is it unprofessional not to wear a bra to work?

A reader writes:

I have a disability that makes me highly sensitive to touch, and I find that wearing a bra is extremely uncomfortable. (I don’t know my cup size, but I’d estimate that I’m pretty much average-sized.)

I was told by a career advisor that not wearing a bra looks extremely unprofessional regardless of field, and I’m unlikely to get a job unless I can figure out some way to tolerate wearing a bra. I’m a psychology major in university, and would like a job in that field once I graduate.

I might be able to tough it out and wear a bra to a job interview, although it’ll make the interview a lot harder. But there is no way I could handle wearing a bra from 9-5 every weekday. Is this really such a show-stopper?

I would like to point out that I never wear low-cut or revealing clothing. Apart from not wearing a bra, my dress style is quite modest.

Not wearing a bra only comes across as unprofessional if people can tell that you’re not wearing a bra. If people can pretty easily tell, then yeah, in most lines of work, it’s going to be seen as unprofessional.

We can debate whether it’s right that standards of professional attire require women to mitigate the impact of having breasts, but the fact remains that that’s the standard, and it’s unlikely to change anytime soon. For better or for worse, our society expects certain body parts to be kept behind the scenes, particularly in professional settings. And that’s not just for women; men aren’t supposed to wear, say, very thin pants that visibly outline their contents to the office either.

Anyway, some women can look professional without wearing a bra (because their body type and clothing choices mean that no one can telling they’re not wearing one). Others would have a much harder time.

Can you try wearing a camisole or tank top under a not-flimsy shirt and see if that minimizes the normal tell-tale signs of braless-ness? You could also try other types of layering, a blazer or cardigan, and/or scarfs. If you’re not super busty, I bet you’ll be able to find a formula that works for you reasonably well.

{ 434 comments… read them below }

      1. Koko*

        A few months ago some commenters here recommended a poster look at bralettes – they’re basically a snug(but not tight) cropped spaghetti strap tank top. No wires, no cups formed, but they put a nice thick layer of fabric where people expect a bra to be and do seem to help minimize movement. I’ve almost entirely stopped wearing bras since I discovered bralettes…they’re SO much more comfortable. I’m a C/D cup (fluctuates with my weight) so you don’t need to be an A-cup for it to work.

        1. Nina*

          Wow, really? I thought bralettes were only for A-B cups. May I ask if there’s a particular place to get them for C-D cups?

        2. Mel in HR*

          I really wish those would work for me. I, too, have a condition that makes me sensitive to touch and by the end of the work day, my bra causes me a lot of pain (even though it is properly sized). Sadly I am about a DD, depending on the bra I am sometimes bigger, and those bralettes never give me enough support :’-(

          Bras are torture devices. At least that’s my theory..

          1. Anne Haehl*

            You might talk with your doctor about breast reduction. Not generally in favor of breast surgery, but had a friend your size (and she’s not fat) and the reduction made all the difference in the world to her.

          2. Fed up*

            Bras are torture devices.. I completely agree. I used to not wear bras, but now I have to wear them for work. It’s even causing a skin condition to reappear.. that’s why I’m looking around for articles today. I hate bras. Women shouldn’t be subjected to wearing them just because their nipples are slightly bigger than men. I hate that the work place is still male dominated even in 2016. I hope that one day, they make shirts for women in the workplace that don’t require bras. Why can’t we just be human???

            1. Savannah*

              you mean like, a normal shirt??? holy hell, they may see that you have REAL breasts… how terrible!!

            2. Viva*

              They’re not universally torturous. My 36F saggy boobs feel significantly less achy with a good bra!! I’m very thankful for really comfy and supportive (albeit expensive) brands. And yeah, I do appreciate that my good bras also make me look better.

              1. Specialk9*

                Yeah, seconded for not universally painful. Without some kind of bra or tank with shelf bra, I hurt and get underboob sweat. But I feel for women with the opposite issue!

    1. pope suburban*

      That is absolutely brilliant and I will be sharing that like mad. Thanks for the link. I had thought of a bralette, but this may be even better.

      1. Specialk9*

        What about a vest?

        Or – if the issue is nipple sensitivity, not all over skin sensitivity – one of those undershirts that go under breasts and create a sort of lifting frame? “Open bust shapewear” is the search term, or “Renaissance fair bodice”.

    2. Koko*

      Hrrrm. While I like the idea of this product I’m not entirely sure it’d be OK for work because it outlines your cleavage.

      1. Ashley*

        Yes, but you’re wearing it under something, so as long as it’s covered that wouldn’t be an issue.

    3. Jen*

      Another rec for a place to check out: Decent Exposures ( – sports bra style, in a couple of different models and fabrics.

      Two really great things about them: 1) they make to order, so you can ask for all kinds of modifications if you need to (cut half an inch lower under the arms, adjustments to straps, etc.) and 2) they also offer a ribbing option across the bottom (instead of elastic) for people who can’t tolerate anything binding.

      The amount of support and control from the bra varies depending on options (the ribbing is usually less supportive than elastic) but for solving a professional need to wear a bra, they may help a lot. They also do camis and tanks.

      (I should also note: the bras are not as cheap as you could find elsewhere, but they hold up really well: I usually get 3-4 years of every couple day wear out of each of mine, and it’s the fabric that wears through before the seams. They’re also made in the US by people paid a fair wage.)

    4. Meg Danger*

      I can relate: I have a spine injury that becomes aggravated when I wear bras (I literally own zero bras). I really like this body suit, which is a very lightweight fabric (not too hot in the summer), creates zero lines (does not cut into the skin or create pressure points), and comes in black and nude (I have both). This suit is not super supportive, but it takes the edge off going commando. Also, the price tag is not so outrageous when you see the quality. In a pinch the black one can double as a swim suit (nude is see through when wet).

    5. Wren*

      When I was a girl, and hadn’t yet found what style of bra was comfortable with me, I imagined a garment just like this and wondered why it didn’t exist. Delighted to find someone else also thought this was a niche that needed filling and went and got it out there.

    6. Allison Mary*

      I’ve never heard of those! I’ll have to try one out.

      I realized back in January or so that when I quit wearing supportive, heavy-duty underwire type bras, my regularly occurring headaches all but disappeared. I stumbled onto a bra in a store called Bali Barely There (, and I pretty much haven’t worn anything else since.

      If the OP can’t quite afford the Breast Nest, I’d bet the Bali Barely There bra is fairly similar in terms of comfort (without being a full-on camisole), and is pretty affordable, especially on Amazon.

  1. KT*

    Right or wrong, I’d think most would view wearing a bra as non-negotiable. Particularly in the more conservative offices, going without is just not done.

    I would try a few different kinds–bras aren’t all torture devices–perhaps wireless bras would help. Post-masectomy undergarments also give some coverage, but are much more gentle to the skin.

    Otherwise, how about slimming camisoles, like Spanx? If that’s tolerable, they do a decent job of holding everything in place without being uncomfortable. With a decent weight sweater or shirt with a blazer, no one would notice.

    1. Jwal*

      Also getting a good fit will be a big help if OP does decide to wear /something/. There are also bras designed to wear post-surgery that I understand are supposed to be more comfortable than regular bras. Or sports bras, perhaps.

      1. Bekx*

        While I’ve never used them, if OP is a Redditor…apparently /r/ABraThatFits is really good about finding the right size for you. Since they are a subreddit dedicated to comfort, they probably have dealt with similar sensitivities before. They might have some suggestions or alternatives.

        1. shirley*

          +1 for r/abrathatfits. Those ladies know their stuff. I was shocked when I measured myself using their standards. Victoria’s Secret’s sizing method is bananas and is why I hated wearing bras for so long.

          1. Allison*

            I love VS, but I heard terrible things about their sizing so I never bothered. I basically tried on a few sizes to figure out which fit best.

            Their stores actually rarely carry my size, most of the 32C drawers are full or bras that are either in neutral colors or really ugly, and I once complained about this only to be told I should try on a 34B because it’s practically the same thing, according to the salesgirl. NOPE.

            1. Lanya*

              Off-topic, but I don’t think Victoria’s Secret carries much “plus size” material in its stores. If I want XL panties I have to kneel down and root around the bottom shelves, or shop online. (This would bother me more if the quality wasn’t so good.) You may have a better selection on their website for “prettier” bras in the larger cup sizes.

              1. Nina*

                This. Unless they are marketed as such, a lot of stores only carry “specialty sizes” like plus size, long/tall, short/petite, and etc. online, and not in the brick-and-mortar locations. VS is no different. Biggest clothing size the stores keep in stock is Large and that’s it.

                I love the quality of VS panties, but it’s not always easy to buy them because of sizing. I once had a coupon for free hiphugger (not a fan but it was free) but they didn’t have any in XL. So the salesgirl let me switch it out for a regular brief that was in XL. Fine by me.

              2. Allison*

                oh I do, I’ve ordered a bunch of bras from the website. and my Angel card gets me free shipping on bra purchases which doesn’t hurt!

              3. joy2b*

                This brand provides a decent baseline offering, but their main offering is pitched at weekend wear. They aren’t necessarily intending to make the contours that work for good office clothing. Work clothes should be designed to pull the eyes away from the bust, and to other places, like a strong shoulder.

                To make a really good impression at work, it’s worth looking for a shop with a professional who knows their tailoring, and who will draw from a few different lines to find the right shape for what we need to do in that garment.

                A specialty shop is more likely to be staffed by someone trained in tailoring who’ll care about finding a garment that fits the job. The owner is also more likely to stock a good range of sizes and brands, including plus sizes and a variety of cup sizes.

                A secret will often have not very wide straps and an intentionally noticeable shape, and it’ll often be close enough in size, but be off enough that shoulders are carrying the weight. That’s fun for a date, but not great for a 10 hour wear, or for keeping up great posture all day long at work.

                A good garment for work for many people will be a well structured minimizer with a broad strap, that keeps most of the weight with the chest, not the shoulders. It must be very well fitted to work right, otherwise it could hurt, make a weird line, etc… This won’t push bad posture, and it will allow work clothes to show their gorgeous cut to their best advantage.

            2. manybellsdown*

              As far as I can tell, VS will only measure you for sizes that they actually carry. Like, if they go up to 38DD, and you’re really a 42C, they’ll tell you you’re a 38DD. Because they can’t sell you a bra in your actual size!

              1. Jessica (tc)*

                This! A lot of lingerie stores do this if they don’t carry your size. I was in the wrong size for years, buying into the “oh, larger sizes will never fit flat to the chest between the cups” lie from multiple stores. I then stumbled upon a reddit post about how to properly size, did the measurements, ordered the (what I thought was an insanely large) bra, and it fit perfectly and was the most comfortable bra I’d ever worn. That said, no bra I’ve ever worn is actually comfortable, but it just actually fit me appropriately.

              2. Mel in HR*

                Well. They “can”, but you have to order it and the price is much higher than their “standard” sizes. It’s why I stopped shopping there. My DDs were too pricey and they didn’t have it in the store.

            3. matcha123*

              Hey! Same size! *high five*
              I was told the same thing, and today I was looking at some bras I haven’t worn in a while, and decided to pull one out. Started to put it on and noticed the tightest buckle was still too loose, looked at the tag: 34B.

          2. Small Creatures Such As We*

            +1 for r/ABraThatFits too (especially for figuring out her correct size). FYI, I was still pretty confused till I registered at bratabase and entered my measurements.

            But especially if the OP finds bras uncomfortable, Reddit’s ABTF may be overwhelming. For those who aren’t familiar with that sub-reddit, different bra companies (and even specific models for the same company) can fit very differently at the same bra size (you may need to go up in band size in one bra, up a cup size in another, etc.).

            Even after I had measured correctly, I managed to order/return 5 different bras from Amazon (recommended on ABTF) without finding “the one” (aka the one that is invisible under light t-shirts while being supportive and comfortable). It’s really a matter of finding a bra company that works for you (or particular model(s)) and ordering *that* one (um, in all colors, with several backups, for the inevitable day when it is discontinued).

            My best advice for the most painless way to find a comfortable bra *and* know that you’ve been sized properly is to find (or make the trip to) the nearest non-chain bra store that carries a wide range of band sizes and does fittings. I’ll post a link to one I can recommend. I swear I don’t work for them, but I walked in the door after the 5 Amazon orders/returns. Within 15 minutes, she confirmed that I’d measured correctly (and that the bra I’d walked in with was a good fit, but that my perceived “bad fit” was the firmly molded cup), found me another everyday bra model that was comfortable, AND found me some fancier underthings for my honeymoon.

            I live most of my life online, but I think that a GOOD brick-and-mortar store is worth it for things like this. And sadly, once you get into specialty sizes, Amazon is rarely cheaper than brick-and-mortar.

            My bra fits wonderfully, but now I have to pay full price because Nordstrom Rack never has anything in my size

            1. Small Creatures Such As We*

              This is the local store I recommend (Orange County, USA). You’re looking for a local store that talks about their selection/the fitting process like this:

              And fair warning (as if linking to a bra store isn’t NSFW enough): I’m linking to the FAQ because the main site auto-loads a video (their website is fairly…old-fashioned).

        2. AnonAnalyst*

          I just want to jump in and sing the praises of /r/ABraThatFits. I’m fairly busty so wearing a bra to work isn’t really optional for me, but the information there helped me find some bra styles that finally fit me correctly (i.e., so I’m not constantly feeling like they need to be adjusted, which is such an attractive look!) If none of the suggestions that people have floated on this thread work for the OP, I would definitely check in there for other ideas.

        3. INTP*

          Another +1 for the ABTF reddit. Those women have an encyclopedic knowledge of bras and I think someone will have a suggestion for what to look into.

        4. StarHopper*

          Adding my voice to the chorus. I measured myself using their standards after ditching all my nursing bras and buying new ones, and discovered I was waaay smaller in the band size and bigger in the cup size than I had been wearing. And I am not busty-looking at all. Bras feel so much better now! (But really, they still come off first thing when I get home because that’s how I roll.)

        5. kkcf*

          YES! You beat me to it. OP, this is a really great resource for you to learn more. I’m sure they’d love to help you out. I sew and work with fabric a lot and I’m still amazed at all these women know that I don’t. <3 <3 <3

          1. virago*

            Yes, yes, yes, much <3 to A Bra That Fits!

            Here’s the link to /r/ABraThatFits.

            Here’s the link to their Beginner’s Guide, including “How to Measure Yourself,” their Bra Size Calculator and how to submit a “Measurement Check” post so that ABTF’s moderators can help you double-check your size and discuss which bras might work best for you. (The mods are very helpful, I’ve observed as a longtime lurker.)

      2. KR*

        I’d echo the issue of fit too. The OP mentions that they don’t know their size. It could be that bras that they are trying on are terribly uncomfortable because they don’t fit correctly. Not only is a good fit important, but a quality bra in the right style is important. The bras you buy at Target are going to wear out faster and be far less comfortable then the ones you buy at VS. You don’t have to get a bra with an underwire or even a cup for proper coverage, so that’s an option.

        1. TCO*

          Victoria’s Secret bras have never fit me well (but I’m larger than OP probably is). Soma offers good options for me. The moral of the story, OP, is to try different brands if you’re open to considering bras. Even popular/high-end bras don’t fit all people the same and so it might take more than one try. Most high-end bra/department stores offer free fittings that could be a big help if it wouldn’t be too painful for you to try some things on.

          1. Paquita*

            I second trying Soma. I recently discovered that they have a brick and mortar store i my city. I now have four new bras! I haven’t ordered online yet but now that I know what I like I can do that next time.

            1. Small Creatures Such As We*

              Unfortunately, I had the opposite experience and would have to caution against Soma. Like VS, they seem to only recommend bra sizes that they have in store, and they add 4-5 inches to your under-bust measurement (THAT’S WRONG!). I think they also only carry band-size 32 and above.

              My first attempt at a non-VS bra-fitting was at Soma. According to THEIR measurements, I was a 34C, which led to the usual quadriboob. She grudgingly put me in a 34D, which prevented the cup-runneth-over effect. I bought my first “professional job” bras (post grad-school), and thought that bras just were uncomfortable and unsupportive.

              Thanks to Reddit’s ABraThatFits, I know that I’m a 30DD. I’m a US size 6-ish (albeit with a VERY long torso), so 30 is a relatively average-ish band size, NOT something that is worn only by extra-petite <100 pound women (not that there's anything wrong with being extra-petite and <100 pounds either).

              1. Joline*

                I’ve found that the band size is a funny thing – I think it often has more to do with rib cage size than it does with actual weight or clothing sizes (since breasts and arms affect size needed more than rib cage, I find). I’ve worn the same band size at size six and sixteen because I haven’t gotten gotten much additional girth across my rib cage there. Breasts, legs, and belly have increased, but the rib cage has stayed the same. Cups have obviously changed.

                So yes. Measure. Try things on. And if you’re comfortable with it – ask the sales people to come in the room and have look.

        2. Turanga Leela*

          Yes! And really do try a variety of styles; don’t assume that less is more. I don’t love the way most bras feel, but it turns out that I’m comfortable in a bra with very rigid cups—almost 1950’s-style.

        3. Potluck*

          Ha. I had one Victoria Secret bra that word out just as fast as a Target one. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I have to pay $120 per bra to get ones that last, fit, shape me well and are comfortable.

          1. Lindsay J*

            Yeah, I have a couple VS bras that look amazing on me. None of them have lasted even 6 months (and I wash them correctly and very infrequently so it’s not that).

        4. Stranger than fiction*

          Personally I don’t find Victoria’s Secret bras all that well made. Agree with others there’s plenty of non-bra alternatives to disguise the “high beams” and no one will know the difference.

        5. Honeybee*

          This is true, but I agree that VS bras are only like a half-notch above Target. I’ve also found that you don’t have to spend a lot on comfortable, well-made bras – Maidenform, for example, is a company that makes really comfortable and soft bras with padding on the underwire and silky bands, and you can pick up their bras for $30-40 (and less on sale).

          Honestly I’d go to a specialty bra shop or a Nordstrom, get fitted, and them ask them for some recommendations.

        6. Mreasy*

          If you live in a city, I recommend going to be professionally fit. You can explain your problems, and if the fitters are worth their salt, they’ll know their products well enough to find you some soft-cup/bralette/cami options you’ll love. It’s great to know your size, but when you get a pro fitting you get to try on a ton of bras/options to be sure you’re getting something that’s comfortable.

        7. KR*

          My goodness! After seeing the recommendations I’m sorry I referenced VS. I only meant to reference the price, not the quality. I’ve never bought there myself – much too expensive.

          1. Nina*

            No worries. For what it’s worth, I’ve read glowing reviews about VS sport bras. They’re supposed to be extremely supportive for exercise and they come in a range of sizes and support. Naturally, they aren’t cheap, but supposedly, the price is actually worth it for those.

      3. Calla*

        I mean, OP mentions a condition that makes her hyper-sensitive in general, and that a bra would be painful enough to negatively impact her performance in an interview…. her size might be useful to know, but I think this is beyond an ill-fitting bra.

        1. fposte*

          I don’t know, though–I’m pretty sensitive to skin stuff myself, and if I’d never found the few bras that work for me, I would have assumed that it was bras, period.

        2. Observer*

          Not necessarily – an ill fitting bra in the wrong style and material can be pretty tortuous even for someone with NO sensitivity. If someone does have sensitivity, the wrong combination can easily be a disaster. And, if the OP really doesn’t know her size, it’s almost certain that she has never been properly fitted.

          Will that mean that she’ll be 100% comfortable with a bra? That’s hard to know. But, it really is not necessarily unrealistic to think it might go from unwearable to just one of those not comfortable things you kick off as soon as you get home. Not great, but livable.

          1. fposte*

            The other thing is that since the answer to her question of “Is it okay not to wear a bra?” is, basically, “no, not visibly,” that’s an area we might at least be able to offer some help on, and it feels better than saying just “Sorry, you’re out of luck.”

        3. Kelly*

          I’m curious how OP wears clothes in general if her skin is so sensitive. My first thought was just wear a vest or blazer over her shirts/blouses and that should do it – but if she’s that sensitive the extra weight of the blazer might also be an issue.

          Without a bra size giving any real tips makes it’s tough. Obviously if you’re a D your options are going to be different than they are if you’re a B – and both could be considered “average” depending on body type.

          1. Rana*

            I’m guessing it’s the constricting qualities of bras that make the difference. I have similar issues with regards to things with elastic waistbands, too-snug socks, etc. If I wear something with an elastic waistband that hits in the wrong spot, it actually hurts by the end of the day.

            So I’d either suggest things with non-elastic but smooth hems (some of the more rigid bras, if clasped loosely, could work) or things with very weak elastic, like bralettes, if the OP’s going to attempt a bra.

            Otherwise, I’d suggest things like camisoles, undershirts under thick “wrinkle proof” oxford shirts, sweaters, vests, etc.

            Another possibility, if the OP’s skin is sensitive only to pressure, not contact, is to get something like a silicone nipple shield, just to hide the headlights. Paired with a slightly snug camisole to prevent slippage, they work pretty well. (Here’s a bunch for sale at Amazon:

            1. Anonymous*

              Yeah, I’ve got demographism (allergy to pressure). Clothes are fine, but anything tight is painful – as soon as the pressure is relieved (e.g. it moves), the itching/burning/welting starts. The better the fit, the less aggravating through the day.

            2. Ettina*

              I’m the OP. It’s two things – constriction and layers. And it does make me very picky about clothes in general, too. (I’m on the autistic spectrum, and my brain overreacts to certain sensations.)

              I find the tightness of a bra makes me feel short of breath, kind of like when I’m having an asthma attack. I suppose that could just be not having the right size, but even with regular shirts I often wear a size or two too big because I find it more comfortable.

              Also, any time I’m wearing multiple layers of clothes (other than a jacket), I find it generates static and makes me extremely itchy.

              1. Observer*

                Then some of suggestions might really work for you. There is a HUGE range of how tight a bra can feel. It may not be perfect, but the right fit, style and type might really possibly bring things to a level you could deal with at work.

                Also, start looking at the materials you are wearing. Some materials generate much more static than others.

                Lastly, working with an OT on the sensory issues might be quite useful. You obviously want to deal with a therapist who understands the difference between ASD and other issues such as SPD, but if you can find one that knows her stuff and can help you, that might make your life easier – and nut in this regard.

          2. Duckie*

            I’m not OP, but I have a spinal lesion right where a bra band sits and having things press on a lesion site = no good. It’s the pressing. It hurts and also causes my legs and trunk to go numb.

      4. Blurgle*

        If you can, try to find a bra fitter at a store that sells all sizes (in other words, most emphatically *not* a plus-size store or Victoria’s Secret).

        I have had…issues…with bra fitters at plus size stores who insist on putting me in a bra two cup sizes too large, specifically because (at least where I live) they don’t sell A cup bras at plus size stores. When you can fit an orange in the cup while you’re wearing it, it’s the wrong size.

        Nowadays I wear sports bras 95% of the time.

        1. Oversharer*

          Victoria’s Secret is constantly trying to sell me bras that are a cup size too big when what I really need is a band size that’s bigger than anything they offer. I’m probably really something like a 42C, but they’re constantly recommending a 36DD. I’ve settled for a 38D.

          1. michelenyc*

            They definitely do not know what it comes to bar fit at Victoria’s Secret. They measured me over my clothes. I went to Linda the Bra Lady in NYC, she is the best BTW and even better she stay’s within your budget.

          2. Honeybee*

            Victoria’s Secret fitters emphatically do not know what they are doing. On top of that, they have to sell you a size that they carry – preferably a size they carry in stores, otherwise they’ll lose you. They always try to put me in a band size that’s too big or a cup size that’s too small, because they DO carry my size (32DD), but they only sell it online. I do sometimes get a few bras from them, but they don’t last very long. Band stretches out too quickly.

            1. Turanga Leela*

              Second the no idea what they’re doing. I tried on a bra they gave me that was totally wrong for me; it just pancaked my breasts and offered no shaping at all. I said that I’d like a bra with more shaping and lift. The saleswoman told me I just needed a different size of the same bra. I said I’d like to try something different, but she insisted it was just the wrong size. I left the store and haven’t bought a bra there since.

              1. baseballfan*

                Third. My Lord, it is ridiculous. They measure over your clothes and hold the tape up in such a way that there’s now way it’s accurate.

                After the time I went in there as a 34DD and they said they had nothing for me and I should shop at Lane Bryant, I swore never again. I’m not skinny, but I’m not plus sized either, and there are plenty of normal size stores with bras in my size.

                1. potato battery*

                  Fellow 34DD. Lane Bryant does not carry any smaller band sizes, in my experience. I think the lowest they go is 38. The small band-large cup niche is a dreadfully underserved one. There seems to be an assumption that the band and cup have to “match” somehow, as though 32A and 38C are acceptable but 32C is not. Given that it’s a ratio, I do not understand this.

          3. Bowserkitty*

            They always tell me about “sister sizes” – like 32D for 36C or similar (don’t take my word on that one). I mean really, does it work like that?

            (Genuinely curious.)

            1. Naomi*

              The cups on sister sizes are the exact same size, but the bands aren’t. So if you get a sister size of your true size, the cups should fit but the band will be too tight or too loose.

              1. Takver*

                Nooo, this is wrong!!! The cups on a 32D are not the same size as the cups on a 34D—they are smaller! Sister sizes actually do work like that. One of the most common sizing problems is that women are wearing bras that have too big a band and too short a cup. In that case you would look for your sister size–from 32D to 30DD.

              2. VintageLydia USA*

                Actually the cup size is relative to band size so the person Bowserkitty talked to was right. A 32D has the same volume in the cup as a 36C. It’s why when people say “I’m a C or D cup” it’s… not helpful for those of us who know how bras work.

                Now, why “how bras work” isn’t common knowledge and why nearly every bra company has a stupidly convoluted fitting system that isn’t remotely accurate is beyond me. But basically your band size is your underbust measurement–no adding or subtracting inches. To get your cup size you measure you bust than subtract your underbust from it and inches of difference should coordinate with a cup (1 inch is A, 2 inches is B, etc. It’s easier to figure out using UK sizing and brands since it’s more consistent than US sizing.) The vast majority of women are in too large bands and too small cups but they “fit” since the volume is the same. This is why everyone’s strapless bras desperately try to become belts, by the way. They are literally too big around where it counts so they fall down.

                1. Jessica (tc)*

                  Thank you for saying this. I discovered how to really fit myself, and I ordered bras using the UK system. I have a favorite bra manufacturer from the UK, and I will always buy my bras from that company due to their regular sizing. (I’m in the U.S.)

            2. Mreasy*

              I am a 32DD. Last time I was in VS, the associate measured over my clothes & insisted I was a 38B. I laughed at how far from fitting the bras were, but she wouldn’t let it go! I was near tears when I stormed out of the store.

              1. Nina*

                Ugh, I’m sorry for that lousy experience. Buying a bra shouldn’t make you cry unless they’re tears of joy at the great fit.

              2. michelenyc*

                They told me the same thing. I straight up told the associate she had no idea what she was doing. Now I only go to Nordstrom or Linda the Bra Lady!

              3. Daisy Steiner*

                Same here. To her credit, the VS fitter DID bring me a 34D when I asked for one, but she was very sceptical that I was anything over a B. The 34D fit like a glove!

                At David’s Bridal, the seamstress laughed in my face when we were fitting the cups in my dress – I said I probably needed a C or D, and laughed and said “No, A or B”.

        2. Nina*

          I would never go to VS again for a bra. Besides not knowing how to size me, their bras are easily the most painful I have ever worn. Including their wireless, which left bruises.

          But I’ve heard great things about Nordstrom’s, if you have one in your area.

      5. Specialk9*

        You need a real bra fitting at either Nordstroms or Soma. Don’t go to Victoria’s Secret. I personally really like Soma bras (and the undies have a silicone edge to prevent wedgies).

    2. TL -*

      Or some really soft, comfortable sports bras – not the kind that actually compress but the kind that are really meant for small-chested women. (I have ones that I work out in – compression galore! – and ones that I sleep in sometimes because they’re very soft cotton and comfortable.)

      1. Kyrielle*

        Or maternity bras, especially sleep bras (which are designed to provide coverage and be able to hold pads in case of leakage – pads also obscure things you want obscured – but designed _not_ to restrict in ways that would hurt while trying to sleep. They’re not much in the way of support if you need that to keep things appropriate, though. (Also, not so bad with the seams in horrible places, IMX.)

      2. Jady*

        I’m a larger chested woman and I’ve worn sports bras for years and years. Finding a regular bra that fit was a giant pain in the butt, but sports bras were easy. I’ve been wearing them ever since, no regrets.

        1. moss*

          me too. And I got fitted and everything but the regular bras had little places where I could feel the threads and they itched me. Sports Bras all the way from now on. Currently wearing an ancient Reebok yoga bra.

          1. Nikki T*

            Did you see this from the first comment?

            I’m not affiliated with the company at all, but I find the Breast Nest really comfortable, far softer than any normal bras. Just in case that might help.

          2. cuppa*

            When I had shingles and couldn’t wear a normal bra, those soft-support sports bras were my life-saver (too big for no bra).

      3. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        I find the ones marketed as “yoga bras” very comfortable. I wear them on red-eye flights because they’re more comfortable than my regular ones. Doesn’t mean the OP will feel the same, though, since they still are a presence.

  2. AndersonDarling*

    A bra isn’t the only option to keep everything in place. Would spanks or another kind of compression top be more comfortable?

    1. Ad Astra*

      I think any kind of close-fitting garment on top, under her clothes, would work. Camisoles, bralettes, sports bras, etc. Without knowing how sensitive OP is, it’s hard to know what might be comfortable enough. But there are absolutely better options than a traditional underwire.

      Basically, it doesn’t look professional if your nipples are (constantly) showing through your shirt, or if your breasts appear to be totally unsupported. But everything else is a matter of personal preference.

  3. KR*

    I agree with the others that it’s mostly standard. I would recommend a sports bra or camisole. If you really, honestly can’t stand wearing anything under your clothes, layer it up and perhaps wear pasties if you’re having coverage issues.

    1. Rah Rah*

      Be careful with pasties. I’ve hear horror stories of people wearing them to long and tearing the skin when they took it off.

      1. Koko*

        I have a set that I was so glad I read the instructions on even though application seemed pretty idiot-proof. They noted that the pasties were designed to be used by performers who have to deal with wet environments (lol) and that if you don’t need that level of adhesion you should dust baby powder over the area to be covered before applying them. I did that and they both stayed on all night and came off very painlessly at the end of it!

      2. GH in SoCAl*

        Yikes! But they make reusable silicon “petals” that don’t have adhesive and do the job. Don’t know if OP would find them comfortable, but they’re worth considering.

        1. AnonAnalyst*

          I have these to wear with some of my unlined bras and they work great for me. They’re easy to clean, and mine have kept their shape for over a year now with fairly frequent use. Can recommend if anyone is considering trying them!

      3. simonthegrey*

        I have to be careful with them; I wear them sometimes for events that I can’t do traditional bras for, but I have a mild latex allergy and the adhesive makes my nipples develop small sores. I have to be really picky about the ones I buy.

  4. Bend & Snap*

    Depending on your size, compression garments can actually make things worse in the boob emphasis department. They give me crazy cleavage, and might not help with the pain factor either.

    What about a genie bra or something like that?

  5. Allison*

    I’m inclined to agree with AAM, it’s going to seem unprofessional to most people. If you have relatively big breasts, their free-flowing movement might be awkward and off-putting, and regardless of size, you may have an issue with your nipples standing at attention. And if a shirt is even slightly see-through, it’s gonna be a problem.

    I don’t know what condition you have, or much about really any condition that makes wearing a bra uncomfortable, but I would urge you to look into alternatives, like wearing a camisole under your shirt and/or a blazer over it.

    1. sunny-dee*

      Not to be too graphic, but I’ve attempted to go braless under a couple of spaghetti-strap tanks (off hours), and even if my nipples aren’t pointy, you could still see the discoloration through the fabric.

      Also, I’m not super large (B), but if the girls are loose, you can tell. They just …. move. Particularly under lighter / silkier fabrics. There really isn’t going to be an alternative — the OP either needs to layer a lot or find a bra-like substitute or it’ll just be obvious.

      1. Afiendishthingy*

        Hmm. I am too pointy to go braless but you wouldn’t be able to see discoloration. Man, nipple type is complicated :)

    2. pope suburban*

      Also, regrettably, a lot of women’s professional clothing is cut to be worn with a bra. If a button-up shirt has darts, they’re placed to fit breasts in a bra. If there’s any kind of seaming, it’s designed with a bra in mind. I personally find this kind of wacky, but it is what it is, and short of getting something custom-made (which, hey, is a great idea for those who can afford it), work wear without a bra is going to be tricky.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, that’s a really good point. Something heavier and structured like a jacket might be able to shove ’em into place anyway, but a dress isn’t going to be able to do that on its own.

      2. Rat in the Sugar*

        Tell me about it! With my flat chest, I can always grab a double handful of fabric in any shirt/dress that’s sewn that way. There are other styles you can get, however, that work much better and don’t have those seams. I have some that have large cowl-necks or ruffles on the chest, and it totally hides everything (including extra fabric). Seems like that style might work for the OP, as well. (If her chest is not so big that movement is visible, anyway.)

        1. Ife*

          I think a scarf that’s designed to be worn as an accessory could do a good job of camoflaging the lack of bra since they typically lay right over the chest. Otherwise, OP is going to need a blazer/jacket or some kind of camisole like others have suggested.

      3. Anonymous*

        Aaagh! I hate this! I’m size HH, and any clothes with any kind of ‘bust’ tailoring tend to sit neatly on top of my bust. In fact, I used to wonder why clothes kept having this random seam across the front, because it was so far from the underbust area that it didn’t even occur to me.

    3. manybellsdown*

      This is what gets me about bras, really. You have to wear one, but you can’t be *obviously* wearing one: not showing through your clothes, no straps peeking out, because that’s bad and unprofessional. But you can’t obviously *not* be wearing one either.

      Our breasts are just supposed to magically stay in place with no visible means of support, really.

  6. Anon for this*

    My entire department is made up of female psychologists and we have an extremely informal dress code (workout clothes, shorts) but no bra/no support would be a deal-breaker. A sports bra or a support tank would be fine but not braless.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Yeah you just reminded me of Op’s comment about being a psychologist. I’d think the last thing you’d want while counseling someone would be to have them distracted by your breasts the whole time.

    2. snuck*

      Yeah. This is what I was coming to say sort of.

      A psychologist in a counselling/face to face role needs to be not too distracting, not too overt. Casual is about feeling relaxed and approachable I imagine… having something so far outside the norm as breasts blatently free flowing could make enough clients feel uncomfortable that they won’t come back.

      There’s telephone counselling? Or wearing layers and things as outlined in the comments? I imagine a C cup or more would be blatently obvious, and a B cup probably will be in the wrong outfit (or if not… ahem… firm?).

  7. Anon the Great and Powerful*

    As a fellow bra hater, I completely understand where you’re coming from. Bras are the worst. I usually just wear multiple shirts (at least two layers of fabric between your nipples and the world at all times!). In situations where a bra is required, I wear a padded bralette. They have no underwires and basically feel like wearing a bathing suit top.

    1. KR*

      This! An under wire is not necessary at all if you’re not large-chested. I wear sports bras to work in the summer under my clothes and you can nearly never tell.

      1. simonthegrey*

        I’m large chested and do not wear underwire. I haven’t since my late teens. The wire was too painful. You can get comfortable, wire-free bras even for larger breasts from Catherine’s.

    2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I live in bralettes. The older I get the less comfortable bras are and I have fallen in love with bralettes!

    3. Anon567*

      Another option is those undershirts with a built in liner. Wear under baggy shirts, but the undershirts help hold you in. Older sports bras that are stretched out can also be decently comfortable.

      Also, always have a jacket or sweater on hand in case it’s cold.

      1. McDerp*

        This is what I do. In my 30s now and haven’t worn a bra since high school. Camis with the “shelf” all the way! You can get them in simple cotton for like $6 at Walmart or thinner materials for wearing under work blouses for a bit more. And since OP is still in school, I’ve read that going without or just light support is better for your girls than a bra, anyway. Keeps the muscles working and everything nice and perky. Seems to have worked for me!

        1. McDerp*

          Also wanted to add that camis will always fit you! If you gain some weight or continue growing a bit, no matter what size you’re buying, the price will be the same. (Honestly, I love the Mossimo brand from Target at ~$10, but you do you.) No expensive boutique prices. No fittings or stress. Just lovely coverage and basic support that can be incorporated into your public wardrobe or not depending on whether you want to cover up or let some of it show like that Cami-Secret thing.

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      I agree they’re so uncomfortable. As soon as I get home from work it’s the first thing to go. On weekends around the house Im sans bra and running errands a sports bra or bralette is my substitute

  8. Snarkus Aurelius*

    If you’re flat chested (think Kate Hudson), then you can get away without wearing one.  

    If you’re anything bigger than that, you to be a bit more cautious.  Camisoles sometimes have shelf bras — an extra piece of heavier fabric with elastic at the bottom — sewn into them.  Formal dresses have bras sewn into them too so I wonder if it’s possible for you to find a good tailor to sew some cups into your clothing.

    Either way you need to be mindful of what your clothing could reveal.  Because some materials can be sheer or can reveal too much no matter what your cup size is.

    1. some1*

      “If you’re flat chested (think Kate Hudson), then you can get away without wearing one.”

      I can’t. Especially on cold days.

      1. Jen RO*

        Yup – I have B cups and they, uh, don’t really move around… but nipples would definitely be visible. (I find bras without underwire very comfortable, but they might be too much for OP.)

      2. Traveler*

        Yep. I had a professor who did this. I am pretty sure she didn’t care, and good for her, but its still obvious.

      3. Rana*

        Me either. No need for support, but coverage is pretty important unless I’m wearing a heavy sweater or fleece.

    2. LawBee*

      not to mention the armholes. I spent a very distracted hour in class one day because the girl in front of me was bra-free with generous armholes. I could not stop staring.

  9. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

    Depending on what exactly the problem is, some stick on nipple petals might be the only thing necessary for a solution

  10. the_scientist*

    In my experience, it’s really, really easy to tell when a woman’s not wearing *anything*, regardless of chest size. That said, I have had a few very small-chested friends who could get away with wearing a “bralette” (think a soft, cotton thing with no lining and no underwire) or a lounge-type bra (I’ve seen these at places like Marshall’s/Winners; they’re made of wicking fabric and are usually racerback and give a tiny bit of support/shaping but are meant to be comfy). That, or perhaps a camisole with a shelf bra should be more than sufficient for someone with a small chest. Bra doesn’t have to equal padding, underwire, or lace; there are a lot of different options out there that might be more comfortable.

    As an aside, when I first started wearing training bras, I found them utterly excruciating to wear; I couldn’t tolerate the feeling of the elastic bottom band on my skin. I solved the issue with soft cotton sports bras and time, eventually I adjusted to the feeling and it became a non-issue.

    1. INTP*

      I agree with this. Even in baggy clothing, you can tell when an average-sized woman is wearing no bra or a very unsupportive bra. And that’s going to come across as unprofessional – possibly slobby or possibly suggestive depending on how sexily you dress, but fair or not, unprofessional. Something to provide some lift and/or minimize movement would be necessary for almost anyone.

      1. the_scientist*

        I think the key things you need to control are nipple show-through and um, “bounce”. Especially for an average or larger chested woman, it’s really, really obvious when the girls are flapping/bouncing around, and if the OP ever works in an office with a business casual or higher dress code, most women’s blouses are (unfortunately) sheer and made of clingier fabrics (think polyester vs. thicker knits), which means it’s going to be REALLY obvious unless she’s constantly wearing a blazer, cardigan, or cleverly tied scarf. So yeah, something that minimizes movement and provides some coverage/smoothing is important, even if there’s no lift.

          1. Kelly L.*

            My mom started me on training bras when I had absolutely nothing going on in the girls area–I figure it was probably to get me used to the straps, etc., before it really “mattered.”

      1. Oryx*

        I blossomed early and significantly. I think I skipped the whole training bra phase. Boys were snapping the back of my regular bra from the get-go.

    2. jmkenrick*

      That’s sort of conformation bias though, isn’t it? I mean, if they’re not wearing anything and you can’t tell, then you *can’t* tell. So of course we’re only going to notice the braless women who ‘show’ (for lack of a better word).

      I lived in a house with ten other girls in college, and there definitely were two who were able to get away without wearing a bra and you’d never be able to tell. That said, both those women had very slight builds, so the bounce factor was essentially non-existent….which means that the only real issue is wearing fabric or layers thick enough that there’s no nipple outline.

      Based on what OP says, it sounds like a bralette or camisole is a better option for her.

      1. TL -*

        Yup. I was shocked to find out of my suitemates in college regularly went braless… not so much when a friend revealed the same thing, though.

        1. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

          And I had one friend who I was shocked to find wore a bra 24/7… you definitely couldn’t tell they were “contained!”

      2. the_scientist*

        I mean, it is confirmation bias to an extent, but I would posit that very, very few women have a build that supports unobtrusive free-boobing. I have lived with many female roommates of many shapes and body types, and trust, you can tell, unless they are exceptionally small-chested. As others have said, unconstrained breasts just move in a way that is different from those that are constrained, even by a soft, non-underwire bra or fitted camisole.

        That said, the OP doesn’t have to wear a bra-bra. There are a lot of alternatives. But she likely can’t free-boob with impunity, so she’ll have to come up with some sort of middle ground, be it creative use of scarves, layering, or menswear looks or a bra-alternative.

        1. potato battery*

          ” very, very few women have a build that supports unobtrusive free-boobing.”

          I would add the caveat that it depends a lot on clothing choice, though. As you mentioned, menswear is easier to get away with.

    3. Taylor*

      Drat! I went out without a bra on a lazy Saturday afternoon and felt like I was getting away with something. Hopefully since my top was dark and not too form-fitting, no one could tell “really, really easily!” ;)

      1. NJ Anon*

        I do this on occasion and really don’t care if anyone can tell or not. OMG! Women have breasts! I get the professional aspect at work but running to the gas station/mini-mart? Puleese!

  11. Erin*

    I assume your doctor deals with other patients with your health problem – he must have some suggestions, or can at least point you in the direction of other people who could speak to this.

    Sorry there’s no easy answer here, but it is for sure unprofessional to go without (provided it’s noticeable, as Alison said – if you can make it so no one can see, then no one will know!). It might be worth it to invest in a very high quality, strapless/backless/wireless bra. You’re going to have to find what works for you, whether that’s a different brand of bras, tank tops, etc. Do a little experimenting.

    Ultimately I’d seek out others with your ailment and see what they do.

    1. snuck*

      I have sensory processing disorder… I suspect this is what the OP has… it’s part of a range of issues about disordered sensory information and the disorder part comes in where it also affects a person so deeply that they don’t function normally.

      To the OP I’d suggest finding an Occupational Therapist who specialises either in (adult… lots of kiddie ones, need to find an adult specialist preferably) SPD or Autism (a lot of people with Autism have SPD) and work through this an other sensory issues. (Most people with SPD are not people with Autism, but many people with Autism have SPD.)

      If you are very tactile defensive then this can include programs you do to manage your tactile response – desensitisation (Wilbarger brushing on kids, not sure on adults) and sensory management… there’s something called a sensory diet where you can manage your sensory input before something that you know will usually put you over the edge, and ways to mitigate that stress level so you have more spoons to handle the distressing thing etc. Talk to an OT. (If you aren’t already!)

      1. Ettina*

        Yeah, you guessed it. I’m high functioning autistic. I’ve been trying to get OT, but haven’t had much luck finding adult OTs in my area.

  12. Anonicorn*

    If you find that wearing a bra (or bra-like garment) is indeed necessary, then perhaps you could ease into it. For example, start wearing loose tank tops as undergarments, then gradually move on to slightly more “restrictive” underclothes.

  13. AW*

    I have a disability that makes me highly sensitive to touch

    Have you been able to find any support groups for your disability or even a group for disabilities in general? If you have a doctor who’s willing to help with non-medical approaches to working around symptoms, you could ask if they know of any local or online resources or even if they know of things that have helped their other patients.

    Can you also elaborate on what you mean by sensitive to touch? Is it that things feel too rough or things that are too tight are painful or something else? The comments above me are suggesting things that are softer and things that are tighter so I don’t think everyone’s reading that part the same way.

    1. OriginalEmma*

      I immediately thought “sensory processing disorder,” but only because that’s the one sensory disorder I’m familiar with.

      1. Oversharer*

        I have ADHD, which makes me a bit more sensitive to physical sensations (probably not the same severity as OP’s disability), and I can’t stand to go without a bra. Even when I’m sleeping, I have to wear a close-fitting tank top to prevent discomfort. So I’m really interested in learning more about OP’s situation and what works or doesn’t work for her.

        1. moss*

          god yes. I hate the bounce and feeling the… underside of my boob touch my chest skin, not to be too graphic.

          1. Amy*

            YES THAT IS THE WORST FEELING! I used to be a 30FF and after some lovely free surgery I’m now a 32D/DD and still prefer to wear a bra (though I do LOVE ‘shelf’ cami’s and wear them running errands on the weekends, etc)

      2. Bob, short for Kate*

        Could be something like fibromyalgia, where close fitting things can set up a bone-deep burning sensation. If so, I suspect a slightly too large sports bra might be a workable solution.

    2. StudentPilot*

      There’s a disease sometimes nicknamed ‘The Butterfly Disease’ – epidermolysis bullosa, where the skin develops blisters after even minimal touches. I don’t know if this is what the OP has, but when she mentioned ‘disability’ and ‘highly sensitive to touch’ that’s what I immediately thought of.

      1. LawBee*

        EB is more than just blistering, the skin sloughs right off. It’s heartbreaking, and I don’t think people who have it live very long, and their lives are incredibly painful. I don’t know, obviously, but I doubt that the OP has EB.

  14. some1*

    Seriously, go get a bra fitting at a dept store. It changed my life. I used to think bras were uncomfortable as a rule – because I was wearing the completely wrong size.

    1. Honeybee*

      Same. It literally changed my life. While bras still aren’t the most comfortable things to wear, at least now I’m not dying to get out of them by the end of the day.

  15. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

    I don’t wish to try and make suggestions because you’ll know best what works for you, but (she says, completely disregarding her previous point) I will second Alison’s suggestion of scarves. I get unwelcome comments all the time on my chest, and I have found that getting some of the thin/dressy “scarves” (I can post a link if I’m not being very clear – sorry!) covers up that whole area really nicely and makes you “shapeless”, and they’re so light that you barely feel them. I tend to wear them like a shawl; it restricts arm movement a little, but it’s been a life-saver for covering up.

    I wish that I could say forget beauty standards and fight the world, but I know that’s highly unrealistic and likely to go badly for you. Just know that the world sucks (and pretty much everybody who has to wear them hates bras)

    1. Cari*

      Thirding scarves! I don’t wear bras, and often forego the supportive vests too because the tightness can exacerbate tight chest feeling when I’m anxious. The only thing I found remotely comfortable is a kind of lacey crop-top, but it doesn’t help too well with the cold factor. So when I was in work I’d wear dresses and tops with higher necklines, scarves, and cardigans :)

      Talk of scarves reminds me of this video I saw where a woman demonstrates several ways to wear scarves I think like the type you describe(?). I managed to find it again on YouTube, so hopefully it’s okay to post it here: and if OP goes with the scarf option, maybe there will be a style or two that would suit :)

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        Those were the ones – and that’s also a really useful video – thanks for sharing!

    2. Squirrel*

      I get unwelcome comments all the time on my chest

      Ugh. I know what you mean. Why can’t people just keep their bullshit to themselves?

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        I think that some men just think that the miracle of nature that is the breast must be commented on in order to appreciate it’s true wonder – I mean, it’s not like you see them usually or anything, you *definitely* have to make a song and dance on the odd occasions you spot a hint of one [/sarcasm]

        1. Squirrel*

          I’ve had plenty of women comment on my chest size over the years as well. I used to have an aunt (by marriage, though no longer thankfully) who used to say, every single time she saw me and no matter where we were or who was around, “OH MY GOD LOOK HOW BIG YOUR TITS ARE!” This began when I was 12-13… It was so mortifying.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I’m flashing on Sixteen Candles here:

            Grandma Helen: Oh Sam, let me look at you. Fred, she’s gotten her boobies.
            Grandpa Fred: [chuckles] I better go get my magnifying glass.
            Grandma Helen: Oh, and they are so perky!
            Grandma Helen: [reaches to cup them]
            Samantha: [cut to Sam’s bedroom] I can’t believe my Grandmother actually felt me up.

    3. LawBee*

      Agree with everything but the last sentence – I hate going braless! My bras fit me (after much time on the reddit thread above), and they are so much more comfortable for me than having the girls bouncing and getting all sweaty.

  16. sunny-dee*

    So …. is anyone else thinking of Phoebe’s boyfriend who only wore boxer shorts because he didn’t want to be “on display”?

    1. K.*

      No – I’m thinking of Liz Lemon telling Cirie that she needs to wear a bra, and Cirie replying “No I don’t, they just stay up on their own.”

      1. LBK*

        “You need to dress like you have a job and parents that raised you in some kind of shame-based American religious tradition.”

  17. Nerdling*

    I like nipple petals to keep those from getting out of control and then wearing a bralette or tank top with a shelf bra underneath a dress shirt or cardigan/blazer.

  18. Not me*

    If you end up needing to wear one, try a sports bra or bralette. Also hit up /r/abrathatfits on Reddit. You might be able to find something more comfortable, if it’s underwire or straps or a certain fit that’s a problem for you. You could also try tank tops, camis, and shelf camis.

    Not to say you have to follow all my recs, not getting into the bra debate, just saying there might be alternatives that do work for you.

  19. Calla*

    Anon, I’m happy to say that post-reduction surgery, I have banned “proper” bras from my wardrobe. Including at work. No underwires ever. I’m on the larger end of a B.

    I do think you’ll feel more confident if you have some kind of barrier. That’s always my concern–I get cold easily and it’s noticeable, iykwim. Have you looked into all-cotton sports bras or bralettes? You could even try getting it a little bit loose.

    Camis with built-in bra shelves have also worked well for me.

    If you can’t go with any of those, could you at least get the “petals” that are used to help conceal certain things?

    I’d also second the advice on considering the type of clothing you’re wearing. You’ll probably want to look for thicker, more structured tops (or alternatively, something loose and flowy… point being obviously something clingy probably wouldn’t work).

    Good luck!

  20. H*

    I would try a comfortable bralette, if that makes much of a difference to you. You might also be able to get away with wearing a big, fashionable scarf if you don’t want to resort to baggier clothing, which doesn’t really look good, either.

  21. The Carrie*

    I know most people here don’t understand this problem, and I wouldn’t either if I didn’t have a friend who dealt with such a problem. The problem is not a poor fitted bra. Some people have a sensory problem where even regular clothes feel painful and super super aggressive on their skin. My poor friend would always wear really big skirts and things that would baggy to avoid it on her skin. She did acupuncture which helped some. It was also more noticeable to her on one side of her body. It sounds kind of bizarre if you’ve never heard of it, but it’s like all your nerves are SUPER sensitive, so even the lightest touch is very very difficult. A constricting garment like a bra is pretty bad. I don’t know the OP’s situation, but this sounds like what my friend deals with. It can be very debilitating.

    1. Anon the Great and Powerful*

      I have this problem, too, and the seams in clothes, underwires, straps that dig in, etc basically feel like nails poking into my skin. It sucks.

    2. 30ish*

      If that’s the situation, using thick fabrics, wearing loose clothing, layering and wearing scarves could at least alleviate the problem a little bit. I guess it would get more difficult to handle in summer when layering isn’t such a great option.
      For me, as a small-chested woman, the main issue is my nipples showing (sometimes through several layers of fabric, ugh). I don’t really need a bra to hold my breasts in place. I only wear wireless bras and bralettes.

      1. Calla*

        OMG, a few weeks ago I had on a cami with a built in bra, a tshirt over that, and a cardigan over that, and with the cardigan partially closed (as in, not buttoned closed, but over my chest), it was still obvious when I got a chill! What’s up with that.

        1. 30ish*

          Yep, my nipples can sometimes be seen through a bra, undershirt, shirt, and a cardigan. Even if it’s not that cold. I now just accept it because I’m definitely doing what I can to cover them up. They just stand out. It would be much more noticeable without a bra/bralette though.

        2. plain_jane*

          I was replacing some bras just the other day (and of course they’ve discontinued the last style I liked – which was lightly padded and removed so much of this concern), and I was surprised that several of the styles I tried had a double thickness of fabric everywhere but at the middle – just where I would expect most people want a bit of extra coverage.

          I don’t understand why someone thought that was a good idea. But I also don’t understand the stupid little bows, beads, flowers and sparkly that they seem compelled to add to the middle of the chest (I mean, that stuff costs money, seems an easy place to cut). Or the prevalence of lace for what is supposed to be regular day wear.

      2. Bostonian*

        This is where the fact that a lot of offices set the A/C to “arctic freeze” might actually be helpful to someone.

    3. Not me*

      There are different issues people can have and different degrees of them. I have scoliosis and anything super tight around my chest is not going to fit perfectly or be comfortable. None of us know what OP’s specific issue is.

    4. AW*

      Yeah, this is how I read “sensitive to touch”. I hope the OP comes in and clarifies because I don’t think much of the advice here is going to be helpful otherwise.

    5. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

      I can’t speak from personal experience but I too know people with this extreme kind of sensory processing disorder. It’s not an easy thing to deal with, especially when having to meet professional standards.

      That said, isn’t it more comfortable to have something, even fashion tape, over the nipples? I literally cannot NOT wear a bra or some kind of boob-covering because everything chafes unless it is absolutely huge on me or the fabric over the breasts doesn’t move (like a cami, which with the tightness and the straps I imagine would be uncomfortable to someone with a spd)

      1. Development professional*

        Yeah, when people start talking about never wearing a bra, all I can think is “oh! the chafing! THE CHAFING!”

        But I guess the OP’s problem is different.

        1. sam*

          The chafing though happens precisely because we’ve all been wearing bras, so the skin is super sensitive. If you never wore a bra, you wouldn’t have that issue because your skin would have adapted.

          1. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

            But I started wearing bras in middle school BECAUSE of the chafing- like that’s when I went to my mom and said “I need a training bra or something asap.” But perhaps mine are just extra sensitive in a bad way

            1. G*

              Yep. I was a tomboy/girl with a Peter Pan complex, and I was all set to fight this stupid, pointless “bra” thing for as long as I could… until my breasts actually came in. The chafing (and the flopping and the dragging–suckers were heavy) were so excruciating that I embraced the bra and never looked back.

    6. Nikki T*

      I swear this has come up in the comments before and this is where my mind went. That it’s not a poor fit, it’s a sensory problem and a non-bra solution is probably in order.

      I do like the blazer or cardigan idea, layering too. A vest in warmer months?

    7. Oversharer*

      That does sound debilitating. Was your friend able to wear soft bralettes or camis or anything, or were those still too constricting? What about blazers, vests, and scarves?

    8. Yetanotherjennifer*

      Does your university have a program for occupational therapists? If so, you could talk to someone in that department about options. You could also talk to OTs in your area that work with kids and adults with sensory issues. That may not be your actual problem, but they may have some creative ideas. They may also be able to help you acclimate to a suitable bra.

      If you want to go the find-a-tolerable-bra route I’d call to talk to one of their fit specialists. That’s a great online bra store. You could also see if there is a specialty bra shop in your area. For regular retail I’d try Nordstrom.

      All else fails, I wonder if moving to an area that has a more relaxed culture, like Oregon or Colorado, or Vermont would help. Some place more casual that could be more relaxed about this. You’ll still need some sort of support garment but your options may blend better in that type of culture.

    9. Observer*

      I totally understand that the underlying problem is not a poorly fitting bra. However, the wrong bra can take things from “not very comfortable” to “HORRIBLE and unwearable” and the right one can often take it in the other direction.

      It’s worth checking this out, if she has not does so yet, simply because once you find something that works (if you can), it’s much easier than dressing to obscure the fact that there is nothing underneath.

      1. Observer*

        And, to be clear I definitely do get that it’s possible that it won’t work for her. I also second the suggestion of talking to an OT. Again, for some people it’s not going to help either, because it totally depends on the underlying problem. But, for someone who is an appropriate candidate, it can make a HUGE difference.

    10. Kate M*

      I don’t think anyone is trying to downplay the severity of the condition. I can’t speak to what it actually is unless the OP expands more on what bothers her (the constriction? any touch at all? do regular clothes bother her, or is it just bras?) But the question is whether this will impact her work/ability to be hired. And yes, it probably will. So I think people are trying to suggest every work around. I mean, it seems like regular clothes are ok with her (or else the question might be really different), so trying to find a more comfortable way to wear things professionally is the goal here.

      And I wouldn’t say most people don’t understand the problem – there are a ton of people with sensory issues that come from a variety of sources that most people I would guess have encountered or at least read about. It’s not really an unknown thing. (How it’s treated might not be great, but most people are at least aware.)

    11. Duckie*

      I mentioned it above, but I happen to have a spinal lesion right where a bra band goes. It’s ridiculously unfun, and I’m braless all the time. I will have problems feeling my legs and trunk if I wear a bra for too long.

      To be honest, I’m pretty sure the only reason I ‘get away with it’ is that I work in a casualish office and I have ‘good’ breasts that are self-supporting (especially for their size). I hate that I have to sacrifice being able to walk normally some days (fancy meetings, etc.) just to look ‘professional’, especially since if I was a man, I wouldn’t have to.

  22. Too Sensitive*

    I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say the OP has tried all the obvious options. People who live their lives with disabilities of any kind have likely gone through the gamete (take it from an anxious migraine sufferer). I’m super tiny so the braletts work for me. I got mine at Target, if you haven’t tried those.
    However, if that doesn’t work I like the suggestion of layers. Test how many you can stand and then model them for friends/family in various levels of light. The only thing I would caution here is if you find a combination that works you have to find a way to regulate your body temperature – outside of removing layers! (Again, speaking from experience.)

    Good luck!

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Yes, agreed. While it’s worth trying on some of the things mentioned above if the OP hasn’t tried them before, that may well not work at all for her. However, by picking the other clothes in her wardrobe carefully, she can make bralessness not noticeable at all. It’s easier in the winter because clothes are generally thicker, but I think by shopping around she can find office-appropriate clothes that are not as reliant on a bra.

    2. Observer*

      I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say the OP has tried all the obvious options.

      The surprising thing is that things like getting properly fitted etc. are not as obvious as one would expect. The comments up-thread about the shock it was to finally wear a properly fitted bra are echoed in just about every forum I’ve seen where the topic is discussed. In other words, there are a LOT of women stuck with ill fitting bras, often ones that were fitted by “experts” (who are nothing of the sort.)

      1. BRR*

        I think too that often times people might know the solutions but don’t do them or don’t do them consistently (raises hand).

    3. Kate M*

      Yeah, I wouldn’t assume this. I mean, I know that people with disabilities who HAVE basically tried everything get tired of hearing suggestions. But I also wouldn’t assume that people with issues know everything or have tried everything, and I think that openly talking about these things make a real difference. I have a condition (that I’d rather not name) that was really hard to deal with, but I didn’t realize that it actually was a condition or a real medical thing for the longest time. But now that I’ve figured it out, and occasionally talk about it (with close friends), I’ve found that other women deal with the same issue.

      Sure, I wouldn’t go up to someone I barely know and start throwing suggestions at them. But if someone writes in and asks for advice, I think it’s ok to throw out some “hey, have you tried this?/this worked for me” types of answers.

  23. hamster*

    A blazer should solve this in most cases when closed. Or a cardigan . I have never looked at someone to determine does she wear of not a bra. As long as the situation is not overly bouncy and you’re covered up i guess it’s a non issue.

    1. Sascha*

      I was thinking blazers as well, they are so thick and structured that would be a good top layer. And they come in multiple cuts and fabrics for less formal looks if that’s necessary. Also chunky knit cardigans.

  24. xarcady*

    My guess is that if the career adviser mentioned the issue, then it’s going to be a problem. (Can’t tell from the OP if the adviser brought it up or the OP did.) But that would indicate that is it clear the OP isn’t wearing a bra.

    Some options might be to a) explore alternative bras. Companies such as Decent Exposures make all cotton, soft, non-binding bras. (Not affiliated with the company, just like their products.) This would help if the issue is with the fabric that many bras are made of.

    b) Try wearing a well-fitted bra *over* a tank or t-shirt made in a fabric that doesn’t cause any issues. Cotton or the like would be less slippery and therefore provide a better fit than nylon or polyester, but try what works for you.

    c) Go somewhere good and get fitted for a bra. It is possible that some of your problems are caused by bras that simply don’t fit. A good bra will not bind or cause pressure anywhere during normal daily activities. And a good bra store will have a variety of bras in different fabrics, so you can try to find one that doesn’t cause problems.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      I think it depends entirely on if the advisor brought it up or if the OP asked, “Do I have to wear a bra professionally?” In the latter case, I don’t think we can conclude anything about whether it’s currently noticeable or not. Also, how the OP currently dresses may not be how she’d have to dress for an office in other ways – I’ve known grad school students who wore t-shirts and jeans almost every day, though they knew that in their future jobs they’d have to dress up more. It could be that the OP currently wears casual clothes that make bralessness more obvious, but that in well-selected business clothes it wouldn’t be noticeable at all.

      OP, I’d get the help of a trusted friend in-person – model your current wardrobe for them, and go shopping together, and ask them to be totally honest about what they see.

  25. Clever Name*

    I think how acceptable not wearing a bra is varies by region. If you are in New York City or Washington DC, good luck. In the west, I think it’s more acceptable. It’s definitely not the norm, but I know more than one woman who does not wear a bra.

    That said, I’d wear a close-fitting camisole and I’d avoid knit/clingy tops and opt for woven, structured tops (button front/collared type shirts). A blazer will definitely help. You don’t have to cover yourself in a tent, but some tops call more attention to the bustline than others.

    1. Honeybee*

      I think on the West Coast it’s possibly more acceptable because we dress more casually; layers are more acceptable, and thus hiding your bralessness would be easier. A scarf or three is practically a required accessory here. But I think obvious bralessness would be just as unprofessional here as it is on the East Coast – unless, of course, you’re working in a super-liberal/hippie kind of place that embraces that (kombucha brewery? Commune?)

      Buuuut I’m not sure about the button-front tops – I wear those to work most days and I think it’d still be pretty obvious I was braless. Some of them have darts that are designed to work with bras, and the lighter-colored ones especially would be pretty revealing. I think some of my larger-fitting flannel ones would work braless with a camisole.

  26. jhhj*

    There are a lot of places where people who are sensitive to touch discuss clothing tips, specifically bras.

    Because unless you are in a very specific field, and are very flat, yes, it’s unprofessional. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is. Camisole tanks can be useful, or maybe bandeaus — it depends WHAT about bras bothers you.

    And yes, people can pretty much always tell when a woman is not wearing a bra. It’s just obvious, somehow.

    1. AW*

      There are a lot of places where people who are sensitive to touch discuss clothing tips, specifically bras.

      Any specific suggestions?

      1. jhhj*

        It really depends on why you’re touch sensitive, but any community support for allergies or Asperger’s or fibromyalgia will discuss this, but the strategies will differ because the problems are different.

    2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      And yes, people can pretty much always tell when a woman is not wearing a bra. It’s just obvious, somehow.

      This seems like selection bias to me! You can tell when a woman is not wearing a bra and it’s obvious – but if she’s not wearing a bra and it’s not obvious, then you don’t notice and probably assume she is wearing one. Or, in other words, you don’t know what you don’t know. Unless you poll all women after making a prediction based on visual evidence, which would be scientific but super creepy.

      1. fposte*

        Heh. Yes, it really would be a creepy little study.

        I think it’s more accurate to say that it can be obvious, it can look unprofessional, and if it’s come up in conversation for the OP she’s probably not pulling it off right now.

  27. My Sharona*

    As someone who works with someone who doesn’t wear a bra, I can tell you, it’s extremely unprofessional and obvious. I am not saying that to be mean. I work in a relaxed environment and I didn’t notice, but several of my colleagues have discussed it.

    I agree with Alison about a camisole, perhaps one with built-in shelving?

    1. AW*

      several of my colleagues have discussed it

      Wait, were these people talking about a co-worker’s underwear out loud in the office? It sounds like your office has more problems than one person not wearing a bra.

      1. Oryx*

        ExJob was like that. We had a Regina George and Mean Girl clique and yes, they would talk about a certain co-worker’s underwear (or lack thereof) out loud in the office.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      I had a staff member who didn’t wear a bra, and a work friend commented about it to me, and I decided who gives a shit. The bra-free person has basically no professional contact with anyone outside my department, standards of dress were fairly casual, and the workplace as a whole had a ton of diverse “looks.” So she’s not as “professional” looking as a person might be, but she also didn’t need to be.

    3. Jerry Blank*

      It’s none of their business. Having boobs shouldn’t be any more unprofessional than a dude having nipples (yes, we see them–your cotton undershirt is inadequate in cold weather). My question is why larger chested fellows aren’t required to wear bras. I guess chest fat is only distracting on women? Or is it only sexualized if straight men are into it, as their gaze dictates how women have to dress? I’m pretty sure it’s the latter.

      Anyway, society is changing sloooowly. Until then, OP, I’m sorry you have to put up with this bias. I’d try blazers, or even wrapping nylons around you like a make-shift halter bra. It works and it’s slightly more comfortable than the real thing.

  28. Dovahkiin*

    I’m an A-cup, and I usually get away with not wearing a bra, because I just don’t need the support that a bra provides. My go-to work uniform is graphic tee, blazer, tie, jeans, and candy-colored sneaks, so it’s not terribly revealing. I work in front of a computer all day so there’s no…you know…jiggling. I don’t wear sheer fabrics to work, and that’s not really a part of my style anyway.

    If I have a presentation or go to a conference, I sometimes like to put on some of these lil things: And when I wear dresses, I usually wear a slip underneath (because I love wearing slips).

    A bra is a support garment that does exactly that – provides support. If it’s uncomfortable to wear one, then don’t wear one.

    1. The IT Manager*

      I’m betting the LW is not an A cup. I’m thinking average would be C at least. I think average at least in the USA might even be D now because as women’s waistlines increase, their bra sizes do too.

      1. Dovahkiin*

        I figured that because her discomfort was with the garment itself and not with back pain or breast pain, that she doesn’t actually need the support.

        1. Honeybee*

          Even if your breasts aren’t large enough to cause back or breast pain, that doesn’t mean you don’t need support though. My breasts are not big enough to cause back pain but would be uncomfortable if they were just…swinging free all day.

        2. A grad student*

          Just from my experience- I’m a D cup, and my breasts are not large enough to cause any pain. There’s no way in hell I’d get away with not wearing a bra even now when I wear hoodies to work all the time. Movement is very obvious.

      2. Oversharer*

        True average is probably a D, but I would guess someone who perceives herself to be average is likely around a B or a C. Sort of like how people of average size (for women, 5’4″ and a size 14) in this country are bigger than people who describe their body types as average (more like 5’6″ and size 8).

      3. Lady Bug*

        That’s not necessarily true, when you gain weight you can also gain band size along with breast, so the cup size might not change. When I gain, I gain it everywhere, but when I lose I don’t lose as much in the bust as everwhere else. So over a 30 lb swing up, then 20 lb down I went b to c then to d when my band size dropped.

      4. Honeybee*

        Also cup sizes are variable based on band size. The cups on a 38 D are bigger than the cups on a 32 D. So cup-size in and of itself isn’t necessarily a good measure of whether someone is “average” and/or whether someone can go braless.

  29. Bend & Snap*

    I mean, let’s just look at it from a career impact perspective. Do you want to be known as the person who’s great at XYZ, or the chick who doesn’t wear a bra?

    Unfortunately the latter will be very memorable.

  30. Anon because I am discussing my underwear*

    Fascinating and useful discussion for me. I’m sorry you’re experiencing this condition, LW, but I think Alison gave the perfect answer. It is unprofessional if people can tell that you’re not wearing a bra and she suggested alternative that are not bras. I feel like many of the comments are suggestions for types of bras which won’t work for you.

    That said, I’m paying attention because since I gained weight and breast size I am unable to find comfortable bras any longer – everything in my “size” has an underwire. I even went to Soma and was professionally fitted for two approx. $50 bras that I ended up not being able to wear all day because the band was too tight. So I’m leery of that route; although to be honest, I knew it was too tight the sales lady just convinced me it was the right fit based on the measuring tape. The rule of thumb for figuring out bra size hasn’t worked for me. I have given up and have worn sports bras all summer long, but I am thinking I need to brave the stores and look for some dressier bras again.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      Look up “sister bra size.” Basically every band/cup size has a corresponding size where the band/cup is bigger or smaller. So you may want to look for a bigger band and smaller cup and it’ll even out to the same size.

      1. AW*

        Except it won’t fit properly. Sometimes you do have to go that route because your bra size literally doesn’t exist, but that should be a last resort.

          1. Z*

            Bra extenders mess with where the straps fall on your shoulders. They are only to be used as a last resort.

            1. pope suburban*

              Then you have to get into sorcery with those things that convert regular bras into racerbacks. I’ve not tried them myself, but they are conveniently placed next to the strap extenders, and I see no reason why they wouldn’t work. Of course, that’s without getting into the fact that it may not be terribly comfortable, or that certain tops/dresses are cut so that racerback straps will be visible, so…we’re into some kind of theoretical bra science at this point.

          2. VintageLydia USA*

            Your band will feel too tight (even if it’s actually perfect) if the cups are too small. Best way to tell if it’s the band or the cups is to put the bra on backward. If it’s still too tight, go up a band size.

        1. Bend & Snap*

          That’s not my understanding. Every chest is different and the sister size is a hack to get a better fit if needed. My sister size fits perfectly and my actual size doesn’t fit at all.

          I second a bra extender though, good idea.

          1. Honeybee*

            I’m the reverse. My actual size fits great; my sister size (a 34D) could work in a pinch but the band feels too loose. It’ll also stretch out faster, because I’ll have to start on the middle or last latch of the bra strap. And going in the other direction is not an option – a 30F is even more difficult to find than a 32DD/E.

            1. blackcat*

              30F’s exist! I order them from the UK (I’m American). Bravissimo & figleaves carry lots in that size.

              If I’m looking for something new, I buy a ton at the start of my credit card’s billing cycle. I get it 1-2 weeks later, try everything on, and then return stuff that doesn’t fit (both sites have a US depot you can mail returns to). The refund processes before my payment is due, so I’m never out the $$ for what doesn’t fit or even the interest. This only works if you know the ballpark to work in, but I have found these sites to be amazing. If I ever visit the UK, I will make a pilgrimage to an actual Bravissimo shop.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      Spend an afternoon trying on dozens of styles. Even if you are correctly measured for fit, that doesn’t guarantee that every style is going to work for your unique body shape. I run into that issue quite a bit.

      1. Potluck*

        Yep. I went to a high-end bra shop and ended up trying on a three-piece construction “soft” bra as opposed to my usual molded cup bra. I always thought those soft bras would emphasize how saggy I am, but it was the exact opposite. So even though I’d been wearing the correct band and cup size, it was the construction that made all the difference.

    3. alter_ego*

      I’m not sure how large you’re looking for (and you didn’t ask for suggestions, so feel free to ignore me), but I’ve had good luck with cachique, which is Lane Bryant’s lingerie shop. I actually typically wear straight sized clothing, but I have an H/I cup size which is typically impossible to find, and they’re the only place I’ve found. But they definitely have smaller cup sizes than that, and a lot of variety.

  31. JustSomeone*

    I am fairly flat chested. The only times I wear a bra or bra-like garments are under fancy dresses that really benefit from the added shaping. I do not wear bras to work, including meetings with external people, job interviews, conferences, speaking engagements, etc. I also know I am not alone in this. It has clearly not prohibited me from getting jobs, and so far no manager, supervisor or friendly coworker has sat me down to tell me this is Really Not OK. So, OP, try to wear vests/undershirts that provide some support if you can, and pick clothes that will not highlight the fact that you’re not wearing a bra (dressy sweaters, jackets) and in my experience you should be fine.

    I am not in the US, though, so perhaps there are cultural issues at play (though I have worked in several European countries and it has never been an issue).

    1. misspiggy*

      Also not an issue in my UK experience, unless there is a a great deal of movement. Nipple show-through happens all the time, even when wearing bras, and people treat it exactly as if it were happening to a man – maybe notice it, but don’t give it a second thought. It’s not as if somebody is shoving their cleavage in your face, it’s just an involuntary bodily reaction.

      I can’t wear bras much of the time due to pain, and every so often I check with friends or my partner whether they can tell. They never can. I wear dark and fairly heavy, non-clinging fabric, and if I’m somewhere hot and need lighter fabric, I wear a scarf for formal meetings.

      1. annie*

        I *am* in the US, am a B-C cup, and almost never wear a bra professionally, including meetings, presentations, conferences, interviews. I hate them and wearing one just isn’t a trade-off I’m willing to make. Usually, I’ll go with a combination of layering, thick fabrics, scarves and tank tops. It’s never held me back, I’ve never not been hired because of it and I’ve never had anyone sit me down and have a talk with me over it, either. If people are more interested in my breasts than my professional expertise, that’s their problem. That might be a tougher to hoe at the beginning of your career, though, so there are plenty of good suggestions for you if you want to try something bra-adjacent. Just know that it’s not impossible to have a successful and fulfilling career without wearing a bra.

        1. So, so anonymous and kinda cranky*

          I have high sensitivity. Seams hurt. If I could wear all my clothes inside out and two sizes too big that would be a perfect life. There is no fix. I have been fitted by the specialists for bras (nationally renowned specialists) I can’t stand a bra for more than ten minutes…I have tried everything. I paid lots of money for these undergarments that I never wear. I throw them out every time I move.

          That said- Alison is right. The answer is to be dressed professionally. Layer- very soft tank made of cotton with maybe a teeny bit of spandex (where inside out). A soft but thick cotton or merino (if you can stand wool) cardigan or jacket. Loose cotton pants. Look at Eileen Fisher for style tips. And then stop worrying about it. For the last twenty-five years, not wearing a bra has not limited my professional life.

          1. plain_jane*

            Depending on the type of workplace, you can also go quite out-there with fashion and be very baggy – e.g. (note, this is an expensive line, but may give some ideas)

            In general, I find that people give more leeway on baggy clothing within a professional setting if you have a good haircut and shoes. I guess the hair/shoes provide an indicator that you still care.

            1. So, so anonymous and kinda cranky*

              Thank you so much!!!! Plain_Jane, I love these clothes. Just my style. Pricey but one of these pieces are distinctive and versatile. And loose!!!!

  32. QA grump 42*

    I’ve found that wearing a somewhat form-fitting top made of thick fabric (my favorite is a vertically ribbed knit, almost sweatery) is much more comfortable than wearing a bra, and looks respectable enough as long as I’m not running or jumping. This plus a distracting extra layer such as a scarf, shawl, or unbuttoned long-sleeved shirt should look professional if your breasts are average-sized.

    That said, my objections to bras are mainly psychological (I hate feeling compressed/restricted, and I don’t like the feeling of distinct edges on my skin – I also try to avoid wearing shoes for these reasons) and what works for me may be useless to you.

  33. Chicken*

    Yeah, I unfortunately agree with Alison – if people can tell that you’re not wearing a bra, it will come across as unprofessional. If you are able to dress in a way that no one can tell whether you’re wearing a bra – which can be either easy or extremely difficult depending on your body shape and the temperature of your office – it’s fine.

    I assume you know best about what undergarments work for you, but I think that your best bet for clothing is to have one layer that is relatively tight (to minimize movement) and one layer that is relatively loose and made of a thick, textured fabric.

  34. A Teacher*

    For myself, its a form of eczema that no form of prescribed medication from my doctor can take care of completely and its just on some days that its intolerable. I am careful with what I wear those days and can usually stand camis with built in bras or the really soft padded bras with no underwire, TJ Maxx and Kohls have some good options. I’m sorry, its not a fun thing to deal with regardless of what the condition is.

  35. sam*

    I worked with a woman who was relatively non-endowed and didn’t think she needed a bra. Unfortunately, it was pretty obviously to the rest of us that she wasn’t wearing one most of the time.

    I don’t have the sensory issues OP has, and I don’t want to assume anything in terms of comfort, but if there’s a genuine disability, I would think that people would be at least a bit more understanding, particularly if OP makes an effort to (ahem) hide her assets.

    On the recommendations side – I generally hate wearing bras as well, and never wear underwires, but as a more “full figured” person, there’s simply no way that I can go without anything. My own personal saviour has been sports bras – but not the really tight ones – old navy makes a series that they refer to as “light support” that are good for things like yoga/pilates (not running!), and I have about a dozen of them. They’re supportive, but not super constricting, and you can adjust the straps somewhat so that they don’t dig. That, combined with the fact that I’m generally a conservative dresser gives me *enough* that I’m not going off in different directions or giving a weather report in my office. Plus, the T-straps mean an end to my lifelong straps slipping off my shoulders problem.

    A couple of bonuses
    – the cut of many of them means they can double as a camisole for low-cut tops
    – it makes it much easier to either citibike to/from work or go to the gym after work (I don’t run at the gym!)
    – they’re much more readily machine washable than delicate, underwire bras.
    – if you’ve got tops that are at all sheer, they give you a nice amount of coverage

  36. Turtle Candle*

    In my experience (I had to solve this problem, albeit only temporarily, when I had a rash that was exacerbated by my bra), nipple show-through is the easiest thing to solve for. In most cases layers (a camisole or undershirt under a button top, say) could control visible nippleage, and if that wasn’t enough, I could just cover the nipples themselves. (I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I used taped-on Ace bandage squares, but actual pasties would probably work better….) As long as there are a few reasonably thick layers between your nipples and the outside world, visible nippleage is pretty easy to control for, IME.

    Visible movement (not just bouncing, but even just natural shifting around, which doesn’t happen when they’re, er, strapped in place) is actually the harder problem. Unconstrained breasts just move differently than constrained breasts, and it is surprisingly noticeable. While on a philosophical level, I feel like having a body that naturally moves this way shouldn’t be something I have to constrain (especially when said constraint was a medical issue!)… on a pragmatic level, I didn’t want my chest to be ground zero for that particular battle. :P What I figured out was that layering can conceal breast movement, but it has to be done carefully. Simply wearing a cami and a blouse (or shell or thinner sweater) wasn’t enough. Thicker and baggier layers, like a shirt topped with a sweatshirt or a sweater of similar thickness/weight (like my mom’s lovingly but imperfectly hand-knitted Christmas sweater, or a cable-knit sweater), concealed perfectly fine both because of thickness and bagginess, but aren’t appropriate for all professional settings and interactions (and may be too hot, or in the case of wool sweaters, cause sensory issues of their own).

    What I found most helpful was wearing a light camisole, a blouse (not something as thin/soft as a shell, which showed/emphasized more, but a regular cotton blouse), and then a fairly stiff or structured jacket or blazer, often with one button buttoned to help hold it half-closed. It didn’t have to be terribly formal-looking (I alternated between a black corduroy blazer and a dark grey denim jacket, neither of which looked out of place in my business casual environment when paired with semi-casual slacks and colorful blouses), but the stiffness/structuredness of it meant that any, uh, movement below was not transferred to the jacket/blazer itself. This worked better for me than ‘soft’ and closer-fitting coverings like sweaters, which had a tendency to jiggle with my jiggle.

    Anyway. Best of luck navigating this. It sucks that you have to, but hopefully the suggestions will help.

  37. Bostonian*

    I’m wondering if Alison or anyone else who knows something about employment law has any thoughts on whether this might be something that would fall under the ADA. Would letting someone not wear a bra fall under reasonable accommodations? That doesn’t help for the interview, and it could still create awkwardness with coworkers and clients/patients, so I think the OP should explore options for what her disability will allow her to wear that will make it less of an issue – blazers or bralettes or camisoles or chunky sweaters or scarves or whatever. But if it’s a disability along the lines of what some other commenters have described, it seems like it might well interfere with major life functions and qualify for ADA protection.

    1. AW*

      The problem is that this only lets HR and the OP’s manager know why they aren’t wearing a bra. It doesn’t really help with the perception of looking unprofessional unless the OP just tells the entire office that they aren’t wearing a bra and why. Even then it doesn’t help if the OP has to interact with clients, customers, vendors, etc.

      1. Jaydee*

        But the same could happen if someone with foot/ankle problems needed to wear a type of footwear that did not look professional. I mean, it’s not ideal that Wakeen has to wear essentially the ugliest pair of tennis shoes ever with his suit because he has such terrible neuropathy in his feet, but most people are going to get that he’s not just oblivious to professional norms when he’s otherwise well-dressed and is good at his job.

        I think the same goes here. There is a difference between going braless with just a t-shirt or loose blouse (probably not trying to hide the lack of bra) and going braless with a camisole, a sweater or shirt made of thicker fabric, and a blazer or scarf (trying to cover up or draw attention away from the chest area). Combine the latter with being otherwise very professional in appearance and action, and most people will get over any issue they have.

        1. sam*

          But it’s a lot easier to say to a client “forgive the sneakers, I’m dealing with an injury” and move on, than it is to say essentially the same thing about the lack of undergarments, because it’s not considered socially acceptable to talk about our underwear at work.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            Yeah, having been in the same situation… I would have been perfectly happy saying “forgive the sneakers, I’m dealing with a foot injury” or “I’m sorry about the sweat pants–I have a leg brace on and can’t wear more fitted pants.” It would have been a nonissue with coworkers and mildly annoying but extremely doable with external clients.

            I would absolutely not have been happy saying, “forgive the lack of bra, I have a skin condition,” even to coworkers, and definitely not to external clients.

            I would agree that it should be a nonissue, in a perfect world. But in the world in which I live, it is an issue, even if I wish it wasn’t. And while I admire the people who are willing to fight the battle on the front lines, as it were, I am also sympathetic to people who just want to find some compromise solution that will not affect their health or their professional life as much as possible.

        2. Observer*

          To some extent, that does become a problem in those cases, as well. But, it is a LOT easier in most cases for most people to realize that this is not Wakeen being a slob, but Wakeen having a foot problem. Alsw, outside of heels, what kind of shoe you are wearing someone isn’t quite as noticeable, and in many cases, even heel height doesn’t affect the way you look. Also, because this bias is often unconscious / un-examined, people may not even realize why they think she’s unprofessional.

    2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      it could still create awkwardness with … clients/patients

      This is what I thought of when I first read the letter. I worked at a mental health clinic in a completely non-clinical fashion, but the dress code there was the strictest and most specific I have ever seen, because everyone had to follow the same rules as clinical staff.

    3. Observer*

      I would be willing to bet that even without the ADA issue officially requiring a bra could pose legal problems. The problem here, though, is not that someone will decide “she’s not wearing a bra, so we won’t hire her” or put her on a PIP to require a bra. The problem is that the perception of her is likely to be off. So, people are going to see her as sloppy, unprofessional, not understanding workplace norms, etc. It’s unfair, but it’s reality (assuming that it really is noticeable.)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        ADA issues aside, you can definitely require employees to wear a bra; an employer is allowed to establish a dress code that includes things like wearing appropriate undergarments (or avoiding the appearance of not wearing them). Dress codes can be different for men and women; it’s why, for example, employers can ban long hair for men without banning for women. It’s connected to generally accepted/conventional standards of professional appearance. (Subject, of course, to the usual exceptions for religion, etc.)

        1. Observer*

          In theory, yes. But I wonder if the DOL will decide, at some point that this is discrimination based on (not) conforming to gender norms?

          In any case, my point is that doesn’t really make a difference in most cases. The real problem is not whether someone will officially require her to wear a bra or not, but how people are going to look at her. And, even under ADA regulations, it’s going to kind of hard to do anything about people just having a negative opinion.

        2. Jerry Blank*

          The US isn’t really known for it’s protection of workers, so sadly you are correct. I hope this changes.

  38. Braless*

    I never ever wear a bra, except when I am working out and I wear a sports bra. I hate that in 2015 it is seen as unprofessional to have the body 50% of the world’s population is born with. I have a D cup and I wear a very loose Cami under my shirts, for my own comfort. I get them at love culture, because they are cheap there. I refuse to be uncomfortable all the time for other people’s hang ups over boobs. My body is sufficiently covered and I do not wear inappropriate clothing to work, but no one is going to tell me what underwear to put on, period. If someone wants to tell me I’m unprofessional, I will point them at my metrics, my performance evals and my internal customer service surveys and tell them to get back to me when they join the 21st century.

    1. anonning for this.*

      Thiiiiiiiis. I can’t believe people aren’t understanding that they are basically saying that it’s unprofessional to be have a body and be a woman. Like, y’all are gross. And you’re adding a layer to cause it’s like, it’s even more unprofessional to be a woman with a body who’s disabled.

      1. 30ish*

        A lot of commenters are reporting social norms rather than agreeing with them. I personally believe braless should be socially accepted, but I know it currently isn’t.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It is not seen as unprofessional to have breasts. It is seen as unprofessional to allow your breasts or lack of undergarment to be vividly noticeable; the same is true for certain parts of a man’s body as well, and for the butts of both sexes.

      1. Braless*

        The thing is, if a mans nipples were perked up and visible under his work shirt, no one would tell him to wear a bra. If a mans breasts are larger and jiggley, as some men’s are, no one tells him to wear a bra. Women’s breasts are just part of our bodies; like our legs or our hips or our butts. No one is suggesting anyone wear suggestive clothing, but simply having breasts and not going to uncomfortable and expensive lengths to pretend they don’t ever move or react to temperature is not reasonable, at least not to me. :-). Actually, I read a recent study that suggested some of our jiggle issue is because of bras. Wish I could find it. Freeing myself from that particular social hang up about 5 years ago was one of the best things I have ever done for myself. My shoulder and neck pain have almost totally gone away.

        1. videogame Princess*

          My husband has been called out for having obtrusive nipples before by “friends”. These things happen more than you know. However, if you have serious back issues, it might be worthwhile to do. I don’t know your personal circumstances.

          1. Braless*

            Being called out by friends is one thing. Being told by your boss that your body is not acceptable is a different issue.

            I have had shoulder and neck pain most of my life. A friend suggested the weight of my breasts distributed by bra straps on my shoulders could be contributing. She was right. But she was also a lovely lady brought up in the 60’s and would gladly refer to herself as a hippy. :-)

          1. Bowserkitty*

            Ha! I wish somebody could have told some of my former coworkers that. It was always awkward being around them.

          2. Braless*

            I see your point, but I see that as a problem too; we all have varying sizes and shapes of the same basic anatomy. What I think is sad is that we keep justifying it instead of calling it ridiculous, because it is. It won’t change if we just accept it as ok to tell people their bodies are not acceptable unless they wear uncomfortable, expensive undergarments. It’s unprofessional…because it…is? Why? If I wear a button down work shirt and my belly jiggles or my breasts jiggle….I guess…sorry? If a man has perky nipples, I…don’t care. Apparently I’m in the minority, which is ok, I am just trying to put out the other side.

            1. Mookie*

              Corsets and girdles used to be obligatory because the jiggly fleshiness of a woman’s abdomen was supposed to be raunchy and impolite, her mons pubis pornographic. Standards change, conventions are consigned to the dustbins where they belong. I agree with you. Some people experience too much pain without a bra; those are the only instances in which one, or some reasonable alternative, is absolutely necessary. It’s disingenuous to pretend this issue isn’t gendered and classist.

              1. _ism_*

                I’m a weirdo, but I’ve found corsets and girdles to be more comfortable than traditional bras. My ribcage is doing the load bearing, not my shoulders, and because of that the ‘snugness’ of these old fashioned garments is comforting instead of the opposite.

                1. Mookie*

                  (I’ve got a pinched nerve and a wonky lower disc, so I’m with you on the girdles and braces. It’s a relief to let something else hold my back up for me when I need it.)

        2. LBK*

          I don’t think it’s completely comparable, though, because there’s no sexual element to male nipples or breasts. Yes, they’re part of a woman’s body, but they do have an element of being sexualized that isn’t exactly the same as hips or legs (even if those can also be sexualized body parts). There’s a reason female toplessness is still seen as more risque than male.

          Now, could you argue that this is all the result of the male gaze and we shouldn’t have to set clothing standards around it? Probably, but I think that’s an argument you’re unlikely to win with your employer.

          1. Braless*

            Breasts are only sexual because our society has deemed them so. I suggest making changes to that hang up as a society; they serve a biological function unrelated to sex.

            Luckily my employer has never brought it up with me. Perhaps my loose camis and relatively conservative wardrobe choices make it a non-issue for them. OR, maybe my co-workers talk about it all the time and I just don’t know. My work product speaks for itself and that’s all I’m really concerned with.

            1. LBK*

              Well, male genitalia also serves a purpose unrelated to sex, so I’m not sure that’s a good place to draw the line. I know I’m veering into MRA-sounding territory here, but I think there are also certain biologically programmed responses that have guided those definitions; it wasn’t some committee that sat down and decided “Breasts? Sexy. Kneecaps? Not sexy.”

              I am with you to an extent on the “if we stop treating X as private, it will stop being so,” but I also think there’s a certain level of expected propriety that will never go away, otherwise we’d eventually all end up naked all the time. A man’s upper half may not be considered sexualized, but that doesn’t mean men are fine to walk around shirtless in the office – and in fact, men are usually expected to cover more of their top half since most offices don’t go for sleeveless shirts on guys. It becomes challenging to figure out what is or isn’t okay – is it about percentage of visible skin all at once? Like, could a midriff be okay as long as your arms are covered?

              If we assume that sexualization isn’t the line anymore, I don’t know how you draw it without making arbitrary choices.

              1. Kelly L.*

                But kneecaps would have been sexy back in the Victorian era! There have been other periods when the bust was exposed but leg was scandalous, sand pretty much any combination you can think of. We are products of our times, and our “biologically programmed responses” are more shaped by culture and fashion than we realize.

                That’s not to say that there aren’t norms about exposed skin, or that there aren’t work-related consequences if you break the norms, but let’s not act like the norms have always been the same, in all times, in all cultures.

                1. LBK*

                  Oh, I’m totally aware that things have changed over time, and frankly I can’t say that I’m particularly familiar with what’s caused those shifts – whether it relates more to specific movements or to greater apathy towards strict religious standards or just each generation wanting to be a little less conservative than those before them. Kate M mentions below that male toplessness being accepted was the result of campaigning by men to do so, which is something I’m wildly unfamiliar with and have never heard of, honestly. So perhaps I’m just completely ignorant of how these things happen.

                  However, I do think there’s a difference between things that were seen as improprietous vs. being sexualized. That is, I think there’s a difference between old standards of “it’s inappropriate for a woman to show her ankles” vs an ankle being considered a sexual part of the body. Maybe I’m totally wrong but I don’t imagine fondling knees or ankles was a big part of Victorian foreplay, even when they were considered inappropriate for public display.

                2. Kelly L.*

                  And I would guess that it probably was, though I’m unwilling to go look up Victorian erotica while I’m at work.

                  It’s not always a change from more conservative to less conservative, just sort of…differently conservative. Mega generalizing here, but one example (and again, I’m really oversimplifying, because there was a phase between these two), Victorian evening dress had a low decolletage, but the skirts came to the ground. Flappers wore (comparably) short skirts, but did not show much in the way of bust.

                3. LBK*

                  I just think there will always be a line that won’t be crossed and I don’t think that line is going to be set at sex organs – I would be absolutely amazed if there’s a point in society where we’re back to Adam & Eve fig leaves being accepted public attire. There’s always been somewhat arbitrary standards set. For instance, as far as I know it’s always been considered unprofessional to show your midriff (and generally not well received in most other public contexts) and I see it as unlikely that that will ever change, although I guess anything is possible.

                  I do wonder how many people who make the “they’re just breasts argument” would agree with extending that logic to any other given part of the body that’s not a sex organ, like bare stomachs or even buttocks. I think there’s a specific backlash to standards about bra/breast visibility because there are so many related hot button topics – public breastfeeding, unwanted staring, owning your sexuality, etc.

                4. Kate M*

                  LBK – here is an article about how men going topless on the beach or showing a nipple was illegal (I’ll post in the comment below). It really is interesting.

                  And no – of course there are different standards for work than the beach. I just think that they should be applied evenly. So probably nobody should show a midriff at work. Probably not armpits, etc. If women can wear short sleeves, men should be able to. If men who have larger breasts can get away without a bra (as long as their nipples aren’t showing), then so should women. If men don’t have to wear makeup to get ahead, neither should women.

                  However, that is not the way the current system is set up. So while it might be wrong, I wouldn’t suggest a singular woman buck the professional norms at the moment if she’s hoping to get ahead. If she wants to to make a point, that’s fine. But I don’t want my career/salary to suffer because of it.

                5. Kelly L.*

                  A brief search tells me that the midriff is traditionally bared when wearing the sari, which is a completely normal garment in a very populous and important part of the world. To say the midriff is the last frontier is to be pretty Western-centric, honestly.

                  No one is saying the standards aren’t arbitrary. That was my whole point: the standards are arbitrary, they’re not based on inviolate absolute biological principles, and they vary from place to place and time to time. Your idea of what body parts are “sexy” is largely based on the culture you were raised in. That is my point.

                6. LBK*

                  I don’t really have anything else to contribute that’s not repeating what I’ve already said, so I think I just have to leave it as agreeing to disagree. Thanks for this thought-provoking discussion – this is certainly the most compelling set of arguments I’ve been given on the topic. I still think ultimately the discussion boils down to “all forms of cultural attire standards are arbitrary” and that’s why we can go around in circles on this forever, but I’m less confident of my position than I was before.

                7. Elizabeth West*

                  LBK–you’re not wrong; I read a book once about Victorian pr0n, and nope, they went right for the good parts. ;)

                  I definitely think it’s a function of culture, which parts are considered naughty and which aren’t, or which are okay to display or not. It’s not a static thing.

              2. Kate M*

                Not to derail the thread, but genitalia are sex organs. Breasts aren’t. (They’re in the same category of people being aroused when you touch their neck/ankles/knees/whatever). And men’s nipples used to have to be covered (like at the beach, etc) – it was just when men campaigned to change it that society followed suit. So…it is the same thing with men/women’s breasts, there is no real difference other than society not catching up. Propriety changes all the time – ankles aren’t banned from being shown anymore.

                That being said, I would hate go to anywhere without a bra, and I know that current standards hold that being professional basically equals wearing a bra. So I wouldn’t advise someone not to wear it just to make a statement. But lets not pretend that there’s not a huge societal influence here, not a biological one.

                1. braless*

                  I love this comment, I agree with everything you said!

                  I also recognize that not everyone is in a position to make a statement and not everyone wants to make a statement, and I think that’s cool too. I look forward to the day when you can decide if you want to wear a bra or not and it will hold no reflection of your professionalism or competency.

              3. Ife*

                Shorts. Shorts are unprofessional in most offices. Even when skirts are OK. I don’t agree or understand the logic behind that at all, but there you go. You just can’t logic some things.

        3. simonthegrey*

          Actually, my husband – who does have gynecomastia – was told at one place he worked that he needed to start wearing white tee shirts under his button-ups, and the implication as it was explained to him was that being a fat man, his “man-boobs” were distracting and gross.

      2. Oversharer*

        The butt comparison is compelling. After all, a bodycon dress (or some menswear equivalent) would be unprofessional in most offices.

        I hate when people get REALLY HUNG UP on inadvertently visible bra straps or some occasional nipping or other things that confirm the existence of breasts, but it’s still not appropriate to be swinging around everywhere or showing through your clothes.

        1. Braless*

          I don’t think you’re gross, I think this discussion is fascinating. I really am having the debate with no animosity. I understand the social norm, I’m just trying to challenge it because I think it’s unfair to make people so self conscious of their natural bodies.

    3. National Geographic Woman*

      YES! Post-menopausal C cup here, and that damn bra comes off as soon as I get home from work! A loose sweatshirt is sufficient for going to the store. Between bras that don’t fit (breasts are very far apart) and excema underneath, I am tired of being tortured!

    4. Graciosa*

      Braless, I believe that your body is sufficiently covered and you’re not wearing inappropriate clothing to work, but I wanted to address the more philosophical elements of your argument.

      I think this discussion is one that cries out for the basic “time and place” distinction.

      Yes, people have bodies. How much those bodies are displayed depends upon the situation.

      If you want to go nude, there’s a time and place for that.

      If you want to have sex, there’s a time and place for that.

      Society has decided that a normal business work environment (possibly not including Hooters?) is not the time and place to display unsupported breasts (or visible sex organs, or other things I won’t try to list).

      I can’t pretend that there is enormous logic in cultural mores – there generally isn’t (for example, what was so magical about the number of feathers in your headdress when being presented at court?).

      That said, violating whatever the standards may be sends a clear message that you don’t respect those standards or the individuals who witness that disrespect. It’s shouting F*** You! to the whole society.

      And yes, that’s unprofessional.

      1. braless*

        You are right, I do not respect a standard that expects me to be ashamed of very normal movements of my very normal body. I respect people, and their opinions, but I am certainly allowed to challenge social norms that I perceive as unfair and illogical without it being an “F you” I certainly don’t feel like I am saying that to anyone. My breasts are not on display- they are under a polo shirt normally, with a cami underneath it. They certainly move around a little more than a woman’s breast which are contained within a bra, but they are not, by any means, on display. I don’t think anyone should go topless, man or woman, in the workplace- but I am certainly never concerned with what any of my co-workers have on underneath the shirt. Some societies have deemed it inappropriate for women to show ankles or their hair…or any of their body at all. Right now, in this world, people with access to the internet think it’s ok to force woman to wear Burqas. I am not comparing this to the actual, everyday oppression that women face in those places, but I am just pointing out that “inappropriate” is an entirely subjective issue and if we don’t challenge social norms from time to time, we get stuck in weird places, like having to wear torture devices (known as bras) to be seen as “professional” when we should judge professional and competent by much different and more important standards. I appreciate very much your response though, because it gives me a chance to tell you that I am not saying “F you” I am instead saying “here’s the other perspective” Thank you!

        1. Mp3*

          Yea! All sorts of discrimination were once social norms until people challenged them. I gave up bras in 1994, and I have been very successful professionally wearing conservative, comfortable clothes. Employers are adapting to piercings, tattoos and colored hair. Bralessness should be a conversation employers are willing to have.

        2. AnonAcademic*

          “we get stuck in weird places, like having to wear torture devices (known as bras)”

          Please don’t assume that your experience is universal. I feel much more comfortable wearing a bra because my particular sensory quirks mean I hate the sensation of any part of my body shifting or jiggling around, least of all a body part that is sexualized by most of society. For me “torture” would be a standard where bras are patriarchal torture devices and I’m a traitor to womankind for wearing one.

          1. braless*

            well I certainly don’t consider you a traitor. In fact, I don’t consider your underwear at all- or anyone else’s for that matter. I wish I was afforded the same courtesy. I think my comments are pretty clear that I am not judging anyone for wearing or not wearing a bra- it shouldn’t be a work place discussion at all, period.

            1. braless*

              For the record, I never once brought up the patriarchy in this discussion, I only responded to other people projecting that onto my discussion points. In fact, I think women are women’s worst enemies when it comes to this particular issue.

      2. LBK*

        Yeah, I agree with a lot of this – breasts aren’t the only things expected to be covered in an office, ergo it’s definitely a “time and place” situation. I think the arguments about “it’s a part of the body, get over it” can apply in more casual settings that don’t have defined dress codes and images associated with them – if this were a discussion about whether it were appropriate for women to be topless in public, period, then I’d be a lot more on board with the “who cares?” argument, but I don’t know that the same logic can be applied to the workplace where men are also expected to wear shirts.

    5. I'm a Little Teapot*

      Honestly, many people have jobs where they could be fired for looking unprofessional and not meeting the dresss code regardless of what their work is like – assuming they’d be hired in the first place – and suggesting that all women should just dress however they want or they’re brainwashed slaves of the patriarchy ignores that a lot of people have to make a living and don’t have an infinite choice of how, where, and with whom to do so. Regardless of whether we agree with social norms, other people will judge us for not doing so; some people are in a positiom where they can get away with that, but a lot aren’t. Comments like this one and the anon one below preaching that everyone should endanger their livelihoods to make a statement show a lot of really gross unexamined economic and occupational privilege.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Agreed. If you’re in a position to challenge society’s expectations around this stuff, that’s awesome, and I fully support you doing so! But let’s not pretend that everyone is in a position to do that without real impact on their security.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yeah, this is where I was when I had the skin condition that made bras difficult.

          I would have loved to be in a position where I could safely challenge societal norms. But I wasn’t. And while I philosophically agreed with people who told me that I shouldn’t have to compromise… it wasn’t realistic, nor was it particularly helpful to be told that when I needed practical solutions.

          There is a fine balance, from a social justice perspective, between advocating between how things should be, and providing help/advice based on the deeply imperfect way they are. And it can be extremely dicey. I remember that even though I agreed with people saying that I shouldn’t have to wear a bra… sometimes I felt judged by people for not making some kind of stand that I really couldn’t afford to make, at the time. And that’s a doubly hard position to be in, with no right answers.

            1. Turtle Candle*

              Thank you, I appreciate that! Yes, I was able to find a combination of natural fiber camisole + natural fiber blouse + structured blazer/jacket that was sufficient for work without exacerbating my skin condition. (And I was lucky: the skin condition receded with treatment and now I can wear most things and don’t have to be quite so careful.)

              The main problem I had was with people who were at a more financially stable position (or in other industries… but in most cases, it was financial stability that was the deciding factor) declaring it ‘silly’ or ‘backwards’ to ‘conform’ to such ‘outdated’ standards. (Which I’m not saying you did, for sure. But it happened to me more than once, in what I thought ought to have been supportive communities.) I couldn’t afford to lose the job, but I felt pretty shamed to be the silly, backwards conformist who worried about such trivial things, and wasn’t so valued and important that I could get away with it.

              1. braless*

                Yes, advocacy can sometimes be a fine line. It’s important to not get so caught up in your cause that you forget to treat people with respect. What I am advocating for is an environment where we place less value on outward appearance and more on work product and integrity. In your situation, you SHOULD have been able to just make clothing choices that worked for your physical and mental comfort without pressure from people on either side.

                Lastly, I am not a bra burning nazi or anything, I really, really don’t think bras are some patriarchal tool, I just personally find them expensive, tedious and uncomfortable. I totally get why other women find them comfortable and workable and I am down with that. :) Going braless has been a godsend in the neck and shoulder pain arena for me, I am glad it has not ever been an issue I had to fight for in the work place with my job on the line, I cannot imagine that kind of pressure. I don’t think anyone should have to endure that.

      2. braless*

        Actually, above, in another comment, I said this;

        “I also recognize that not everyone is in a position to make a statement and not everyone wants to make a statement, and I think that’s cool too. I look forward to the day when you can decide if you want to wear a bra or not and it will hold no reflection of your professionalism or competency.”

        Since I AM in a position where I can make a statement, I will. FURTHER, I am also totally cool if wearing a bra is something that many women WANT to do- I am all about choice and not judging people for their normal bodies. I don’t think it makes you a brainwashed tool of the patriarchy; if you really knew me, you would understand that is not something that is even close to my state of mind. I know you don’t know me though, so I am just telling you- I get that. People should be able to wear comfortable, professional clothing without judgement; man or woman.

        Sometimes when things are unfair and need to be challenged, the people who CAN challenge it should (if they want t0) I hope that my stand can help other people, someday. :) I mean, perspective, we’re talking about bras, LOL. I’m very passionate about it, obviously.

        1. I'm a Little Teapot*

          Sorry! I now realize I was too harsh and that you have acknowledged that not everyone is in a position to buck social norms.

          I suppose I was really venting a frustration I often have with AAM and sometimes with other spaces: I feel that there’s often an unspoken assumption that everyone works a well-paid upper-middle-class job with benefits, some sort of security, a lot of flexibility, and a skill set in fairly high demand. That widespread assumption isn’t your fault, and I shouldn’t have scolded you as if it were.

          1. Recruit-O-Rama*

            I really agree with you. Priveledge of all kinds is often taken for granted. It’s good to be reminded.

      3. Ad Astra*

        Um, is it ok that I prefer to wear a bra and would be kind of unhappy if we stopped considering female breasts private parts? Not to be a prude or anything, but… why take on this fight when we could be working toward equal pay or fighting sexual assault or educating little girls overseas or any number of more productive things?

        1. braless*

          Why take on this fight when there are more important issues? Advocacy is not a zero sum game. You are free to wear whatever level of undergarment you choose, I certainly won’t judge you. If I don’t wear the level of undergarment that you would wear though, I don’t expect you to judge my professionalism on that, I would expect you to judge my professionalism on the way I treat my co-workers and my customers and by my work product the same way I would judge yours.

          1. Ad Astra*

            Yeah, I do agree advocacy is not a zero game, and you’re right that doesn’t always have to be an either/or thing — in the context of online forums, it’s more about how much mental energy you have to dedicate to cause. The bra thing is more about appearance than anything else, so I’m happy to agree to disagree (same with the pantyhose). The “free the nipple” stuff, though, just puzzles me. I want my nipples to stay private! I don’t need them to be de-sexualized. You’re of course allowed to want different things for your own body; I’m just struggling to put myself in those specific shoes.

            1. Recruit-O-Rama*

              I hear ya! I had a slow day at the office and most online forums are not this civil so I went incognito and indulged my inner debate club self for a while.

        2. LBK*

          Yeah, I have to say I feel kind of lost by this discussion. There’s some kind of dissonance between the “breasts shouldn’t be sexual” message I’m getting here and the “don’t look at my breasts” message I feel is usually espoused…I can’t pinpoint my confusion but if someone can help me navigate what the ultimate desired outcome would be, it would be appreciated. Is it completely gender-neutral societal expectations for attire with a corollary that no form of clothing should be assumed to imply sexualization on the behalf of the wearer? Am I on the right track here?

          Like, I guess I just don’t understand how in the same breath people can say “It’s rude and offensive if someone looks at my breasts” but then say “They aren’t sexual, they’re just part of my body”. Do you get equally offended if someone looks at your hands or your elbow or whatever other non-sexual part of the body you want to name? I’m really confused.

          1. Braless*

            I can only speak for myself, but I work in a support role in a production/industrial environment so most of my co-workers are men. I really don’t care if people look at my chest. Honestly, I dress like Jake, from State Farm (Braless, obviously, lol). I absolutely know breasts are sexual in many contexts; I know my husband appreciates my Braless nature, when I am dressed much more casually at home. I am not personally offended by people of either sex enjoying a view of someone they find attractive. But in a work context, keep your thoughts inside your head. I don’t know if that anwsers your question, but that’s how I personally feel. I don’t know how to describe it, but I know it if I see it. There is a difference between looking and leering.

        3. Ad Astra*

          (And when I say “is it ok,” I’m really asking “I’m normal, right?” I realize nobody is saying that bras are evil and everyone who wears them is a slave to the underwire.)

  39. Jubilance*

    Is a 100% work from home job possible? That way the OP could be at home in their most comfortable state, whatever that is, and they don’t have to worry about looking ‘professional” in the office.

  40. Emma UK*

    I have very large breasts and have rarely worn a bra to work because I find them uncomfortable. It has never hindered my career. I don’t know if it is obvious most of the time as a lot of clothes (that I wear) are tailored in a way that provides some support.

    That said- many sports bras are really comfortable and I am thinking of buying some more.

    An example of the type I mean. I consider these more crop tops than bras, really.

  41. virago*

    Echoing KR above: The OP mentions that they don’t know their size. It could be that bras that they are trying on are terribly uncomfortable because they don’t fit correctly.

    It’s all about wearing the right size bra and avoiding the outdated “plus 4 method” of deducing band size by measuring your rib cage under your bust and adding 4 inches. Links to basic resources for you:

    The A Bra That Fits community on Reddit.

    The A Bra That Fits Beginner’s Guide, including “How to Measure Yourself,” their Bra Size Calculator and how to submit a “Measurement Check” post so that ABTF’s moderators can help you calculate your size and discuss which bras might work best for you. (The mods are very helpful, I’ve observed as a longtime lurker.)

    That said: On her blog K-Line, a Toronto woman named Kristin — who describes herself as having “large breasts on a narrow frame,” and is also dealing with chronic pain — talks about balancing “a bra that fits” with “a bra that doesn’t hurt.”

    You may want to check out her post “Bras in the Time of Pain Management”. The very core of her advice is this paragraph (first 2 sentences bold-faced in the original):

    Remember that the minute the band rides up, the bra doesn’t work and it’s likely to contribute to pain in the long run. You’ve got to walk a fine line between a band that holds things in place but that doesn’t cinch things. Ordinarily, I espouse that the band size should more or less mimic your under bust size (accounting for things like a very muscular frame). If your under bust is 30.5″, you probably want to wear a 30 or 32 band. When back pain is an issue, you might need to go with a +2-3 band (2-3 inches larger than the under bust). That veers dangerously close to the debunked “plus 4 method” but you only need to do this while there’s pain.

    During a pain flare, Kristin, who normally wears 30 or 32 bands, wears a 34 band in the Fantasie Smoothing Underwire Balconette (4520) or the Empreinte Melody Full Cup Seamless (0786).

    These bras have underwire, and Kristin describes both of them as “molded but soft cup/unpadded.” The Fantasie, her go-to T-shirt bra, retails for about $50; the Empreinte is $150. (Kristin warns: “Be prepared to spend. You’re in pain. Buy the bra that works, even if it’s out of the budget. Your very being will thank you. And the comfortable bra will pay for itself many times over.”)

    When she’s really hurting, Kristin wears the $38 “cup-free, seam-free, wire-free”Bali Comfort Revolution ComfortFlex Fit in a size Large.

    1. Amanda*

      Thank you for this. I have an inflammatory condition in my spine and bras are the worst. I wear the Bali comfort and also Majamas. Both are super comfortable and pretty affordable. They are not controlling to the degree that some people on this thread might consider professional, but they do the job. No one will point and stare…

      1. virago*

        I’m glad this information was helpful, and it’s good to hear another voice in favor of the Comfort Bra! I keep a mental list of non-ouchy underwear for friends/family members who need alternatives to the same old, same old.

        I can’t vouch for it myself, so YMMV, but Decent Exposures’ Un-Bra also gets a lot of love online.

        For example: Responding to requests for “a super comfy bra for home/errands/sleeping,” one woman said:

        Came in to crow DECENT EXPOSURES at the top of my lungs. I’m wearing one right now, I sleep in them all the time. (I have to. I’m nursing and if I don’t, I wake up in a puddle of milk.) I also wear them to work out in; they’re very supportive, even with no underwire. I’m currently a 38I — not a typo — and I can do jumping jacks in these bras.

        There are light support, medium support and firm support Un-Bra options. (None have underwires.) Cost varies according to fabric and requested alterations, but it looks like most Un-Bra orders cost around $40 or so. (They also get props for their customer service and turnaround time.)

        (I swear I don’t work for Decent Exposures — I live 3,000 miles away from DE HQ! But they’re the brand that came up the most when I was looking for bras to recommend to women with medical issues that make standard bras uncomfortable.)

      2. virago*

        PS Back to the Comfort Bra: Kristin, who sews, says it’s well made and the material is soft. She also gives it kudos for the lift it gave to her breasts, even w/o underwire.

        Under clothes, she says, the Comfort gives the girls as much of a hoist as her usual underwire bras do. And the Comfort doesn’t set off her big time pain trigger point, which sits right under the band of the wired boulder holders.

  42. Jennifib*

    I’m a regular poster, but I don’t feel comfortable saying this under my usual posting name for reasons.

    I have psoriasis and it can cause certain materials to feel like FIRE on my skin. It can also vary somewhat depending on location. I believe that it might be similar to what the poster is saying. I found bras to be excruciating or aggravating for the longest time. They also didn’t fit well which led to them not working. Here are some things I’ve learned:

    — I can’t wear ‘formed bras” because the shape is reliably not my own and then I get chafing
    –. I can’t wear under wires
    — I can’t wear polyester, acetate or acrylic materials.
    — I normally love wool, but I can’t wear it on my chest. Hello agony.
    — I also can’t do the thick band of elastic that is present on most sport bras.

    What I can do is a nylon knit. There are several companies that offer this kind of bra and Genie Bra works best for me. No one has ever said a word to imply this is inadequate or bad. I find it very supportive and I have a bust size that ranges from C to DD.

    1. Jennifib*

      I’d like to point out though — this isn’t perfect. I sometimes find that it ‘crawls’ a bit. Lotion and an application of gold bond helps.

    2. SimilarIssue*

      I find with my psoriasis, which has in the most painful and horrible way flared up right in the spot in question here, I cannot handle having my skin exposed to air. The only thing worse that uncovered flesh is covered flesh.
      For me it has to be an underwire and underwire without extra fabric below because that is the itchiest screamiest firiest, so if I have an underwire it supports under where it needs to and then it freaking stops existing.

      I went to Nordstroms, when my flesh was on firiestest of fires and so it looked horrible of course. The woman who fitted me was super nice and really helped figure out what shape would work best for me. Even when I was crying and feeling horrible she wasn’t like omg you’re contagious I don’t want to touch you ew. Which was totally how I felt. But she was really nice. So I highly endorse Nordstroms for this. Highly.
      (I’m not average so for me none has never ever been an option.)

      1. Bekx*

        My mom had a lumpectomy after breast cancer and a young woman at Aerie helped her pick a bra that wouldn’t reveal the fact that she has a weird shape. She was really excited to help my mom, and that was just really cool. I like Aerie better than VS anyways (I think their stuff lasts 10 times longer), but this just really solidfied my brand loyalty. Really cool that Nordstroms was helpful too, that’s where I got my first bra. :)

    3. J.B.*

      Someone above mentioned maternity or nursing bras. Depending on the material they can be comfortable without being restricting.

      I finally got fitted for bras that fit. They don’t hurt like the other ones but I still feel them all day.

  43. Ann Furthermore*

    OP, if there’s a Nordstrom in your area, go to their foundations department. The women who work there are fabulous and know how to properly fit you for a bra. If you explain your situation, they’ll probably be able to help you find something that will work. Nordstrom can be pretty pricey, but you can buy just 1 or 2 things, and then when you know what to look for, you can shop around for less expensive alternatives.

    I’m have a pretty large chest and underwires are the bane of my existence. On vacation last month I put on my bathing suit to hit the beach and sure enough the damn underwire had poked free and was stabbing me. I had to make an emergency run to Target and actually found a couple cute tankini tops with no underwires that still covered and supported really well.

    1. HR Pro*

      I second the recommendation for Nordstroms. I’ve gained weight and now wear a bra size that’s so rare that Macy’s doesn’t carry it (at least not in their stores) (it’s a rather small band size with huge cup size). I was embarrassed but the bra saleswoman at Nordstrom was so laid back about it — “that’s not really a rare size at Nordstrom” she said. She was patient and kind and brought me a ton of bras to try on, refining her selections each time when I gave her my feedback. She understood that bra fit can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer even though the size is marked the same. Great experience!

  44. Hivey*

    OP – Do you by any chance have chronic urticaria? I get severe rashes from any constricting clothing, especially bra cups. Fellow members of a urticaria group recommended this super-cheap model from Walmart, and it works pretty well for me. It would be insufficient for the very well-endowed, but for my C’s I could see wearing it to work (but probably not to a client meeting). It has helped my rashes a lot (though not entirely).

    There are also other treatments that may help if this is your condition.

  45. Amber Rose*

    I’d have to question whether this would even come up?

    I guess a few people might see it as unprofessional and that’s not an ideal reputation, but in terms of actual process, I’m trying to imagine a lady going to work in a suit and her boss trying to tell her she needs a bra in a way that wouldn’t get him slapped with a sexual harassment accusation.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, the boss might be a woman, you know. (Not that women can’t sexually harass other women, of course, but it’s a lot less likely to raise those concerns in this particular context.) And most male bosses would ask a senior female employee or HR to handle it.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        At my company, yes, a female HR person did the notifying on behalf of a male manager, in a situation when a woman had a coverage problem, although in her case it was a too-short skirt (short enough to make her underwear visible to the department on a regular basis).

      2. Katie the Fed*

        Yup! As a rare female manager in my organization (that’s a whole other issue) I’ve been asked to have The Dress Code Discussion with female employees several times.

    2. Calla*

      What Alison said, but also this reminded me of a coworker I had years ago. I’m pretty sure she did wear a bra, but it was not a very good one and she might as well not have bothered. I’m not being judgy and I don’t care, BUT I don’t imagine anyone had a talk with her about needing to find a better fitting bra. And me not wearing a bra would have been less noticeable than her poorly fitted one.

      1. Nethwen*

        This! I’ve been scrolling comments to see if anyone would mention this concept. I’ve seen plenty of women wearing a bra ( it was visible under their clothes) and they showed nipple and swung such that they might as well not have worn a bra. I don’t think it’s the garment that is socially expected, it’s the result that is typically produced by the wearing of the garment. Achieve the desires result and why should it matter what method you use? And if the show and swing is overlooked because a bra, is worn, it should be overlooked when a bra is absent.

    3. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I’m wondering if some of it has to do with her chosen career field?

      I mentioned it above, but I used to work at a mental health clinic in a non-clinical capacity, and had an almost zero chance of running into a patient, but even non-clinical staff had to follow the same rigid dress code as the psychologist/psychiatrist.

    4. Susan*

      I guess it depends on the office. When I was an intern, my roommate and I felt self-conscious about being much less wealthy than the other interns in an atmosphere that kind of enjoyed style and fashion. We were wearing the same clothes a lot. My manager didn’t care (or never said anything), but her manager actually told her if she was going to wear the same outfits all the time maybe she should find something in more of a neutral (kind of less distinct and obvious that you’re wearing it 2-3 times that week). I mean, you would think it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but to some people, how you present yourself in the office physically is a bigger deal than to other people, I guess.

  46. Biff*

    For the record, I don’t think asking people to wear undergarments is somehow a sign of unenlightened workplace norms. A man who reliably shows off his junk via tight trousers/thin pants/going commando would also be seen as unprofessional It’s a matter of movement and bounce.

    1. Calla*

      You are comparing an actual sex organ to a secondary sex characteristic, though. I’ve seen plenty of men with nipple showing through their fitted buttonups and I doubt they’re having the dilemma seen in this post.

      1. Honeybee*

        On a societal-norm level, though, it doesn’t matter. The biological categorization isn’t at issue here.

    2. anonning for this.*

      It would be so cool if people stopped comparing breasts to penises. Like. So awesome. It comes up all the time in breast feeding debates. There is actually no comparison. Breasts hold a completely different function and are on a completely different part of a body.

      1. LBK*

        But in this case it’s not about the biological function. The reason the comparison doesn’t work for breastfeeding is because there’s no biological reason you’d need to have your penis on display. In this context, though, I think the comparison is more apt because it’s just about whether you can tell if someone’s wearing underwear or not and/or how visible the details of a body part we generally consider to be private should be while at work.

        1. Oversharer*

          This, exactly. I get why the distinction between functions is sometimes important, but in this case we’re talking about how much of your private parts should be visible at work. You also wouldn’t want to see someone’s butt or their tummy or their armpits at work. It’s not that we’re saying breasts are equivalent to penises, we’re saying both of them belong to a larger group of body parts that your coworkers don’t want to see or even really think about.

          And, while I have no problem with women who choose to breastfeed at Walmart, I do think it would be a bit off-putting to breast feed out in the open at your office. The standards for what’s appropriate at Walmart and what’s appropriate at work are different.

        2. Honeybee*

          + 1. I’m totally on board with breastfeeding any time, all the time, as uncovered as you want. But reducing this undergarment discussion to biological categories is overly reductionist and unhelpful. That’s not the point.

  47. I'm not a lawyer, but ...*

    When you try various bra-less options, please Please PLEASE get help from a trusted professional friend. There is a huge difference between “can’t tell I’m not wearing a bra” standing still in a dressing room, and running to catch an elevator, reaching for supplies, bending to pick up the pen you dropped, etc.

  48. JC*

    I agree with people who suggest trying a tank top with a shelf bra, if you can tolerate that. I also have an average-sized chest, and I do wear this to work sometimes without a bra. Particularly with outfits where I need a camisole underneath the main shirt because the main shirt is too low-cut, the shelf tank is the best color, but shelf-tank + bra=too much cleavage.

  49. Fellow Bra Hater*

    I’ve always hated bras for many reasons, and haven’t worn one for maybe 5 years now (yay!). I work in a fairly professional office, and I’m thankfully small-chested (between A and B, depending on whether I’m on the heavy or light side of my weight range). I do have very perky nipples that like to announce their presence, so I choose my outfit according to their ability to hide those nipples.

    Usually I have a shirt (not those see-through, flimsy, clingy ones, but more menswear-like cotton ones made of fabric that retains its shape) and a structured blazer on. When I have it unbuttoned in the front, I’m careful to keep the blazer mostly closed. This works pretty well. At least I’ve never had someone come to me and say “hey, you need to wear a bra” so far. It’s possible that everyone knows and gossips about my perky nipples, but it hasn’t damaged my career prospects thus far.

    This might not work if OP is larger-chested and sway is a problem, but if she needs to only hide the nipples and isn’t opposed to dressing somewhat masculine, this might be worth trying. Good luck!

  50. Chantal*

    Skipping ahead to the end, so if someone else has already mentioned this, I apologize: I recently discovered that maternity/nursing bras are the most comfortable things ever. If you’re not too shy to visit a mat store in an unpregnant state, try on the bras on offer and you might be pleasantly surprised.

    I don’t miss the days of boob torture and hope you find something comfy soon. Good luck!

    1. Turanga Leela*

      Target sells nursing bras designed for sleeping that are surprisingly comfortable. I used to sleep in sports bras, but I’ve switched to these.

    2. Mookie*

      Wireless maternity bras, bralettes, and camisoles are fab. Never been preggers, but I always gravitate towards that section because the underclothes look comfortable. Nice thing about maternity bras — unclip them easily in the toilet for a few minutes to let some air in and release the tension without bandying with the band and hooks.

  51. Malissa*

    I asked my friend who has Fibromyalgia and she highly recommends the genie bras. She also says to never put them in the dryer. She has days where even a t-shirt can be painful to wear.

  52. Formica Dinette*

    I’m not the OP, but I’m smiling at all of the kind and (dare I say?) supportive responses to this post. I know *so* many people who have medical issues that make it difficult for them to wear one article or another of professional or “dressy” clothing. It’s wonderful to see so much empathy and such a variety of suggestions!

  53. boop*

    It’s helpful when people share their bra size for the purpose of reference, but without the band size, saying you’re a “C” cup or a “D” cup means literally nothing. A 40D is quite the melon, but a 30D is a mandarin orange.

    Perhaps choosing a really soft material and just wrapping your chest like in the movie “Now & Then”?

    1. Not me*

      Sorry, what? A 40D means 40″ rib cage measurement and 45″ bust measurement. 30D is 30″ rib cage measurement and 35″ bust measurement.

      1. 30ish*

        I think boop is saying that the volume of a 40D breast is far bigger than that of a 30D breast, so “D” doesn’t tell you much. The volume is relevant in terms of how much the breasts would have to be “contained”. A bigger volume being more complicated to deal with than a smaller one.

        1. Not me*

          Oh, yeah, you’re right. Sorry, I jumped the gun and didn’t even think of what OP was saying about shape/volume.

    2. Chinook*

      “Perhaps choosing a really soft material and just wrapping your chest like in the movie “Now & Then”?

      As someone with cantelopes, I have had my breasts bound when I was dressed in a formal kimono (the women who dressed my 21 year old self described me as having the same body type as her and she was over 40 with two kids) and binding my breasts properly wasn’t that bad and still allowed me to be physically active for an evening (think dancing the obon up and down main street for hours). If you do it with wide enough cloth and plan where to tie the knot, it might work as it disperses the touching of the cloth and doesn’t give any pressure points. I found it comfortable enough that I still have the long cloth she wrapped me in so that I can wear the kimono and yukata I own and have them fit appropriately (think long willow vs. hourglass shape) and so that I can wear the wide obi belt comfortably.

  54. Underwire Hater*

    Under-wire bras that dug into my flesh and straps that always fell down used to take a serious toll on my days in the office. Then I found out about Coobie bras. I don’t think it’s a huge exaggeration to say that they changed my life. They are so comfortable – it’s like wearing a sports bra that looks like a regular bra. Not sure if this would work for the OP’s condition, but hopefully it will be helpful for some other bra-hating readers. Don’t be put off the by the one-size-fits-all factor; unless you have very big breasts it shouldn’t be a problem.

  55. Michelle*

    I only glanced through the comments, so if this has already been suggested, forgive me. I have seen items called nipple disks, they are usually made of a soft material (such as silicone) and they can help with the tell-tale signs of not having a bra on. I don’t know if they will help, but if the other suggestions here are not doable for you, you could try those and paired with a jacket, cardigan or long scarf, you shouldn’t be able to tell that you are not wearing a bra.

  56. HannahS*

    I think it’s safe to assume that the OP knows her disability and that her discomfort goes beyond the usual wearing the wrong size/brand.

    From reading the comments, it looks like a lot of women can identify if another woman isn’t wearing a bra, but that’s not really the key question. The question is, do people care? I don’t see people saying that unconstrained breasts move differently AND that it’s distracting and unprofessional, just that they can tell. So…people, probably mostly women, will know that you’re not wearing a bra. But so what? My female co-workers and supervisors are aware that I don’t wear makeup and have exactly one hairstyle, but they don’t care.

    If you’re dressed in reasonable way, I don’t see why anyone would be distracted. Like, avoid delineating the exact shape of your breasts and nipples; don’t wear a thin cotton T-shirt with a long sparkly necklace, but an undershirt+dress shirt+sweater? Or a snug tank top + drapey/oversized sweater/tunic? Scarves! Blazers! Don’t feel like you have suffer. Granted, I live in a place where you can layer heavily 9 months of the year….and I’m assuming the OP is young, average sized, and therefore still “perky.” But honestly, just because people can tell doesn’t mean they think it’s bad and unprofessional.

    I’ve attached a link below with a short buzzfeed article where a busty girl forewent a bra for a week. She has pictures of her outfits with/without a bra (and they’re suuuper casual), and while you can tell the difference, when she’s not wearing a bra most of her clothes still look just fine.

    1. Ad Astra*

      Sorry, I care. If I can tell a woman’s not wearing a bra at the office, I’m going to feel uncomfortable and I’m going to think she’s unprofessional, or at least that she’s oblivious to what the rest of us are seeing. If someone told me they had a condition that prevents them from wearing a bra, I’d of course be a lot more tolerant of it — but I doubt this is something OP wants to disclose to everyone she meets in a professional context.

      In the end, it doesn’t affect me directly and it’s not the end of the world, but it still doesn’t leave a positive impression.

      1. HannahS*

        ….I’m confused? Upthread I thought you said as long as nipples are covered you don’t really care. But anyway, instead of wanting to be told, why don’t you work under the assumption that if a woman isn’t wearing a bra it’s because she’s profoundly physically uncomfortable wearing one? Everyone I know who doesn’t either finds them incredibly painful or is a gay woman wearing more traditionally masculine clothing (which covers everything up anyway).

        1. fposte*

          But then you’ve opened the floodgates–I don’t think I can single the braless out particularly for having their own reasons I should credit, so I have to extend it to the unwashed, the unkempt, the barefoot, etc., etc., all of whom could be profoundly physically uncomfortable, profoundly fiscally uncomfortable, or something else valid too.

          And there are some situations where I might extend the benefit of the doubt to those, to be sure; I don’t care a whole lot that person is manning a cash register and I’m buying cold medicine (and if anybody remembers bike messengers, they were not people to judge esthetically). But there are situations where the benefit of the doubt has to be earned, and in those situations, you’ll need to consider whether you’re going to be read the way you want to be.

          1. Ad Astra*

            Yeah, there are plenty of potentially valid reasons for a lot of things that come off as unprofessional. You can certainly argue that appearances shouldn’t matter, but the fact is that appearance does matter in most professional contexts. If you don’t care what people think about you, then do whatever makes you happy.

            1. Ad Astra*

              And, I should add, it doesn’t need to be a bra per se. Someone who’s wearing a cami with a shelf bra or a bralette or something like that is likely to have the nipple/bounce situation sufficiently under control.

        2. Honeybee*

          A lot of times the assumptions we make about people are unconscious, and it takes a lot of mental work to overcome them. It would be great if everyone did that mental work, all the time, to overcome stereotypes about people. But the truth is people will often revert to their heuristic structures…which will leave an obviously braless woman being grouped in the “unprofessional” camp by the vast majority of the people she interacts with.

    2. fposte*

      I didn’t wait for everything to load, but it looked like these were all still photos. That means they’re not helpful in capturing the thing that’s going to draw a lot of people’s eye, which is movement.

      If she did take care of movement, then great! It looks like she did a lot of layering, so maybe it got handled that way. Another possibility for the OP.

  57. L*

    So after being spoken to at two jobs during college about not wearing a bra, I’ve developed a formula to avoid ever having that sort of awkward conversation ever again. I wear a snuggish fitting black tee shirt and a loose cardigan in a solid dark color. I’m a C cup and no one has had to mention anything. I’m not the most stylish but that hardly matters in my line of work. I find that a very loose top highlights the division between the breasts but a very tight one can be just as bad. A nice fitting dark tee shirt with a neckline that covers your collarbone is essential for me!

    Also, don’t make movements that make you bounce around- no crazy office dances or sprints to the elevator. I’d worked for six months with no mention of the bralessness, then hustled to the stairwell during a drill and was written up the next morning. :(

  58. insert pun here*

    if you can tolerate a bathing suit (one piece or tankini), that might work — if it’s in a neutral color? Or if your particular issue is with straps, bands, underwires (the pokey, fidgety pieces) — maybe a chest binder, like those worn by transmen? Basically you just need to keep things in place… it doesn’t really matter how you get there.

  59. Sarah*

    I have skin issues from a GI disease, perhaps one these adaptations I use might help: I look for thick (“heavy hand”) 100% cotton broadcloth structured shirts – the structure keeps it a bit away from the body and the thickness of the fabric helps maintain the shape. I sometimes wear very soft, thin, cotton or silk shirts that are sleeveless and go nicely under blazers which are heavier and provide coverage. I also always get every top I own tailored – for me if I can reduce some of the irritation (at the neck, or by adjusting the cuff placement) sometimes I can find the capacity to live with whatever problems are left with the garment. Also, an excellent tailor can help you to learn which fabrics have the right weave/weight/fibre content for you, and they may be able to add in soft cotton or silk linings for you if that helps with your sensitivity. It can take a while to build a relationship with a tailor but it’s worth it, I think, because when everything fits impeccably it looks like you dressed with intention and most people will assume you are also wearing “traditional” undergarments because that’s what they expect from well tailored people.

    I also double wash all my clothes with unscented natural detergent with the second wash being with just vinegar to pull more of the detergent out of the fabric to reduce irritation. I know this is a privileged thing to suggest, but it’s also possible that in your field you might be able to hold out for a job with people who are compassionate about disabilities and recognize how hard they can be do to deal at work – I work at a place where people would be horrified at the idea of you having to wear a bra if it’s painful for you, and with some luck it’s possible that you’ll be able to find a place that’s a welcoming fit for you. For what it’s worth, in my experience dealing with therapists in particular, one who is relatively open about their own disability often is able to connect especially well with clients.

  60. Owl*

    OP, I totally get it. I have Sensory Processing Disorder, and there are days where I really hate clothing. Bras either offer support I crave or make me feel like someone is stabbing me with a pin around my chest. They also make me dislocate ribs due to another disorder (Ehlers Danlos). I can’t wear tank tops with a shelf/bra inside — they are the most evil thing ever, causing both skin stabby feeling and ribs going out. I switch between two favorite, very old bras.

    Anyways, no suggestions, other than someone else who totally gets it. Two weeks ago I ended up in a full meltdown after 5 days straight of the skin-stabbing pain with no letup.

    1. So, so anonymous and kinda cranky*

      Owl, another EDS. And yes, I work my life around this. I have enough daily pain and issues without adding to it by wearing clothes that cause pain. Mostly I am grateful to be out of leg braces and perhaps not needing my cuff crutch today. I am not stylish but my productivity is amazing when not in pain that exceeds a 4 or a 5. I once had an acquaintance who took me aside an said that I wasn’t doing myself any favors by wearing such loose clothing. I was stunned but just replied that “this works for me”

  61. Maiasaura*

    So, back when I was a sprightly young hadrosaurid, I spent a summer living in India. Women who wear saris there usually wear a close-fitting half-shirt called a choli/choli top under the sari. The ones I saw where closely sewn (but not super tight or stretchy) cotton fabric. Cholis keeps thing from moving around too much and are modest and pretty comfortable. If the OP lives in an area with a concentration of South Asian folks, she may be able to go to a sari store and find some decent and cute options there, too.

  62. Macedon*

    I think if OP’s condition is sufficiently severe as to count as a disability, she should go braless. Everyone else can deal, and a decent employer should support that. This is a medical condition, not an aesthetic call, and “professional” social mores have frequently bowed to health requirements.

    1. Winter is Coming*

      I’m trying to be a good girl and not giggle at “a decent employer should support that.”

  63. Jill*

    OP, I don’t know if this will help you specifically but for a long time I had severe pain across my shoulders so the bra straps bearing down on them were horribly painful. I would open them up a little wider and pin them to the shoulders of my garment just to hold them up. I got the coverage over my D-cups that I needed while keeping the pressure of the straps off my painful shoulders until my chiropractic treatments fixed my issues.

    I echo what other ladies have suggested about going for a professional fit. Makes all the difference!

  64. Former Retail Manager*

    OP…I have a co-worker who goes braless 100% of the time. She wears tanks and camis under her shirts. I, as a very observant lady, would never have known if she hadn’t told me. Truth be told, I just thought she had droopy boobs and was wearing an old lady bra without underwire. She is plus size and very busty and it’s never been an issue. In colder weather, she just carries a sweater with her and throws it on, as needed.

  65. Sara M*

    OP, I feel your pain. I have a similar problem (possibly the same health issue), but I have no choice. My breasts are enormous and I absolutely must have underwire. The best I can hope for is expensive bras that fit well. Better than bad bras… But I desperately wish I had the option to go braless. Good luck! With smaller breasts, you can probably do this.

  66. NZ Muse*

    I didn’t wear a bra to work for MONTHS this year due to eczema. It was okay during the colder months I think and also because it was a more casual workplace than my current one. I dress up a bit more now and I wouldn’t be able to get away bra-less. It’s not a matter of support, more about visible nips, no matter how many layers or what fabric I wear :X

  67. Kat M*

    I never wear a bra to work. Usually I wear a camisole under a shirt, but if I’m wearing a blazer or jacket for some reason, I don’t even need to do that. Just a plain old tank top from Old Navy or Target will do.

    Nobody can tell. It’s not a big deal.

  68. Ad Astra*

    And now my bra, which has never been uncomfortable before, is digging at my ribcage and making me itchy and cranky and it’s driving me nuts. I blame all of you. ;)

  69. Ruth (UK)*

    I also hate bras. I remember wearing one for the first time for a whole day on school and finding it unbearable. I couldn’t forget it for a second. I do not wear any conventional bras ever but instead wear a fitted vest top under all my clothes or sometimes a sort of training bra that has no clippy bits. The only exception is I occasionally wear a sports bra for sports.

    I don’t think people can tell and have asked the opinion of multiple friends on this. I am lucky to have a very small breast size anyway. But my nipples get big when its cold.

    Some items of clothing you can wear to make it less obvious:
    * Any sort of jumper or thick sweatshirt will help.
    * Thicker t shirt material. Most stuff in women’s sections is thinner for some reason.
    * I generally find that wearing a loose shirt over a more fitted one works pretty well…
    * all my clothes have fully high necks. Think like a polo shirt with all the buttons done up. That height collar.
    * I think that non stretchy material works better as long as it’s not tight. It hides the shape underneath more.

  70. FmrSailor*

    Unfortunately, due to health based weight gain/loss, I can’t NOT wear a bra. I’m busty, but now they just sit funny. In fact, I usually wear underwire and a snug Cami under work clothes. I’m really self-conscious about sloshing around.
    I can’t imagine OP’s situation and I wish you the best of luck. There seems to be many good suggestions here in comments.

  71. Phlox*

    Pretty much flat chested here – small breasts run in the family. I have rib fractures so its been bra-free for a few weeks, feels great! I’ve been wearing an undershirt and sweater most day (plus its November so sweaters pretty much stay on all day). My sister is a huge fan of band-aids to hide signs of nipples and loose button up shirts. I was wearing tshirt bras from Target – $10 before my injury though they were creating wear spots on my skin from the straps! I’ve got bras for special occasions but boy, not going back to wearing one everyday after I’m healed.

  72. Silvercat*

    As a non-binary gender person, I rarely wear a bra (only around my period if they’re sore). Even if I’m not dysphoric that day (and I rarely am), it feels wrong. Except for the occasional days I wear a binder, it’s just a tee shirt or tank top under my shirt. Men’s tanks and tees are thicker, but sometimes rougher.

    Nobody has ever said anything. I’m in Southern California and generally work in an office (I’m a graphic artist but have been temping in a lot of fields).

  73. jmac*

    I know this thread is almost a year old, but for others that might be stumbling upon it just recently as I did, I was wondering if OP or others like her have considered pasties? They make reusable ones that cover the nipple and prevent “offensive” headlights. And really, if the nipple is covered, can you really police a woman for her breasts hanging too low… or as some might say, just existing where breasts are supposed to exist. With a more busty person, this might not be sufficient, but for an individual of self-described average bust size, this might be an option to concealing the braless factor without putting any additional weight on the back, shoulders, or ribcage. (P.S. I got my pasties on Amazon for 99 cents, so its definitely worth a try.)

  74. Dust Bunny*

    If the LW doesn’t even know her cup size, chances are she’s been wearing bras that don’t fit properly. She needs to get a proper fitting and find out what’s available that’s seamless, no underwire, whatever. Fit matters a lot more than many women think it does, and a lot of women think that if they can even sort-of get their boobs into the cups, the bra fits, without regard to band size, etc.

  75. Anon for Today*

    This is a super late comment – but a solid secondary option is to buy tops with shelf bralettes in them. I’m thinking in particular of the Uniqlo built-in bra line, which has completely replaced bras for one of my friends. She wears them under everything. They tend to be made out of either their silky dri-fit fabric or a thermal fabric. The dri-fit fabric is nice on the skin, so that may help with not wanting to feel fabric against OP’s skin.

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