Contour Bras: What They Say About Our Breasts

  |   By Elisabeth Dale

A recent display of bras on the pages from a 1979 Victoria’s Secret catalog made me reflect on what lingerie reveals about a woman, from the inside out.

The changing breast aesthetic has always been driven by fashion: from the 1920s flapper with a flattened chest to the pointed missile look of the 1950s. Historians speculate that the earlier era reflected a desire for independence through a more ‘boyish’ figure, while the latter embraced the age of military technology. Our busts have been bound down or morphed into snow cones as a sign of the times. How we carried our bosoms had some connection to what we wanted or aspired to in our personal and public lives.

What vibe did women’s lingerie give off in the late 70s? The Victoria’s Secret models projected a sense of soft, subtle femininity. The shapes of their breasts and nipples showed through the thin silk and satin bras, robes, and camisoles. Sure, they promoted an ideal body type. But they did it without taking away from each woman’s distinct curves. These bodies expressed sensuality without covering up what nature offered.

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1979 Victoria's Secret Catalog

Compare that to the chest silhouette created by today’s typical t-shirt or contour bra and it’s clear we’re speaking a different language. The look is far from natural and not just because it’s nipple-less. Mounds appear symmetrical, stiff, and unusually uplifted. The territory occupied is foreign and not where most breasts rest on a woman’s body. The shape mimics that of a poorly executed breast implant: too high, absurdly round, and hard.

Victoria’s Secret isn’t the only brand promoting this particular kind of support. Marketed under a variety of labels (Contour, T-shirt, Molded Cup, Padded, Push-Up, Foam Lined, etc.), it’s the one that’s tough to stuff in my drawer. These boobs never rest. No matter how I fold the cups inside one another, they’re always “full.” I wonder how long it will take these contrived wonders to decompose in a landfill. How can they be environmentally friendly when I can’t restrain them for simple storage or travel?

When I wear a contour bra I feel like I’m putting a barrier between my boobs and the world—and projecting a false image of who I am as a woman. It’s my lingerie Burqa: concealing my individuality, covering up any hint of female sexuality, and hiding the true nature of breasts. They are soft, perky, bouncy, large, small, wide-set, close-set, and so much more. They’re not twins, but sisters. In short, they reflect the diversity of women and what we each offer the world. I get the need to keep the occasional nip-slip under control, but I’m not sure this 21st Century breastplate is the answer. There are other options available for feminine discretion. For my part I’m going on a foam-free diet. From now on, I’m making a commitment to lace and grace in my lingerie life.

What do you think? Is it time to update your breast profile? What do you want your bra to say about you?

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