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Style editor Nancy Serle discusses the rise of the no-bra trend and its implications

Whether you are a proud member of the itty bitty titty committee or blessed with a healthy pair of Mitchell brothers, we all remember purchasing our first bra. An important moment in any young girls life, a rite of passage, it marks the day you cross the teenage boundary, the day you can smugly shout in the PE changing rooms: ‘Oh this? It’s a BRA actually…’

I vividly remember buying my first, it was 2007, the summer of year 6. After sitting down to have an ‘adult conversation’ with my mum I decided it was time. In all honesty at a 32AA at the time (and not much bigger now) I really didn’t need one, but I was going to secondary school and after all, everyone else was doing it- back in the noughties bras were en vogue.

New Look 915 Generation was my shop of choice (the ultimate style designation for an 11 year old) as I gingerly stalked through the rails to find the perfect bra, half excited at the prospect someone would witness my ascent to womanhood, half mortified. After much deliberation I opted for the classic two pack- slightly padded- one plain white and ‘sensible for school’ and the other, a lemon yellow number with Me To You bears printed all over.

But the days when I was excited to wear a bra are officially over. An item that was once the most treasured piece in my wardrobe is now one of my most dreaded- if I can help it I won’t wear one at all, let alone a bra that holds the added annoyance of digging straps and spiky wiring. The balconette, the plunge, the strapless…to me, they all just scream discomfort and restriction.

Evidently I am not the only one who feels this way with John Lewis releasing damning figures concerning their underwear sales. Last month the retail giant stated that it had experienced a massive 44% drop in push up bra sales, with women now opting for the much comfier, unstructured bralettes or choosing not to wear a bra at all. The age of the bra is over. My housemate confirmed my suspicions stating: ‘All I ever wanted was an underwired bra and now I can’t think of anything worse’.

But why are women opting out of the bra life? For many it is a decision predominately based on comfort but for others, it is a politically charged statement, reviving the liberation movement of second wave feminism and bra burnings of the 1960’s and 1970’s. However, in the last year or so, there has been a new reason to ditch the cups and go without: fashion.

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Whilst young girls were once desperate to get their hands on their first bra (me included), celebrities such as Kendall Jenner and the Hadid sisters are changing these attitudes with their sheer ensembles and absent brasseries, placing the sans-bra look firmly in the style spotlight. ‘Guides to going braless’, ‘Celebrities who freed the nipple’ and ‘step by step checklists’ have been popping up all over the internet, instructing people on how to fashionably achieve the no bra look.

But does this new style orientated approach toward the no-bra life have a trivialising effect on political movements that have come before it? Does ‘freeing the nipple’ purely in order to conform to a fashion trend detract from the importance of the feminist movement started by our grandmothers?

The more recent Free the Nipple campaign (started in 2012) is a locus of tension for these questions. Whilst there is no doubt the campaign addresses relevant issues of female inequality (although it has been continually criticised for its alignment to white feminism), the movement itself has become something of a fashion trend. Often promoted by celebrities and bloggers, ‘freeing the nipple’ has become inextricably linked to taking selfies and staying on trend with the added sauce of a nip slip that purely fuels likes and comments rather than the feminist movement. This is objectifying rather than empowering.

Whilst it is true that going sans bra can be a statement of fashion, comfort and politics simultaneously, when the ‘free the nipple’ tag is used as a move of faux-activism it can be damaging for feminism and young girls understanding of what it means to be a feminist. By all means dare to bare and follow fashion’s new found love of the braless look, just consider your reasons before you jump on the ‘free the nipple’ hashtag.

Featured Image: Epigram / Online Style Editor, Hannah Worthington

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