As a tween, the best part of my day was peeling my training bra out from under my school uniform—Rachel-from-Friends-style—after a sweaty walk home. This habit followed me into my early 20s and I excelled at it. Steps away from my university dorm, my bra would already be unclasped in perspiration-soaked anticipation. Once I was safely in my room, it would be gone, ripped right off beneath my shirt.
Despite my obvious hatred of bras, bundling my boobs into spongey shells remained a daily routine for a good decade—after years of social conditioning, I had simply come to associate publicly appropriate bodies with perky, nippleless domes.
But when Singapore went into COVID-19 lockdown in early 2020, so did my bra drawer.
Finding myself stuck at home for months on end meant that I was braless almost all the time, and loving it. In fact, on the few occasions I actually had to put on a bra, I actively hated every second of it—the imposing elastic shoulder straps, bumpy bra hooks, and the wired cups coddling my boobs.
So, at some point in home quarantine, I decided to yeet my bras off to wardrobe purgatory where they are atoning for years of interboob sweat and reddish imprints on my skin. You’ll rarely catch me in a bra these days, inside or outside the house (unless, of course, if it makes my outfit look cute).
And I realized I was far from the only one who’s taking a serious break—probably more in Ross’ sense than Rachel’s—from their bras.
During an Instagram live stream last month, actor Gillian Anderson declared that she was done with bras and couldn’t care less if her breasts were hanging to her belly button.
“It’s just too fucking uncomfortable,” she said.
Her candid comment struck a chord with others who are also ending long-term, committed relationships with their bras.
Research on the relationship between bras and breast health remains scarce and inconclusive. There’s actually no scientific evidence proving that wearing bras could cause breast cancer. Meanwhile, old wives’ tales conflict on whether boobs sag when you wear a bra or don’t wear a bra. Health concerns—or the lack thereof—aside, there is strong evidence to suggest that many people find bras a fucking pain in the chest.
Now that COVID-19 restrictions are gradually being lifted in parts of the world, people are emerging from year-long quarantines just in time for skimpy summer, braless.
Lydia Oliver, a 19-year-old student in Nottingham, United Kingdom, told VICE that their boobs enjoyed such a long vacation during quarantine that wearing a bra again actually made them feel extra uncomfortable.
“So I took it upon myself to essentially say ‘fuck it’ and live a braless life,” they said. “Now this is a massive step, as for a few weeks, you are self-conscious about how your boobs appear and whether or not people are going to look.”
But Oliver has decided that the joy of braless freedom triumphs over the awkward stares in public. It’s also a continuous rehearsal of mustering courage.
Going braless is really as simple as not wearing a bra. It’s also as complicated as that. So you’re braless in the supermarket for a short grocery trip, no big deal, but what if you’re wearing your favorite thin cotton blouse? What if you’re in a virtual work meeting?
As it turns out, shedding our bras is more about recalibrating our attitudes towards social norms. And given that braless looks are still commonly perceived as unkempt and unprofessional, we have a lot of unlearning to do.
Katie R. T. Giaimo, a law student and influencer based in Washington, D.C., told VICE that going braless has been “a very internal process.” She was worried about how the decision would affect others’ opinions of her, and was especially concerned that she would be deemed unprofessional at her workplace. But bras have always made her uncomfortable, and she had been looking to shed them from her outfits.
“Lockdown was a catalyst, as I’m sure it was for many people,” she said. “It was a chance to experience what life was like going braless 24/7, and it was a window into how nice that was. It also gave me a chance to experiment with my wardrobe and add in new pieces that allowed me to go braless.”
“Once I realized that I was far and above the only one who put so much thought into the decision to go braless, I felt much better.”
Quarantine has made people’s Free the Nipple dreams come true and inspired them to embrace bra-free living. Still, not everyone is ready—or quite able—to ditch their bras entirely.
Amanda Taylor, a writer and YouTuber in Missouri, said that she’ll be emerging from quarantine with a bra on, after almost a year of not wearing one at home. She’s a size double D and has breastfed two children so, for her, bras are “100 percent for support.”
Instead, the braless comfort she experienced in quarantine sees her pivoting to completely new bra choices.
“I threw out all of my underwire and uncomfortable bras and strictly wear sports bras now,” she said.
In the same vein of adapting bralessness to personal comfort zones, one woman I spoke to said that she only goes braless for short errands and in outfits that obscure the chest area; another told me that going braless was just one component of a bigger personal change during lockdown that saw her eating better, exercising more, and prioritizing self-care.
In Singapore, braless girls like me remain an uncommon sight. But despite the occasional stares in public and finger-wagging from my perplexed parents, this has been quite the liberating lesson on ditching my inhibitions along with my bra.
While COVID has wreaked havoc on individuals’ mental health, it has also offered some an important internal reset. And for a good number of us, this also means free-range boobs.
Follow Koh Ewe on Instagram.