Gen Z say see ya to the bra. Are there any downsides to going braless?

By Emma O'Regan-Reidy

Published Aug 6, 2023 at 09:00 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

This year has seen its fair share of barely-there fashion moments, from the no-pants trend to naked dresses and everything sheer in between. You may consider the growing disdain for bras as part of 2023’s key style motifs, but this preference has actually been building momentum for quite a while—years, in fact.

If you’re a current (or former) bra-wearer, you probably have gone through a love-hate relationship cycle with the undergarment. You may have gotten your first training bra as a pre-teen, shifted to a push-up bra phase as an early teen, moved onto more simple designs and bralettes in college, and maybe at some point given up wearing one altogether. Whether your bra journey looks similar or followed a different trajectory (but ended up in the same place), know that you’re not alone. Many women today are coming to the similar conclusion that bras are uncomfortable and frankly unnecessary.

In short, beauty doesn’t have to equal pain, no matter how much that adage has been passed down over the years. The COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated this feeling, especially among gen Z.

As many of the early months (and years) of the 2020s were spent in lockdown, fashion and beauty inevitably shifted to meet new needs and attitudes. In a lot of cases, trends became more relaxed and leaned into natural, low-effort styles—and the same goes for bras.

According to a YouGov survey published in February 2021, “a third of women (34 per cent) admit lockdown has been an opportunity to ditch the bra, with a fifth (20 per cent) saying they now wear one ‘much less’ frequently.”

Eir Nolsoe, the data journalist behind the reporting, noted that this trend was more so seen in younger women. “Two-thirds of those aged 18-24 say they’re wearing bras less often,” she stated. Even though that data is from over two years ago now, it’s safe to say that the sentiment is still shared by a lot of women throughout the UK.

This is reaffirmed by 27-year-old Ashleigh Cunningham, who was quoted in The Guardian saying: “Once everyone started going back to work again, I didn’t want to wear a bra. So I wore little crop tops instead of a full underwire. I just find it more comfortable.”

While going braless is all about comfort for some, for others, it carries personal, social and political meaning. After all, it’s had connections to pretty much every wave of feminism. The idea of ditching bras, of course, didn’t just emerge from the hazy, TikTok-saturated ether. It’s had a long history.

Perhaps the most recognisable phase of the movement was the bra-burning protests of the 1960s that took place in the US. Even though actual bra-burning turned out to be a myth, the stereotype of a “bra-burning feminist” still looms large in popular culture today. Since then, many similar protests have followed the same sentiment, such as the Free the Nipple campaign which started in 2012.

Over a decade later, the roots of these braless movements are still strong, and have taken on new meaning in a post-Roe v. Wade world. Just as we saw Florence Pugh wearing sheer dresses during movie premieres this spring—which has been viewed as a symbol of women reclaiming their own bodily autonomy—many have taken a similar stance sans red carpet.

It also connects to larger shifts in the underwear industry and society’s perception of it. Since 2019, aka the end of Victoria’s Secret’s long-running fashion show, the natural look has only risen in popularity. All that’s to say, going braless isn’t anything new, but with each generation it takes on a fresh meaning tied to the zeitgeist.

You may be wondering: Are there any downsides to not wearing a bra? Whether you choose to wear a bra or not is largely down to personal preference. However, there are some factors to consider before tossing out the contents of your underwear drawer.

According to Kelsey Mulvey, a lifestyle journalist for Real Simple, “not wearing a bra might contribute to eventual breast sagging.” As women get older, the ligaments supporting their breast tissue weaken, which can contribute to sagging, she explained. If you have a C-cup or larger, not wearing a supportive bra on a regular basis can have negative long-term impacts, such as back and neck pain.

That said, don’t let it limit you to underwire designs. For a more comfortable feel, consider styles like sports bras and bralettes specifically created with larger busts in mind. See Parade’s inclusive bralette collection and guide for inspiration.

With all of that in mind, choosing to go braless is ultimately a personal decision, and one that gen Z seem to be gravitating to more and more. As Reddit user @majesticalexis succinctly put it: “When the best part of your day is coming home from work and taking off a bra, maybe it’s time to reconsider putting one on at all.”

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