Tough Titties

Torn between cotton and cleavage

For years, my larger-breasted friends have told me I was the lucky one. "I wish I didn't have to wear a bra," they whined. And I always believed them. I almost pitied them for having to put up with the excess flesh, its notorious back pain, and the tendency to distract men from insightful comments you might be making. A flat-chested girl can sunbathe topless without hardly offending anyone. She can wear the most plunging necklines without seeming slutty. Just look at the old-man chest on Katie Holmes.

The fashion world's stance on this issue is confusing. With bathing suit season in full throttle, it's hard to ignore the fact that almost every bikini top on the market is now available with a contoured boob already in place. Just a few years ago, a girl depended strictly on Victoria's Secret for that sort of thing. (By the way, their "Push Up Swimwear" line is currently 25 to 50 percent off). But at this point, even wholesome Old Navy has followed suit, with removable foam triangles in the cups of most styles. Upon trying these on, I learned that the catch is lumpiness and a weird puckered look beneath the actual breasts. And I assume, although have not tested it, that the inserts would act as thin sponges in the event of actual submergence in water.

At the Bloomingdale's Soho location, I was recently struck by the irony that mannequins with miniscule, pointy tits line the walkway to a lingerie department largely devoted to cleavage-enhancing contraptions. It was almost impossible to find a bra not made with firm, round architecture built in. And yet, the skimpy tops just beyond those racks were so likely to have halter-tops or no straps at all that many of the bras they carry are far too bulky for summer fashion. To remedy this, inventions have been patented for strapless silicone "cutlets" that stick directly to your skin. They are designed to add depth to the cups and magically pull them upwards and towards each other, all at the same time. I am endlessly curious about what happens when you bring a guy home and have to excuse yourself to un-tape your NuBra before he can confront the truth.

Why does it feel increasingly like an activist gesture to stick with small boobs? We may joke that we "have no boobs," but we do have them. Shouldn't we be able to buy simple, sexy bras, rather than feeling like we require special devices? The hot and minimally-breasted Selma Blair said in Vogue last April that "every woman wants to take off a bra in front of her boyfriend," and that La Perla, the luxurious Italian lingerie company, understands that. It's true. They make beautiful, sophisticated (not babyish) bras that show off what's there instead of apologizing for what's not. With a smaller budget at hand, go for low-tech cotton bras from American Apparel, which have crisscross straps so they can be worn under racer-back tank tops.

 
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