How to Go Braless -- and Still Look Chic

Real Style on 09.12.11
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Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/WireImage for J. Crew

I have a total girl crush on J. Crew’s Jenna Lyons; I love her look, which is an awesome blend of fashionista and geek. I also love that Lyons -- who is tall and slim and essentially flat chested -- has turned going braless into a fashion statement. “If her company has always prized a kind of sartorial comfort -- nothing too tight, too short, too synthetic,” wrote Molly Young in a recent New York Magazine profile, “then Lyons, with her bare face and occasional bralessness, is what happens when comfort meets chic.”

Skipping the bra and still looking good isn’t as easy as it sounds. For one thing, braless works best for girls with small chests; this is not a look for anyone wearing over a C cup bra, unfortunately. Think of it this way: if you have enough of a bosom to fill out a low-cut dress, then that is your reward. For those of us for are flat chested, going without a bra is our reward. It all comes out even in the end.

I wear a 34 AA bra, which is essentially just a glorified training bra (in fact, my favorite bras come from the little girl’s department, because these days, even the bras made for teens are too big for me). Most days, I opt for a bra, because it’s sensible and polite, but sometimes, the bra just doesn’t seem worth the effort. But because my style -- like Lyons -- is not about flashing a nipple at random passers by in the grocery, I’m careful to cover up. The trick to making braless chic is to be subtle about it. Here’s how.

Braless works best under more conservative pieces; this fall’s menswear-inspired looks are good place to start. If you’re already wearing something super sexy, skipping the bra will push your look from hott to hooker. But if your basic look is fairly restrained, going braless gives you a little bit of sex appeal without being totally in-your-face about it. And really, a little sexy goes a long way -- trust me.

Let’s start with the classic dress shirt. If you’re wearing a button-down without a bra, you have two options: choose a heavier fabric (denim or chambray, for instance) or add a layer, either over or under. A menswear shirt is super sexy without a bra; wear it over a tank or under a cardigan for appropriate coverage. I love the look of a man’s dress shirt, unbuttoned just below where the bra would be, with a belted cardigan over it. Sexy, but still covered up enough to be appropriate.

Sweaters are another way to skip the bra without over exposing yourself. For flat chested girls, a chunky sweater never calls for a bra; add a tank or t-shirt for thinner, flatter knits, or if you just don’t like the feel of wool or cotton against your bare chest.

Can you go braless under a t-shirt? In the right circumstances, yes. Choose a slightly fitted tee, one that’s neither tight nor baggy, and steer clear of very low necklines if there’s any chance you’ll need to bend over. A dark colored tee is a better choice than a white tee (more coverage). And again, add a thin tank if you want one more layer.

When is it appropriate to leave your bra at home? Probably not for work, unless you work in a very creative field. (Fashion design? Skip the bra. Law firm? Wear it, every single day.) Braless is also not a great idea when you have little kids pulling on your clothes from all angles, unless you’re ok showing your rack to everyone at Gymboree. But for weekends or evenings or days when you’re out of the office and free of the kids, skip the bra and sexy up your mom look a little bit.

Do you ever go braless? Is it a fashion statement or simple laziness? And are you comfortable without a bra, or do you wind up feeling overexposed?

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