Ditch it: The bra

I’m an information sponge and I read a lot about health and wellness knowledge that comes from outside the realm of modern medicine.  Up until now, I thought that a good bra was necessary for breast health, but I’ve come upon some conflicting information that has me second guessing that belief.

The history of the bra

Many ancient civilizations’ artwork depicts women wearing some type of bra or breast-supporting garment.  These cultures include India, Greece, Rome, and China.  Ancient Egyptians did not wear bras, preferring to go bare breasted or wear tunic-style garments without undergarments for the chest.

Beginning in the 16th century, women wore corsets, which pushed their breasts upward.  It also looked pretty hard to breathe in, in my opinion.  In the late 19th century, clothing manufacturers split the corset into pieces – a girdle for the lower torso, and a breast-containing bit, the ancestor of the modern bra. Commercial production of bras began around the 1930s.  Only eighty years ago.

There is a lot more to the history of the bra but I want to get to the stuff that tells you that you don’t need to wear one.

The industry of bras

The sale of bras is a multi-billion dollar industry. In my opinion, a lot of this money probably comes from the fact that bras are only “good” for six months before you “need” to replace them.  I have a bra from 2009 in my dresser.  Whoops.

Bras are marketed to women from the onset of puberty until death.  Bras have special features to push your breasts up, make them look bigger, make them look smaller, make them someone’s version of ideal.

Holy crap, they’re breasts.  They didn’t need artificial support when we were cave-dwellers or natives and they don’t need artificial support now.

Don’t you need a bra?

Bras support the breasts, right? Wrong.  Bras actually cause drooping, sagging breasts.  What happens when you have to wear a cast or a sling for several weeks, and you can’t use an arm or a leg? Muscle atrophy. The same thing is happening to breasts when we stuff them into bras for years.  The muscle around the breast loses tone, thereby creating a “need” for breast support.  Those training bras are training girls’ breasts to require artificial support.  Bras don’t make healthy breasts, they make lifetime customers!

There is a study that found a positive correlation between length of time a bra is worn and incidence of breast cancer.  “The longer and tighter a woman wore a bra, the higher her chances of developing breast cancer.”  Bra-free women have a similar incidence of breast cancer to that of men.

Bra Free, a site run by Dr. Elizabeth Vaughan, outlines another risk of frequent bra wearing: the potential for toxins to build up in our bodies.  She says:

Follow me through this, step by step…it’s not complicated:

  • We live in a world that is increasingly polluted; many of these environmental toxins are in our bodies.
  • Many of these toxins have estrogenic effects.
  • Most of these toxins are stored in our body fat.
  • Breasts are primarily made of fat. It surrounds our breast tissue.
  • Each of us has a different capacity to clear these toxins out of our fat and our bodies. Studies suggest that some individual women’s bodies can detoxify these substances and get rid of them 500 times more efficiently than others. Quite a range.
  • Toxins are carried out of the breasts by the lymphatic system. Breasts are loaded with lymphatic tissue. The lymphatic system doesn’t have a “pump” like the heart. Movement and massage help move toxins along our lymphatic system.
  • Anything that slows down the clearing of these toxins will increase an individual’s risk of developing symptoms and/or disease.
  • Bras which restrict movement of the breasts, appear to increase congestion in the breasts, and slow down clearance of toxins from the breasts will increase the rate that women develop breast diseases. Why? Because the toxins remain concentrated in otherwise healthy tissue for much longer.
  • I’m convinced that the longer women wear tight restrictive garments, the faster the damage will progress.

So go bra free. Or wear a less restrictive bra. Let your breasts move and jiggle. Let your breasts detoxify themselves more freely.

What will people think?

I recently went on vacation to Florida.  While I was there, I didn’t wear a bra.  I didn’t care.  The people weren’t going to see me ever again.  When I got back to Ohio and returned to work, I wanted to continue the experiment.  I went without a bra for a week, and no one appeared to notice.  No one said anything, at least.  There were no leering man creeps eyeing my chest.  I wore a bra for four hours to volunteer on the weekend, but then when volunteering the next day I went without.  Still, no one said anything.

The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter what people think.  If your breasts flop around in your top a little bit, that’s not anyone else’s problem.  I get a little self conscious, still, so I tend to wear a camisole under a top just for a little extra layering and comfort.  Especially in my polyester volunteer shirt, sheesh.

Other reasons to ditch it

Can you imagine the money savings from not having to buy any more bras? If you never buy a bra in your life, you could save thousands of dollars.  Estimating 60 years of bra-wearing, replacing every six months, and spending $30 per bra (this is just assuming you buy one at a time, instead of a white one, a black one, a “nude” one, a strapless one, and a sexy one), that’s over $3,500 on bras in a lifetime.  What have I been doing with my life?

You’ll also save space in your dresser or closet used to store bras, you won’t have to hand wash and hang dry bras, and you won’t have to agonize in dressing rooms trying on new bras after getting measured by a stranger to make sure you have the right cup size.  You won’t have to deal with twisted straps, pinching clasps, and the red marks left imprinted into your skin after a long day in a tight bra.  Ditch it.

60 thoughts on “Ditch it: The bra

  1. livingsimplyfree says:

    Caitlin, I am so glad you wrote this, I have had it in my brain to write something similar, but you did a better job than I would have. I never wore a bra until after the birth of my son when a family member told me I needed to to be a proper mother and not embarrass my child. I was 22 then. I only wore it when I left the house and nothing very restrictive. I paid less than $10 for each and only owned one at a time keeping them for years each. It bothered me that men can have man boobs but no one says they need a bra. A few years ago I developed a lump in my breast. It hurt and so I stopped wearing a bra all together. By the time I got in to have it drained it had disappeared. The doctor believed it was a result of eliminating the bra and letting my lymphatic system cleanse itself from the natural movement of the tissue. Today if I need to look nice, a rarity, I wear a camisole or a tank with a shelf bra underneath my top. I’ve had no further problems. Now to tone up that area.😊

    • Caitlin says:

      I’m glad to hear your body was able to clear that lump up! Thank you for telling me your bra story🙂 I am still getting over the feeling that people will look at me funny for not wearing one, but I’m honestly a lot more comfortable. Feel free to share my post to spread the word if you want!

  2. Nicola B says:

    I still wear a bra, but fairly recently changed from full on underwired, decorated with lace etc traditional bra to a simple cotton triangle one- SO much more comfortable, no more nasty red marks. It’s not quite letting my boobs run wild and free, but it is way better than ‘proper’ bras. (I’m still hanging in to the ‘proper’ bras for some reason, I thinmk it might be time to say bye bye!)
    I have a friend at work who hates wearing bras, and will often whip hers off halfway through the day…most days she doesn’t bother with one at all! Having said that, we are both fairly small chested- wondering if no bra is as easy to get used to for ladies with larger chests…?

    • Caitlin says:

      I have D-cup size breasts and aside from the weird shame feelings from bucking a social norm, it’s a lot more comfortable for me. I’ve also stopped shaving my legs as well so I’m getting more and more used to just being like, “Well this is my body, so you can move on and let me do my thing” if people look twice. It’s more psychological than anything else.

    • needforless says:

      As a woman with a larger chest (34DD), I have to say that I am worried about this. I’ve never felt that going bra-less was an option for me.

      I’ve hated my breasts my entire life. I wanted to go bra-less for as long as I can remember. They were in the way and hurt when I played sports or ran, causing me to have to wear 2 sports bras most of the time. No clothes or especially swimsuits fit properly. My bra straps would dig into my shoulders, causing me to buy “granny bras” with wider straps. My back would hurt from supporting them all day. Perverted guys would constantly stare. The list goes on….

      So, I had a breast reduction when I was 21 years old (I was a DD then). My doctor said he would make me a “small C or big B”. I wanted to be a small B or big A, but he said I would look disproportionate. So, too hasty in my decision, I had the surgery anyway. (I should have gone to a woman doctor who understands the annoyance with large breasts, instead of a guy who likes to look at them.)

      The 6 weeks following the surgery was the only time I have ever gone without a bra consistently since I started wearing one during puberty.

      5 years later, with a little bit of weight fluctuation, I’m back in a DD. Joy. $7,000 wasted. I’m trying to lose a few extra pounds, but I know my large chest size is genetic (both grandmothers had large breasts), and I’ll probably always struggle with them.

      I hate to even admit it, but there were times when I was so fed up with them, I almost wished I got breast cancer so that I could get a double mastectomy. Terrible, I know. They’ve just really messed with me psychologically. I’ve never felt like I was supposed to have them. I wanted to be free.

      I wear minimizer bras to make them look smaller, which helps some, but probably isn’t allowing the toxins to get flushed out properly. Hopefully with enough weight loss, toning, and after children, they will change shape and I’ll be pleased with them. As for now, I’m just learning to deal with them, and not hate them so much.

      Sorry this comment is so long. Just wanted to give you the perspective from a member of the Big Titty Committee, who dreams of one day being able to join the Itty Bitty Titty Committee. :-/

      • Caitlin says:

        I understand😦 I have Ds, which I know are smaller than DDs, but I too feel the “these things are just in the way!” pain that you feel. I hope you’re able to find booby peace.

        I also sympathize with your wishes for cancer so you’d have an excuse to cut them off… I have wished for terrible things in my life, but I’m definitely glad they didn’t come to fruition.

  3. Eimear says:

    While I would love to try this and am envious of the smaller chested women who can choose to do this, no one wants to live with the pain I live with by not wearing a bra. Maybe when I lose all the excess weight my breasts will shrink and I can try it. Until them, it’s over-the-shoulder-boulder-holders for me!

    • Caitlin says:

      I’m sorry to hear that, I hope you can try some day in the future! Do you ever go without at all? The pain may be coming from your body being so dependent on the support, and you might find that after an initial period of discomfort, you feel better. Just in case you want to try it out🙂

  4. roxiepatton says:

    I have to say, I really like the concept of going braless, but I gave it ago, and it was painful. I’m too active all day to go braless. Additionally, some women (like myself) have more sensitive breasts, so when I go braless, it is 24 hour headlights which makes me feel conspicuous and inappropriate at my professional job.

  5. Shannon says:

    I love this post! So true. However, my HH cup breasts just cannot go without and it makes me so sad every day. They hang down almost to my waist, and it’s just completely impossible for any clothes to fit right without a minimizer (I’m a size 6-8 waist, so my breasts are completely disproportionate to the rest of my body). It’s also impossible to perform my physically demanding job without, it causes pain even when I’m making dinner sometimes without one as they’re so sensitive. As soon as I walk in the door though, the thing comes off and doesn’t go back on until I leave the next day. I also like you don’t buy into the six month rule.. I think my current bras are from 2010, and I won’t replace them until absolutely necessary! They still do the job just fine.. Maybe one day I will be able to get a reduction to relieve some of the pain and finally be able to live braless!🙂

    • Caitlin says:

      Oh my goodness, HH? You have my sympathy. I’m glad you’re at least able to take the bra off in the evenings. I was doing that for a while before I took the plunge.

      And that six month rule is just crazy talk.

  6. rebekkastarfish says:

    I’ve come to accept and like the fact that I’m sort of a big A (not so sure as I have a broad chest and I’m too lazy to get properly measured somewhere), so I don’t wear anything bra-like at night, and during the day mostly just a simple elastic bustier to keep the breasts where they belong. I’m sensorically hypersensitive and can’t stand the feel of underwire against my chest, and if it isn’t very hot I even wear a cotton undershirt under the bustier to keep the local pressure at bay … or under the occasional black push-up (without underwire of course … darn hard to find this!). After reading your post I went for a walk without any of these supporting devices. Felt ok, but wouldn’t be able to stand the feeling of jiggling flesh all the time, so it’s either the bustiers or valerian! Do you think bustiers are better or worse than real bras?

    • Caitlin says:

      I am not sure! I think as long as you’re keeping things simple and not super tight, and you set them free at night, you’re probably okay🙂

      • starfish says:

        Hehe, I just went through your “wardrobe” category again … and I can proudly say: bra-free for over a year now! (Didn’t count the months, lol.) Only thing in use are my three sport-bustiers with racerback, as I seriously got into playing capoeira which means 1.) a lot of crazy movements including cartwheels and handstands, 2.) white t-shirts (at least for formal occasions), 3.) occasional full upper body contact, 4.) a base position with upper body slightly bent down and other movements perfect to offer a peek down into my tee’s collar. But semi-chestbinding two to four nights a week for a few hours won’t hurt me, I guess😉 Thanks for keeping me motivated, btw😉

  7. Maria says:

    Very interesting post and comments! I’ve been ditching my bra more and more lately too. I’ve heard, and feel, that wearing one restricts breathing aswell, which is definitely not healthy or comfortable. I guess I’m lucky that I’m a big A or small B though. But I don’t think it would be comfortable for me to do sports without wearing a bra. For normal activities around the house it’s not a problem, but I have to admit that at this point I’m not really comfortable with people being able to see that I don’t wear one in a professional setting or certain public settings. If I use some sort of sweater over a top it should be fine though. Or maybe I can get a triangle bra like Nicola B for those occasions – good tip! A few of the tops I have are great, you can’t really tell if I’m wearing a bra or not.

    I’ve never heard of the 6 months rule! I recently tossed out a bra that I think I’ve had for almost 10 years or something. Oops. I didn’t wear it that often though.

    And I can totally empathize with needforless’s “crazy” thoughts – boy the things that go through MY mind sometimes!

    • Caitlin says:

      I think I will still wear a sports bra for exercising, at least if I’m at the gym or jogging outside. Yoga inside my apartment… ehhh, might be bra-free yoga, the jury is out on that. The important thing is to not have them sequestered and smooshed all day long! I’d like to look into the basic bra mentioned earlier for when I need the girls at better attention, but my life is not a fancy life and I don’t feel very much pressure besides the general unease around not wearing a bra. I can’t tell how much of that is from society and how much is internal. I’ve really only been doing this for a couple of weeks now!! I definitely wear layers when going bra-free, so I understand your sweater idea. I’ll wear a camisole under a dress, and sometimes wear a shirt tied in front over the same dress, just to make sure I’m not totally free-boobin’.🙂 thanks for writing! I am loving how much discussion is happening here.

      • Maria says:

        I agree, I’m not sure how much of the discomfort is internal or from society. In the name of full disclosure, I remember that the 10 year old or so bra is probably at my mother’s house (bad minimalist). Still, the 6 months rule is crazy!

  8. living lagom says:

    Love it! It’s interesting that you’ve written about this. I’m not a fan of wired or padded bras. I sort of feel like they’re false advertising. I’ve been on the search for a bra alternative. I’m thinking I’ll use a combination of the triangle bra mentioned above and purchasing clothing that doesn’t make it obvious to the world when I’m cold. In the summer, I like to have one dress that can be worn braless for those mega hot days. For years, I even wore a bra to sleep. I stopped that silly habit a long time ago.

    • Caitlin says:

      Thanks!! This post was more popular than I expected, I am glad so many people are discussing their bra options! The triangle bra seems like a safe compromise for the times when you want to be a little more secure in the chestal region! I also know what you mean about the obvious cold thing… I love light layers.

  9. Amanda Blackwell says:

    I am a size DDD and let me tell you, when I go braless people notice! I spend $15 a YEAR on two bras, one is put up until it’s time to replace the other, and I can’t go without them. I get back pain if I go too long without a bra and reduction is NOT an option for me.
    This article, while informative, just does not contain enough information for me to say that going without is best for the breast.
    If you want to prevent breast cancer, eat organic foods and EXERCISE! Exercise is the number one fat burning (and toxin removing technique by the writers own citation) way of ensuring a healthy lifestyle.

    • Caitlin says:

      I definitely think people should do more research than just reading my blog post before deciding one way or the other🙂 after all, I am no scientist! Also – where on earth do you get such affordable bras? I think I will probably always have a couple in rotation just in case, and that’s a bargain.

      I also agree 100% that a healthy lifestyle is a huge component to avoiding cancer. I eat mostly organic, but I am still working on getting into an exercise routine. I think I’m close to getting back on that horse, since I joined a gym with a trainer and if I make an appointment I know I’ll keep it🙂

      Thank you so much for reading!

  10. Caroline says:

    I have to say, at last! A legitimate reason for ditching the upper decker flopper stopper!! I hate them. I’ve always hated them and have spent most of my life since leaving school without wearing one. I mostly wear one for work (though not every day) but whip it off as soon in the day as it becomes intolerable, even if that means doing the Hoodini thing whilst sat at my desk! It doesn’t bother me if people look, it’s not like they’ve never seen an unbound breast before – we all fed as babies, most of us hanging off of one, right? If people have a problem with bouncers then they need to lighten up. I have bras in my collection that vary from 38C to 42DD and all combinations in between. This is to accommodate my seasonal fluctuations in weight but not one of them is comfortable. I resent being made (by social convention) to feel like a trussed up oven ready chicken! I like the idea of the sports style tank to keep them vaguely in the right place, but other than that, it’s time we picked up where our sixties sisters left off and burnt our bras!!! Thanks for writing and sharing the article :-))xx

    • Caitlin says:

      Thanks very much for your comments!! Obviously people can and should do as much more research as they need on the subject but I am so glad you took some positive encouragement from this post🙂

      Sometimes just hating them in the first place is enough motivation. Once I considered the cost savings and the fact that I don’t really mind looking a little un-trussed, it was an easy decision. I will still keep some around just in case I ever feel the need to have them more behaved, but you bet it’s coming off when I get home🙂 thanks for reading!

  11. M.B. Chandler says:

    Patricia Bragg has some great exercises on Youtube. She has NEVER worn a bra and she has some good literature on the health risks of wearing a bra. You’ve inspired me. I was thinking about writing more on image and the pressures women endure. The corset went out of style, maybe the bra will finally too.

    • Caitlin says:

      I am glad to have inspired you!! Patricia Bragg… is that Bragg like the apple cider vinegar? I should check her videos out. And let me know if you write that piece on image and pressure, I would love to read it.

      Since ditching my bra I have been working on a little photo collage to show some tips for dressing bra-free! 🙂

  12. sarahn says:

    If I’m honest, I’m scared to try! Scared, even though I shaved my head 8 months ago – surely that’s scarier! I never sleep in them, and if I’m at home, I won’t wear one (unless i’ve had one on from earlier in the day. I also wear ‘shelf bra’ camisoles, so I’m sure that’s just as bad!

    • Caitlin says:

      I think the camisoles are probably a little better🙂 as long as they aren’t super tight. I just got a dress with built-in “supports” and I feel like they still have a little wiggle room, lol. Give it a try!! I’m working on a post to show some of the things I wear to keep things under control.

  13. Ginny Love Moore says:

    This post is awesome. I’m a D too and I found so much encouragement in your writing and in the comments. I love shelf bra tank tops and my favorite dress ever (the Merrell Lily Dress) has built in supports too. No wires. Not a lot of material to make me sweaty in the summer. When I was younger, I believed the lie that magazines sold me that I have to hike them up push them together. I hated bras (it takes a lot of padding and material and constriction to make a pair of Ds hold up like the girls in magazines) but did not want to go against the flow. But now that I’m older, I don’t care. I don’t skip the bra as a protest. It’s an expression of freedom. Thank you for putting this out there. I’m inspired and encouraged. Cheers!

  14. nicole says:

    No no no no no. As someone who sells bras, let me correct you. A bra should not leave marks on you. A bra should not be tight or restrictive. Bras come in modal and cotton. Push up or no push up. Wired or wireless. Thick material or thin. Bras help women. I see it every day at my job- they boost self confidance. I’ve worked with people with breast cancer and tubular breasts. When they find the right bra, it is amazing.

    • Caitlin says:

      Many women like to wear a bra, and that’s fine. I hope they are taking the time to be properly fitted and find one that works for them, like you help them to do. For many women, myself included, not wearing a bra totally works for us!🙂

  15. Andrea says:

    I am a C cup maybe a B by now as I have lost weight since being measured last. I first tried going bra free last August and was fairly self concious at first. I noticed less breast pain and and tenderness. I went back to wearing a bra about 2 months later and after a month of wearing one again my breasts starting hurting again so I was pretty much like screw it and have now been bra free for about 9 months now. I am no longer self concious about not wearing one and personally I could care less what anyone else thinks. My breasts no longer have any pain and any hard lumps/bumps I had are no longer there. My breasts are soft now and no longer hard. I wear the ANA Camisoles from JcPenney that are cotton and modal or any cotton/spandex camisole. I don’t even like the shelf bra camisoles. I for one will never go back to wearing a bra again. I will also make sure my daughter knows she doesn’t ever have to wear bras either.

    • Caitlin says:

      Thanks for sharing your story! I find that dressing in layers is great for keeping everything contained without the restriction of a bra. Honestly, people have told me they can’t even tell and they’re very surprised when I mention I don’t wear a bra.

  16. Nicole says:

    All summer I have been bra-less or using a camisole with a very light shelf, minimal support. I am a middle school teacher, yes kids going through puberty in my building. Today I wore a shirt over my camisole with very light shelf support and all day I was concerned about how I looked, esp to my students. I also am self conscious because it tends to give me a uni-boob. I am probably a size b, but closer to c cup. Any thoughts? Suggestions?

    • Caitlin says:

      Hi Nicole! When I go bra-less (which is most of the time) I make sure I am wearing layers. I can’t just wear one shirt. I wear a camisole tank with minimal support, probably like what you’re used to wearing, and then I wear another shirt over it, sometimes adding a scarf or a vest for added support and layers.

      If you feel like you need to wear a bra during the day, just be sure to take it off when you get home to allow your body to move around and naturally utilize the lymph pathways that are possibly being blocked by more frequent bra wearing.

      Does this help?

  17. Desiree says:

    Love the article. I’m a DD and went braless a few months ago, very easy to do in the winter when you have to wear 15 layers anyway, nobody noticed. Even at work, I just wear a cami for an extra layer, not a peep from anyone. Maybe they’re just being polite, I don’t know or care. I do wear one sometimes for special occasion type things where not wearing something would make the dress/top/suit look odd and I haven’t dealt with the warmer weather/less layers issue yet. I found that when I first stopped wearing one it was kind of painful as muscles and ligaments adjusted but after a few days it went away. And, I don’t know if there’s a correlation here with the lymph system, but I haven’t been sick once since I quit.

    • Caitlin says:

      Thanks for sharing! I have also not been sick very much in the past couple years but that’s probably a combo of many lifestyle changes. I am always happy to hear bra-free success stories🙂

  18. Amy says:

    I am a 42DDD with fibromyalgia and a skin condition that means that even organic cotton bra bands on bras like the Jane bra, which are mostly cotton with a tiny amount of Lycra rub me raw. I love going braless but can’t do it long because I sweat. Plus, my girls literally do hang to my waist. I saw one product called the BreastNest that looks interesting but I can’t and choose not to do synthetic fabrics. I’ve even thought of trying to make a fabric breast sling just to lift them a little for air circulation. I’m at my wits end.

  19. Rae says:

    I never comment on blogs but I saw this and had to. 6ish months ago (can’t remember when exactly), I came across the study saying bras might be causing more harm than good. And it made sense to me. I stay at home with my son so I dumped the traditional bra. At my last fitting, I was a 34I. I just don’t feel comfortable going in public without anything, so I wear a loose sports bra.

    At first it was pretty painful- like constant pms. But the longer I went without, the pain eased up. Last month, my period snuck up on me because I had ZERO breast tenderness. Non. At all. I thought it was a fluke but this month the same thing happened. No more achey boobs! -I’ve suffered, for what seems like, forever from sore, painful breasts before my period so this is a very big deal to me! I’m excited to see what happens in the coming months.

  20. Réa Bevans Kironn says:

    This is a great post! I am turning 70 next year have always had smaller breasts and have always hated bras. I confess, I am a bra burner from the 70’s. I dumped my bras last year – forever – now I can breathe! Dr, Kironn..

  21. Claire says:

    $3,500 is an insane amount of money to spend on bras, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve spent near that already, and I’m in my late 30s! I love not wearing bras at home but have a hard time not wearing them when I’m not at home. For me the worst part is underboob sweat during the summer and then I put on my Breastnest and it takes care of me.🙂

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