The Modesty Panel: Modesty and the Bra Shopping Experience

Hello Ladies,

Recently, several women who write about breasts and proper bra fit came together to create the Bosom Bloggers group with the goal of helping each other and our readers.  Naturally, the topic of modesty arose during our interactions with each other, usually accompanied by “I should blog about that someday!”  Well, someday has come!  This week, each of the following bloggers has committed to sharing a perspective on the subject of modesty.

Boosaurus: Growing up in the Christian Homeschooling Subculture
Braless in Brasil:  What if you want more coverage?
Braless in Brasil Pt 2: Modesty from a mom’s perspective
Bras and Body Image: What I wear is none of your damn business!
By Babys Rule:  Modesty and Breast Implants
Contrary Kiwi:  More clothes = more holiness?
Fussy Busty:  Why I choose not to cover up
Fussy Busty Pt 2:  I’m fat and ain’t no one telling me what to do!
Hourglassy:  Stares Bad, Breast Private
Hourglassy Pt 2:  Feminism isn’t a four letter word but modesty should be!
Miss Underpinning: Why I like taking my clothes off for the Internet, or on modesty
Nothing Ever Fits:  What Modesty means for us
Obsessed with Breasts:  A Word Vomit of Thoughts
Red Hair and Girly Flair: It’s not your body
Sophia Jenner: Where do you stand?
That Bra Does Not Fit Her: We have a great selection of minimizers!
The Tit Rambler: Modest Panel Crashing
Thin and Curvy:  Dressing Modestly
Two Cakes on a Plate:  Respecting One Another Not the Rules of Society
Weirdly Shaped and Well Photographed: On Looking Away
Wide Curves:  I Want to be Big and Immodest
Windie Gardie: Modesty

You will find the viewpoints of a mother, a feminist, an overweight woman, a corporate climber, and so many more.  Modesty plays a vital role in our everyday lives, whether it’s adding a camisole under a low cut top to avoid cleavage, abiding by corporate or school dress codes, observing religious requirements, or determining which bras to buy.  Every day, we actively engage in some degree of modest dressing whether for personal, professional, or religious reasons, and as part of the modesty panel, I want to discuss how the emphasis on modesty translates to the bra shopping experience.

Modesty

Before ever entering the fitting room, a woman’s modesty impacts how comfortable she will feel with a stranger seeing her in a bra.  We visit beaches and pools, where swimsuits cover as much if not less than our undergarments, but then swimsuits are not referred to as “intimates.”  Bras and underwear are often viewed within a sexualized context, and thus, the idea of showing those garments to another person, especially a stranger, is also viewed as potentially shameful.

Image courtesy of Victoria's Secret
Image courtesy of Victoria’s Secret

Couple those feelings of awkwardness with the slew of body image demons rearing their heads at the first sight of a mirror, and you have a recipe for women feeling uncomfortable with a process that can be fun and positive.  My goal as a fitter is never to judge you.  I am not there to critique your body, the bra you came into the store wearing, your personal preferences for bras and underwear, or even your religious observances.  The latter sometimes creates problems for fitters unaccustomed to working with women who cannot allow a person to see them undressed.

For all the women who feel more conservative about modesty, there are also women on the opposite side of the spectrum.  These women announce that they have no modesty, and they are not shy about taking off their bra or allowing the fitter to touch them.  Interestingly, just as some women feel apologetic about their desire for more privacy, others feel the need to apologize for their lack of it.

Regardless of your personal preferences, bra fitters should be respectful of your decisions and never make you feel strange or guilty for them.  If you do not want a fitter to see you in your bra, then she should instruct you how to measure yourself and talk to you about the way a bra should fit.  She should be open to guiding you through the process with explanations and pictures instead of through a hands-on approach.  If you do not have issues undressing, that’s okay too.  There’s no shame in doing what will help you to maximize your appointment and your comfort level.

Having said this, it is easier for fitters if we can evaluate the fit of the bra in person, but it is not essential.  Never allow someone to make you feel uncomfortable in the fitting room.  Ever.  Whether the issue is modesty, comfort, or something else entirely, you should always be respected and treated warmly.

Once in the fitting room, the next step is deciding what style of bra suits your needs.  The most-desired characteristics by my customers are a smooth cup with some foam padding.  A good bra should lift, shape, and support but do so quietly and discreetly without revealing itself to anyone.  Even more the bra should conceal the nipples entirely because the visible outline of this body part often interplays immodesty and sexuality.  However, the connotation typically revolves around women as men with erect nipples do not face the same level of criticism.  In fact, women’s breasts and modesty are so intertwined that there are even instances when using them the way they were intended (breastfeeding an infant) provokes rebuke.  By extension, it’s no wonder that the nipples natural response to cold temperatures must also be concealed and hidden away.

Ann_Hathaway

Visible nipples underneath a  top invites embarrassment.  Our breasts and nipples are body parts meant to be kept under wraps, and once exposed, it’s something that generates mocking, stares, or snide comments.  For example, Ann Hathaway’s Oscar win was almost completely eclipsed by what seems more like poor dart placement than visible nipples.  I completely understand why women will seek out the thickest foam cup in an attempt to never fall prey to that kind of harassment.

When I was 13, I went shopping with my mom and brother for a homecoming dress.  The temperature in the store was rather brisk, and the dress I tried on did not allow for a regular bra (this was my pre-boobs period.)  My mom mentioned I may need to add something to the dress because my nipples were visible.  Leave it to my nine year old brother to bellow out:  “You’ve got poppers!  Look poppers!”  Our fellow customers were rather amused, but I was completely mortified.  It’s the first instance where I can actively recall feeling shameful and embarrassed about my breasts.

As a result, I understand and empathize with women hoping to avoid the social stigma of showing nipples, and I also understand women wanting their bras to disappear under shirts.  What I find interesting is that modesty can be defined as “the state of being unassuming.”  Unassuming—the word cuts to the core of the issue, does it not?  Modesty and bras have become so thoroughly intertwined in part because we have been indoctrinated into thinking undergarments should be unassuming.  In essence, they should do their job without advertising they are doing it.

In 1959, Helen Nielsen wrote in Reader’s Digest that “Humility is like underwear, essential but indecent if it shows.”  We are trained to buy bras which are modest—no, unassuming—because if they reveal themselves, the result is indecent, trashy, tacky, unstylish, or whatever other negative adjective you prefer.  Yet, I find the entire concept rather paradoxical.  We are instructed to buy something which is unassuming under our clothes, but at the same time, everyone is assuming we are wearing one.  If they did not believe we were wearing bras, then the insults shift.  How often have we seen celebrities skewered on the front page of the tabloid trash for not wearing a bra and for their lack of support, nipple coverage, or modesty associated with the decision?

We train women to wear a bra.  Literally starting with the aptly named “training bras,” we teach little girls that bras are something they need to wear.  Every person you meet most likely assumes you are wearing a bra, but if they can prove that assumption, then you have transgressed.  You are guilty of violating a subtle social taboo because you turned your undergarments into outergarments, and that is not appropriate.

When women visit the shop, they love the pretty bras.  The eye-catching prints, the ornate embroidery, the stunning colors, and the decorative lace draw the eye, but the practical “must-have” t-shirt bra is what they buy regardless of whether a molded foam cup maximizes their shape.  In some cases, it’s a budgetary issue, but more often than not, they buy the bra that is more socially acceptable to wear under their clothes.

Meme

If buying t-shirt bras is truly your choice and is the style that makes you happiest to wear, then buy it, wear it, and love it!  However, if you are only settling on this style because it is expected of you, then maybe you should branch out to something new.  No one should be made to feel bad because of the bras she chooses for herself whether they are minimalistic, over the top, or somewhere between.  They are hers and hers alone, and she does not need nor deserve reproach for buying the things that make her happy.  You should not be made to feel immodest for wearing a bra with a seam or be criticized because the bra that makes you happiest isn’t completely invisible under clothes.  If your nipples show, you shouldn’t be penalized for your body’s natural response.

I consider myself to be a feminist, and in my opinion, I believe the core principle of feminism should be allowing women the freedom to make the choices which suit their personalities, their goals, and their lives.  Life is so abruptly, tragically short after all, so why would you waste the energy and time wearing bras that do not make you happy?

Erica

P.S.  Feel free to weigh-in in the comments section.  Modesty is such a controversial topic, and I look forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts here!

The Modesty Panel: Modesty and the Bra Shopping Experience
Erica
Erica is a lover all things lingerie and is passionate about helping people find the bra which fits and flatters. Side passions include reading, writing, hiking, dairy-free food, walking her Jack Russell terrorists, and dying her hair everything from black to red.

32 thoughts on “The Modesty Panel: Modesty and the Bra Shopping Experience

  • May 16, 2013 at 12:30 pm
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    I love this, Erica. You have so many quotable quotes that I want to tweet. Has your brother apologized for embarrassing you when you 13?

    Reply
    • Erica
      May 16, 2013 at 1:22 pm
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      Thank you, Darlene! Apologize? Uh, no. After I grew up and became more confident, it’s turned into one of those funny growing pains stories although at the time it did really impact me. My brother has actually become a big advocate for women buying bras that fit and that they love, so he has definitely matured. Plus, I have a picture of him wearing a Robin Hood costume with little green tights. Let’s just say there was plenty of adolescent embarrassment to go around. Mwahahahaha!

      Reply
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  • May 16, 2013 at 2:06 pm
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    I love this post. I think I am near the no modesty end of the spectrum. I don’t personally worry about people seeing me in my underwear or even topless, but I do try not to embarrass the people I care about. I nursed my daughters in public without worry, but I won’t wear too revealing clothing if I am going to be out with them. When I am by myself or even with my hubby I don’t worry about it at all. I suspect my lack of concern for my own nudity or that of other comes from changing in the dressing rooms in the youth theatre I participated in. I learned boobs are just boobs and not that interesting.

    Reply
    • Erica
      May 16, 2013 at 3:59 pm
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      Cosmo, thanks for weighing in! I see boobs all day at work, so to me, they’re just a body part like fingers, eyes, or elbows. My personal philosophy is that I want to feel good in what I’m wearing. One surefire way for my mood to be affected is if I wear underwear or outerwear that does make me feel confident. So I tend to buy the bras and clothes I love instead of what I should wear. 🙂

      Reply
  • May 16, 2013 at 2:31 pm
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    Hi! I don’t want to seem pushy is there a possibility to join your Bosom bloggers group? I would love to write about e.g this modesty issue and it would be great to be part of your bra blogger community.

    Reply
    • Erica
      May 16, 2013 at 5:21 pm
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      Sophie, I sent you an email, but we’d love to have you participate in the modesty posts!

      Reply
  • May 16, 2013 at 2:41 pm
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    Excellent article.

    I have become a bit less modest over the years. I grew up in a conservative culture, so while it used to horrify me should somebody see my bra strap or if my bra color showed through thin fabric, today I am perfectly comfortable with both. My attitude is – yes, I am wearing a bra, the world should be able to deal with it. I do not like to show cleavage, so I cover up with a cami like insert. I differentiate between attention seeking type of immodesty – purposeful putting oneself on display driven by insecurity, and when a woman simply does not want to be bothered having to wear an extra layer that will make her uncomfortable, or having to opt for an ugly bra just to stay under the radar, which, to me, is a sign of self confidence.

    A lot of times the same clothes will look less modest on women with more pronounced female shape. I try to go by this rule – if I know that some people get away with wearing this type of outfit without being thought of as inappropriate, then I should be able to wear that too.

    Reply
    • Erica
      May 16, 2013 at 5:20 pm
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      Naira, I loved this: “Yes, I am wearing a bra, the world should be able to deal with it.” You’re right that some things tend to look less modest on curvy shapes which is really worth an entire post on its own. Boosaurus and Hourglassy actually touch on this in their modesty posts, so if you haven’t seen it yet, definitely check them out.

      Reply
      • May 17, 2013 at 9:42 am
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        There was a case some time ago, and I may be confusing the details, but a beautiful shapely woman who worked for something like Citi bank in NYC was told by her employer to dress more modestly. She either got fired for not complying and subsequently sued them, or just sued them for harassment/discrimination – I cannot quite recall. The story also showed pictures of what the woman wore to work – perfectly suitable dresses and skirts, nothing too revealing, no cleavage, no extreme hemlines, but on her shape it did look very sexy because the outfits hugged her beautiful slender hourglass figure. She claimed that she wore outfits similar to what others were wearing, she just wore it better. I thought it was preposterous – just because someone is blessed with a beautiful body, does that mean they should be hiding it in sack? Employer claimed she was distracting employees – is that really her problem? Perhaps it was the employees who should have been checked instead? As long as she actually complied with the dress code and hid her cleavage/legs – the employer was out of line. I don’t know what the outcome of the story was.

        Reply
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  • May 18, 2013 at 12:03 am
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    I am one of those women you mention who love the pretty bras and then buy the beige molded cup bras. The idea of my bra color showing through my clothes seems tacky. Also feels tacky if my bra seams show. Also there is the headlights problem though I have recently discovered that dimrs also solves that problem very well!

    Reply
    • Erica
      May 18, 2013 at 10:53 am
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      Dimrs are a fantastic invention for women who want to conceal nipples, especially because they are reusable! I suppose I don’t feel exposing seams is tacky in part because I know there are many women in my cup size range and higher who can’t buy smooth cup bras. We don’t even have the option. 🙁 Then there are other women who may have lots of molded cup options but none fit because of their breast shape. Women who have lost firmness in their breasts especially benefit from a seamed bra. The fit is better, the support is better, and the shape is better. But then the seam shows . . . It’s a double-edge sword for sure! Thanks for weighing in with your perspective!

      Reply
      • May 18, 2013 at 12:40 pm
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        Thanks. I didn’t mean to say the seams look tacky for other women, especially women who have no other options in their size. For me personally I feel like I look tacky, especially at work where I have to look professional. I remember your post a while ago about why seamed bras are better support and would love to try some for the better support but don’t have any places to shop that are local (Nordstrom is the only option carrying my size and they have only molded cups in my size) and when ordering online I can’t tell from the pictures if the seams will lie flat or will show under my clothes so it becomes a huge pain to order/return.

        Reply
        • Erica
          May 18, 2013 at 1:18 pm
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          Oh no, I didn’t think you meant that! I firmly believe each woman needs to find the styles that make her the happiest. 🙂 Ordering online is so tough if you are trying to determine if a seam will lay flat because it’s easier to see how discreet they are in person. So far, I’ve found the Freya bras with lace on the top cup, the Cleo Lucy, and the Panache Jasmine are some of the more discreet ones. I think embroidery is more the enemy to discreetness than the seam itself. You could always try one seamed bra and see how much of your wardrobe can support it. Prints and thicker weight materials can be surprising forgiving!

          Reply
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  • May 20, 2013 at 4:43 pm
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    I can completely relate to the women you’ve witnessed showing interest in the pretty bras but favor the plainer molded beige bras. However, now that I’ve found such pretty bras in such gorgeous colors despite having seams that fit and support properly, I don’t care who’s looking at the seams! I know underneath my clothes I’ve got amazing undergarments that make me feel amazing–that means so much to me. This is a wonderful post.

    Reply
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  • February 15, 2014 at 10:45 pm
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    WOW! This is truly deep, Erica. I myself am a Mormon, and as some of you probably my know, are supposed to be modest. I am only thirteen, but am still drawn to pretty bras, whether they have lace or prints, but my mom, not so much. She feels like every style other than white and nude will show through. I understand that I am only 13, but is it wrong to want a pretty bra that helps my confidence? Being a teenager is hard, and all women will know the stress and self esteem problems we have. I feel like having a pretty bra will help that, like it’s my little secret. I got my big girl bra and panties on. The world can’t get me. Is that wrong?

    Reply
    • Erica
      February 16, 2014 at 3:54 pm
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      Hi Sarah! I don’t think it is wrong at all to want a pretty bra or to feel a confidence boost wearing one. Many of my customers feel the same way, so you are not alone at all. My personal philosophy is you should buy the bras that make YOU feel the best because you have to wear them all day. Your mom is right that a beige or white bra may be more discreet under light colored clothes, but anything mid-tone or darker will conceal colors and even textures. To meet mom halfway, you could also look for bras that have thinner stitching or smoother cups so there is no worries about the bra showing through the top but you still get the experience and confidence-boost of a pretty bra. I hope that helps, and thank you for sharing your experience with us!

      Reply
  • September 5, 2014 at 7:36 am
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    Hello, I’m a guy and I just came across this series. To my great and lasting shame I once wrote a long letter to a very close female friend suggesting she should dress modestly. She has since very graciously forgiven me. However I realised some time after I wrote to her that I was trying to pin my problem on her. I was (and still am) married and I was very attracted to her. I wanted her to take all the responsibility for me remaining faithful to my partner. Whereas, of course, the major responsibility was mine. I had to deal with the fact I found her attractive, not the other way around.
    I mention this story because I think it lies behind a lot of the demands for women to “dress modestly”. We guys find it difficult to deal with and therefore we project our problem onto women and make it your fault (that we feel the way we do) and your responsibility to do something about it.
    As I’ve grown older I have practiced and learnt the ability to talk more openly with women about how I feel. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of complementing a woman saying she looks fabulous. Other times, where I have a deeper relationship I have been able to talk more openly about how I feel. Just a couple of years ago I was talking to a female friend at the swimming pool and in the course of the discussion she made the comment that no-one would want to look at her breasts because they were so small. I stunned myself by replying “I think you have gorgeous boobs.” (I have never in my life before or since said that to a woman other than my wife.) she gave my the liveliest smile back and I think she nearly kissed me.
    My point is that we men have to learn to talk more openly and more often about our reaction to women’s bodies and we need to stop trying to blame women for how we feel.

    Reply
    • Erica
      September 9, 2014 at 2:29 pm
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      Thank you for sharing your own journey with modesty. It’s a very complex issue, and as you pointed out, I think that it can be difficult to figure out why we feel a certain way about how other people dress or even act. More tolerance is certainly needed! Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  • August 11, 2015 at 10:26 pm
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    Regarding modesty issue on bra shopping experience, it is sort of challenge for bra fitting experts to make every customer feels comfort during fitting process, including the women who cannot allow a person to see them undressed. Fitters should be flexible on how to treat their customers, as there are various type of customers to face.

    Reply
    • Erica
      August 18, 2015 at 7:31 pm
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      Very true, Megan! We try to always be respectful of what a customer needs or wants because of these issues. It’s more challenging to do a fitting without seeing the person, but it’s certainly not impossible, particularly if the fitter and customer maintain an open dialog about how a bra should fit and how the bra they tried currently works.

      Reply

What are your thoughts?