Will going braless at work ever be a reality for women?

Written by Amy Beecham

Many women chose to #FreeTheNipple during lockdown? But could going braless ever be a reality at work? Stylist investigates.

Over the past 18 months of working from home, comfort has proved to well and truly be king. Whether it was swapping office outfits for loungewear or working from the sofa (even though it wreaks havoc with your posture), lockdown allowed us to shed many of the more uncomfortable formalities of our working lives. And for many women, that meant ditching the bra.

YouGov data found that a third of women decided to abandon bras altogether while in lockdown, with 20% saying that they now wear one ‘much less frequently’.

But as many begin dusting off their laptop bags, fishing out their formal clothes and returning to the office, will this sense of freedom still stand?

“Workplace attire is becoming less formal and lockdown has definitely played a part in this trend,” Amanda Lennon, HR director and employment partner at law firm Spencer West tells Stylist.

However, according to Rachel Foster, HR director and owner of Quirky Frog, going braless at work is unlikely to ever become the norm. “Remote working is extremely different to life back in the office. We associate home with comfort, hence the ditching of the bra was embraced,” she explains. 

The office, she says, is associated with professionalism instead. “ There may be elements of insecurity for women in the workplace environment, in the shape of other colleagues, employers or clients and concern around their reactions.”

Foster says that she runs a team of women, and if “any one of them opted to go braless, it wouldn’t be an issue”, but it’s important to note that different workplaces have different, often stricter, requirements.

Nina*, 23, has opted to go braless in her everyday life for years now. However, for her job in a prison, she adheres to wearing one. “It’s just part of my job that it isn’t appropriate for me, in the same way that wearing make-up or jewellery isn’t allowed.”

Similarly, while Sophie, 29, who works in PR says that taking her bra off is “the first thing I do when I walk in the door”. She personally views going braless at work as looking “unprofessional”. She explains that even though wearing a bra causes her physical pain and she “can’t wait to go home and just take it off”, she sees how it could make other people feel uncomfortable when it’s “distinctly obvious”. 

Are you legally required to wear a bra at work?

“Many employers still have dress codes so despite the informality that lockdown may have brought to work attire, you should keep within those parameters and use your judgment on what constitutes appropriate dress for your workplace,” explains Lennon.

“It is only if what someone wears is causing offence or directly conflicts with an organisation’s dress code, that an employer should address the issue. If an employer does have concerns about what someone is wearing, thisshould be handled sensitively and in a way that does not undermine the employee or their confidence.”

Indeed, the Equality Act 2010 also states that an employer has the right to distinguish between a male and female dress code as long as they are not deemed to be treating one sex more or less favourably.

An employer would need to tread carefully if it was going to ask someone to change their attire because of it being unprofessional or too sexy. These are highly subjective, and down to individual perceptions.”

Karolina, 27, an account manager, says that for her, going braless at work is entwined with body positivity. “Covid and working from home has helped me to get over my anxieties of how people may perceive my body,” she says. “I’ve always had larger breasts, so the way I look in certain clothes has always been at the forefront of my mind.”

Karolina explains that when it came to returning to the office earlier this month, she no longer cared as much about what people might think. “My body shouldn’t be any of my colleague’s concern. If anyone at work may look at me, see my nipples and think of anything sexual or untoward, that’s their problem.”

“At the end of the day, in a work environment, I should only be perceived as a co-worker, nothing else.”

Images: Getty

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