Around eight years ago, I gave up wearing heels, and it was one of the best and most liberating decisions of my life. But now I have given up something else that might just top it: I’ve given up wearing bras. Well, sort of.
This epiphany came about after nine months of freelancing, when I would happily work at home in my yoga bra after a workout because no one could see me bouncing around in my house. But when I landed an office job for a few weeks, I automatically went back to 14 hours in an underwire, and it made me miserable. By the end of week one I was taking painkillers at lunchtime, and once even had to whip my bra off via my sleeves on the train on the way home. I mean, I was stealthy about it, but still. Awful.
As a 30DD, ‘freeboobing’ – the latest buzzword for not wearing a bra at all – isn’t the greatest option for me (although, in the name of research, I did try it for a day at the office, but the less said about that the better). So, I was thrilled to discover a halfway house: the new and improved bralettes and non-traditional bras that are appearing on the market, which offer decent support and comfort. Hallelujah.
My first stop in my quest for the perfect non-bra was good old Marks & Sparks. Obviously. “Lingerie has seen a real shift, with an increased focus on comfort and the natural female silhouette,” says Soozie Jenkinson, head of lingerie design at M&S, which has sold more than half a million bralettes in the past year. “Our bralettes were crafted to give great support up to a G cup. They have become many women’s new favourite piece.” I enthusiastically purchased two of the DD+ lace non-padded bralettes, which I then shared on Instagram. The response was overwhelming. “Sodding love my M&S bralettes,” “They’re perfect for when your boobs just need a day off,” and “the idea of putting on something with an underwire ever again makes me want to vom,” are just a handful of the dozens of messages I received from fans of this style. And I can see why – although they don’t have a clasp and are a bit of a struggle to get on and off (tip: I step into mine, rather than putting them on overhead), they are fantastic once on, offering really good support without anything digging in or aching. Quite literally life-changing.
I was thrilled to discover a halfway house: the new and improved bralettes and non-traditional bras that are appearing on the market, which offer decent support and comfort. Hallelujah
And it’s not just M&S supporting my cause. Underwear entrepreneur Serena Rees launched Les Boys Les Girls in 2017 as an antidote to highly sexualised lingerie. “A lot has changed since I launched Agent Provocateur in the 1990s,” she says. “Back then, the message was the same – we were about championing and empowering women, but it has since gone too far and there’s definitely a movement happening. A backlash.” She says people now dress for themselves, with a focus on comfort. “I think you can wear a bralette regardless of your bust size,” she tells me, just as I’m having concerns about the lack of cup sizes and some of the thin-looking straps on offer. “Today’s technology and manufacturing ensures a good fit and support for all sizes. Our ultimate comfort bras are extremely well-made and offer great support.” I put one to the test – a size medium – and am happy to report that she was right.
If sustainability is one of your New Year’s resolutions, you might like Boody, which makes stretchy, sporty bralettes from bamboo – a more sustainable fabric than cotton that is soft and comfy, and has the advantage of naturally wicking sweat away from your body. They create really a nice line under a T-shirt and are very reasonably priced, too. These also don’t come with cup sizes, but I’ve been wearing size medium and it’s a good fit, and when I’m not working from home I opt for the padded style for a bit of extra support. For anything over a DD cup I would advise going up to a large. New York-based basics brand Handvaerk does a similar style – again, I went for a medium – but with the advantage of adjustable straps for a bit more flexibility.
I know from our discussions on Instagram that many of you prefer something with a clasp, and luckily you are catered for, too. Standard Drawers makes pretty bras with no wiring or padding – all of the structure comes from the elastic under the bust. The straps are on the thin side, so although they do work for me, I’d say these are best for small- to medium-sized boobs.
If the thought of no cup sizes fills you with dread, meet Rossell England. These lovely bras go up to an E cup and have cleverly moved the non-wired structure to the side, meaning that it doesn’t dig in at all but still looks after a bigger boob nicely. This style is the most traditional that I tried, and the Tetra is particularly nice for occasions when you might have been tempted to wear a “proper bra”, as it creates a low-cut line and a bit of a cleavage, but it comes with a similar comfort to that of a bralette. (Side note: they also do really nice knickers.)
And what about nipples, I hear you cry? As someone who was once the recipient of a “most erect nipples award” (it was the 1990s), this was always a concern when I was younger, so I spent years in padded bras. I hated the thought that everyone might be looking at my nips if I happened to be standing under the air-conditioning. I also hated, however, how the padding made my boobs look even bigger and a weird shape. So, now that I’m older, I’ve decided to stop caring – if you can see my nipples, but my shoulders don’t hurt and my bust looks more natural, then that’s fine. And the more of us that put boob comfort over worries about nipple visibility – or anything else, for that matter – the happier everyone will be.