Boob Taming or Boob Shaming?

When someone suggests that you downplay your décolletage or minimize your large chest, are they boob shaming you? I suspect “yes” would be the answer from Ella Alexander, who wrote, “Is the Décolletage Really Out of Fashion Again?

Not all of us fall into the industry’s beloved androgynous mould. […] So what are the unfortunate few of us still with unfashionable boobs supposed to do or wear?

Well, the resounding answer is hide them. Don’t let anyone catch a glimpse lest you be labelled “inappropriate”, “tacky” and “brazen”. Forget what you read about displaying your female sexuality; if you are over a C cup it makes the dinosaurs uncomfortable so the best thing for everyone is just to conceal them.

I found Alexander’s article through an Amanda de Cadenet tweet. Given that both Alexander and de Cadenet work in media and were responding to criticism of a red carpet gown for a major media event, I’m not surprised at their perspectives. Given the context, I share it!

amanda de cadenet tweet

The more surprising “yes” comes from a Wall Street veteran–although if you know Tilton, it’s not surprising at all: “I would never send someone home for showing too much cleavage. Women should be able to be smart, sexy and sophisticated in how they dress,” she told the Wall Street Journal writer Joann Lublin.

At the other end of the spectrum, both in her work and personal life, is Ellie Krupnick, a writer I included in my recent roundup:

Sometimes I say screw it and decide to wear a form-fitting sweater or body-con dress. The inevitable result: stares (from other people), fidgeting (my own), and the subsequent self-doubt. It’s not that I hate the way I look in tight dresses; it’s that I don’t like the attention and double-takes, the feeling of carrying around a literal burden.

Krupnick is only writing about herself here, but shifting focus from a large bust is a common reason that busty women are asked to cover up in a corporate setting. In her book Earning It (that I just reviewed on the C&K blog), Lublin shares how Paula Rosput Reynolds, a former chief of Safeco and AGL Resources, approached an executive that she felt was displaying too much cleavage:

‘Here is the deal. You are a very attractive woman,’ Reynolds told her lieutenant. But ‘the men on your team joke about what you are wearing, how much cleavage was showing here today.’ The executive began to wear less revealing blouses, though ‘every so often, she regressed,’ Reynolds recollected. ‘She will always be a more flamboyant dresser than I might be.’

In her WSJ article, Lublin relays how a human resources VP for Intel advised three new college graduates against visible bra straps. She told them, “I would hate for people to focus on your bra straps rather than focusing on what you went to college for.”

When I hear that a large-busted woman has been asked to revise her clothing choices, I don’t immediately think, “Boob shaming!” I want more details.

First, why is the person requesting more clothing coverage? It’s never comfortable receiving wardrobe criticism, but there’s a big difference between “You offend me. Put those things away!” and “To get ahead in this company, you may want to consider other ways to dress that put less emphasis on your chest.”

Second, what is the large-busted woman’s goal? In another C&K blog post, I wrote about a very tall customer at our April pop up shop. On a business trip to Japan, her hosts always directed her to the lowest chair at the conference table so that she was the same height as everyone else when seated. She could have refused the offered chair and sat where she pleased, but her goal was to get a deal done. If she had made an issue of where she sat, it wouldn’t have happened. We have every right to dress however we want, but sometimes covering or minimizing a large chest can help us reach a goal.

Finally, who’s suggesting the change? I’m not as outraged by anyone whose job it is to get traffic. If they’re not shaming big boobs, they’re shaming something else. It’s just noise that I can tune out. However, it’s harder to tune out criticism from people who are close to us, especially when it’s unexpected.

We had a 92-year-old neighbor who was very dear to us, but I still remember the time she rang our bell, and I opened the door in a tank top. Her first words were something like, “Good Lord! Put some clothes on!” I accept my large chest and know that I look amazing in a tank top. I also realize that my flat-chested Irish neighbor was born in 1924. But for an hour after that exchange, I had to remind myself that I’m not a freak.


  1. Brilliant post! I really enjoyed reading this…I couldn’t help but wonder what is the composite from a masculine viewpoint? How do men who are (shall we say well-endowed) feel about wearing very tight and revealing pants? Would they too be concerned that this type of clothing could cause them to be taken less seriously by women executives who are their colleagues, superiors and subordinates? Would they wear these pants proudly and confidently? After all men love to “show” their masculinity symbolically via motor size. Normally men would feel squeamish about displaying their generous parts in a business setting I would imagine? But conversely women who with larger breasts can’t hide them really. Clothing can somewhat camouflage them (I am 62 years old and have always been large breasted now wearing a 36F,a 36″ waist and an otherwise athletic frame)and I’ve never found any clothing truly camouflages my breasts (and I sew all my own clothes!) You’ve really set off my ever inquisitive, pondering mind! 🙂

  2. Personally I don’t display my cleavage because I don’t want to show my cleavage in public. I do wear v necks though. It is a personal preference not religion related.

  3. Last month was interesting for me for considering how I dressed- I had three high profile events with work that were covered by multiple news agencies. Because of my duties, I focused on being able to move comfortably/quickly while still looking professional to folks 2-3x my age. Cleavage wasn’t a huge concern- I was too busy most of the time (on one day I logged 4 miles by 10 am, in heels.)

    However, at one of the events, I was suddenly very conscious of it when I was introduced to a major donor. My name tag was attached to my collar and with a short torso that meant he- and anyone else who looked for my credentials – would quickly make their own opinion of just how much I did have on display. In the end, the overall picture was professional by pretty much anyone’s standard but it’s funny what brings awareness to it.

  4. Rosalind says:

    I love your 3 points to consider. I think those same things! It’s not immediately a bad thing to suggest more coverage, and there are situations where cleavage can be a detriment to your objective.

    I feel that people in my generation (millennials) tend to overreact when it comes to shame culture. They immediately think “If I can’t dress exactly how I want 100% of the time, people are shaming me for my identity, because how I dress defines me.” Rarely is a second thought given to the appropriateness of attire for a given situation, and anyone who dares suggest consideration is immediately labeled a prude/bigot/old fashioned. And this doesn’t just apply to cleavage! Tattoos, unusual hair colors, piercings, etc. Asking someone to change any part of the way they dress is seen as an affront to their human rights.

    As someone who was raised to consider how my appearance may affect me in certain situations, I have a hard time understanding how others can completely ignore it or think “I am fine, it’s everyone else who needs to change and keep up with the times.” Thank you Darlene for keeping such a cool head and bringing a new angle to the discussion!