn't be shameful in public. But so many of us are stuck in this cultural limbo of wanting to "free the nipple" while still too embarrassed to wear a shirt that even hints at the fact that we have nipples... especially in the workplace.
No matter where you are in your journey, many women in the U.S. have been tied to this tradition of wearing bras that we physically can't stand because we are scared of the negative social feedback that we will get if we don't wear one.
Bras of all shapes and sizes encase our chest in a way that is chronically constricting our breathing. In yoga, we do chest-opening stretches (like upward dog, camel pose, and dancers pose) to "open our hearts" -- physically and symbolically open the airways and the flow of oxygen from our lungs and heart. To me, a bra strapped tight around my chest has the exact opposite effect on my energy. It feels so tight and restrictive, trapping my heat and sweat, cutting into my ribs, and silently crunching my shoulders, heart, and lungs instead of letting them expand. Their fastenings add additional itchiness and irritation to my skin.
Not exactly a recipe for feeling confident and comfortable with myself at work, huh?
And then there's that one moment. At the end of the workday. When you finally unleash yourself from the death grip of your bra and become a free, independent, self-respecting person again. The moment you inhale and exhale and feel unapologetically yourself.
So how can I feel comfortable all day?
Can I really go bra-less at work?
Over the past five years, I have worked as a front desk receptionist, a career coach at a homeless shelter, and a college professor-- all people-facing jobs. I am proud of my fashion sense and the ways I express my identity through it at work. But every morning that I go out into the world to share my skills and talents, I stand in my closet and make this terrible decision about whether I am doing enough to ensure my nipples aren't going to be offensive to other people.
What a stupid struggle, and one that I hope I'm not stuck in forever! As I continue to grow my confidence to go braless at any given moment, I've put together a few tips from the perspective of my current role as an independent fashion designer...
Here are my 7 tips for transitioning from "caged animal" to braless business casual:
1. Be kind to yourself; Confidence takes time!
Sometimes I just wish I had the courage to "be the change I want to see in the world"; If only I could just say "F*CK BRAS" on Tuesday, and then forget bra's ever existed by Wednesday. But sometimes it's not that easy-- Going against the grain on any cultural norm (like shaving, or the length of our hair, or the genderedness of our clothing) just takes time for us to adjust to, even when we are the captains of our own ship and the ones who really REALLY want to stop wearing the god damn mother-effing bra!! So just be kind to yourself.
2. Ease into it by going braless in different settings
If you think going braless at work will make you feel too insecure and unable to focus all day, try first just going bra-less to a safe place where you'll likely only see women, or out in nature. Once this feels less scary, try the grocery store, then perhaps visit your family, and ease your way up to the workplace once you're able to forget that you aren't wearing a bra in front of people.
3. When going braless at work, there's safety in layers
Adding layers (that aren't constricting like a bra) can be a great first step in the confidence transition. Start by layering a simple, soft cami or tank top under your shirt (and not one of those cami's with the built-in bra shelf thing). This helps add some smoothing without cutting into your ribs. Alternatively, start by wearing your favorite shirt bra-less with a lightweight jacket or scarf on top. That way you can throw the jacket on in moments you just aren't feeling like being the new you (and that's okay!).
4. If you need something extra, wear tops that are fully lined
"Lightweight and breathable" is exactly how we want our shirts to be. But sometimes lightweight fabrics just need a little reinforcement to retain their opacity. For a fully-lined, but breathable bodice top, check out our Argent & Sable dress and JUBA pullover
5. Texture, ruffles, buttons, pockets, pleats, and shirring are your friend
Any type of design detail that adds texture and volume helps distract from the texture that nipples create on the surface of your shirt. For lovely pleat lines, try our LADYBIRD dress or JUBA jumpsuit!
6. Aim for stable, non-slippery fabrics
Slippery fabrics are your silks, satins, polyesters, elastics, and acrylics, which are more likely to cling to your body and create shadows with each and every bump under the surface. Fabrics that are typically more stable are linen, cotton, wool, and sometimes rayon. Luckily, those more stable fabrics are also more breathable and better for the environment!
This doesn't mean you have to wear clothing that looks like a potato sack-- instead, look for mid-heavyweight woven linen styles that hit you in all the right places, (such as a gathered waistline, pleats at the hips, etc).
7. Share your experience with friends
Bras are silent, subtle, nagging cues that we aren't made right, that our femininity doesn't belong in the workplace... which I think is a hot steaming load of BS. But going against the norm *especially when your paycheck feels at risk* is a little scary. I'd bet your friends probably think so too, just remember there is safety in numbers! Find a friend and try it out together as a social experiment. Report back to each other on how the bra-less experience felt, the benefits, and the downfalls.
Have you gone braless at work? What has your braless business casual journey been like? Do you have any more tips to add to the list?
Let me know in the comments,
or connect on Instagram @charli.e.darwin