However amenable they seem in the changing room, chances are, at least two out of three of your bras feels tight by the end of the day. Bodies swell with heat. Nylon and silk don’t. Underwiring should – it’s metal – but after seven or eight hours it develops a mind of its own. A mind is the very last thing underwiring needs. It just has to sit there, where you placed it, all day and well into the night, and not rub or twist or otherwise make its presence felt. But it can’t help itself. The underwired, padded bra is an imperfect invention, even though it looks good.
I say ‘good’ because while I’ve read (parts of) Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Naomi Wolf, I remain in thrall to the conventional ideal of a female body – the one that says boobs should always look rounded and perky, even when you’re 97. At least I didn’t come of age in the ’50s, or I’d probably still think they had to resemble horizontal pyramids. And I regularly wrap myself in gratitude that I’m not a teenager in the age of Kardashian, because I’d have any number of strange ideas about how a woman’s body should look, very few of them ‘at one with nature’.
The truth is that most of us, whether we grew up with Doris Day, Jane Fonda or Cindy Crawford as our poster woman, have slightly weird notions about how boobs are meant to look – unless our boob-consciousness was formed in the mid- to late-’90s. All credit to Calvin Klein and Kate Moss. This was the golden age of unstructured, unpadded, beautifully plain Jane-ish (no scratchy lace or fancy details to ruin the line of your T-shirts) bras – sans underwiring. Seems so long ago, what with the intervening two decades of Amanda Holden’s cleavage and the popularity of boob jobs in the 2000s.
But even before the lockdown and our national response to the stresses of Covid-19 (bulk-buying Flexifit soft bras on Marks and Spencer), you could tell that things were changing. The gender-fluid Gucci aesthetic, Me Too, which caused activists/actors all kinds of dilemmas over what to wear on the red carpet, and the inevitable pendulum-swing away from elaborate ‘boudoir’ bras were all joining forces to bring back uncontoured, natural-looking garments.
Last November, as debuted on The Telegraph’s fashion pages, Prism2, which had made a name for itself with ’60s-inspired balconette swimwear, launched a hugely successful one-size-fits- all, low-waste range of leggings, bras and crop tops, designed to be worn not just in the gym but all day (and even swimming, thanks to the chlorine-resistant fabric).
Les Girls Les Boys, whose founder Serena Rees originally launched Agent Provocateur, the highly sexualised underwear label, in 1994 with her then husband Joe Corré, sells similarly comfort-first, natural-shape bras and knickers. Then there’s M&S, whose aforementioned Flexifit range garners reams of positive reviews from its notoriously exacting customers.
Flexifit, £16, Marks & Spencer; Lace-trim, £60, Beija; Smooth longline, £38, Les Girls Les Boys; Ribbed, £19, Cos; Triangle, £59, Simone Pérèle; Sheer, £45, Miss Crofton; Soft-cup, £50, Bodas at Matches Fashion
It will be interesting to see whether sales of unstructured, relaxed bras continue to rise once we’re all released back into the wild. In my heart, I know the moment I have something slinky to wear (a jumper is slinky in my books), I’ll be reaching for my padded Rigby & Peller. But for everything else, soft is the new strength.