To be in ‘Vogue’ has to mean something. It’s an endorsement. It’s a validation. —Anna Wintour
Hooray! We won! After a couple of years of supporting the #FreeTheNipple campaign, Vogue magazine, that great arbiter of fashion justice [sarcasm], has declared that your nipples are free. No, your local laws haven’t changed. Step outside looking like the picture above and you’re probably going to get arrested unless you live in New York or certain parts of Southern California. Vogue writer Arden Fanning is instead referring specifically to the amount of sheer we’ve seen on runways this season, such as Maria Gracia Chiuri’s debut collection for Christian Dior, and the very explicit baring of the left breast Anthony Vaccarello presented in his first collection for Yves Saint Laurent. Take a look:
It would seem that the fashion world is more than ready for women to be exposing their breasts in creative ways and, personally, I have absolutely no problem with that. In fact, a number of women I know actually welcome that opportunity. There’s no question that laws regarding female nudity are outdated, restrictive, misogynistic, bigoted, and sexist. We are well past the point where we only regard women’s body parts, or anyone’s body parts, in a sexual context.
Of course, the irony here is that this move comes just as the weather is taking a seasonal non-nipple-friendly turn. It was 56° in Indianapolis this morning, 52° in to start the day in London, and 54° as folks were rushing to the Balenciaga show in Paris. Most people are wearing sweaters or light jackets. Anything bare is going to feel a bit chilled. Still, a win is a win, right?
Free Is A Relative Term
As we’ve seen with other more serious declarations of emancipation, just because someone like Vogue declares that nipples are free doesn’t necessarily mean your local law enforcement is going to recognize that declaration. Granted, Anna Wintour and the Vogue brand both carry a tremendous amount of clout. I don’t recommend crossing either of them. At the same time, however, when one is being booked for indecent exposure at the local police station don’t expect anyone to suddenly apologize and let you go when you show them the article. [By the way, the article is only online. ] American attitudes toward bodies, especially female bodies, haven’t changed a lot in the past 100 years.
Prior to the turn of the twentieth century, most people wouldn’t have given a second glance to an occasional bare breast in public, and especially not something as insignificant as a nipple slip. Women worked hard, rarely wore anything under the bodice of their dresses (bras didn’t make their way into popular American culture until the 1920s) and if they felt their torso needed to be bare, it was. There was nothing sexual or exploitative about the practice. Granted, it was a practice largely limited to working class women, but nonetheless, bare breasts were not illegal.
Then came Billy Sunday and the Revivalists. They started traveling around the country in the late 19th century and by 1910 had captured the attention of an uneducated, poverty-stricken, working class America. Sunday, specifically, was mesmerizing. Once a popular National league baseball player, Sunday was himself uneducated in terms of religion. His “fire and brimstone” colloquial style of speaking communicated with common people. When Sunday declared that even the slightest bit of nudity was immoral, people believed him. Most current nudity laws follow that philosophy.
Change Is Not Universal
Fashion is fluid and while Vogue remains the ultimate modern endorsement for brands and designers, its actual influence over what people wear is largely regional despite the magazine’s wide popularity. Women across much of New England and the NorthEast United States are far more likely to change their wardrobes based on Vogue‘s recommendations than are women in the Carolinas, Kentucky, Tennessee and the Deep South. Similarly, women who live along the West coast enjoy a greater sense of fashion freedom than do those confined to the fashion backwoods of Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and much of the Midwest.
While Vogue can easily enough sway personal opinions regarding fashion, they can’t change restrictive laws that were created to primarily “keep women in their place.” While many other such laws have been overturned and given the boot over the years, those regarding nudity still lag behind, largely untouched. Politicians are still uncomfortable with anyone even bringing up the controversial subject. The long-term damaging effects of a religious-based morality founded in the ranting of an uneducated preacher still stifle not only women’s rights, but the entire ability of society to move beyond the sexualization of the human body, something our European counterparts did decades ago.
Like every other significant change women have won, overturning anti-nudity laws and other laws that seek to control people’s bodies only happen when people begin openly defying those laws. We’re not just talking about one or two people at a time, mind you. Those poor, well-intentioned souls end up arrested and their records tarnished. Women must, en masse, demonstrate to lawmakers that the right to wear or not wear something belongs to the individual, not the government nor any religious organization. Your body is yours to do with as you please.
What To Do Next
So, if Vogue has declared the nipple to be free, what happens next? Do we all start going around topless, or at least wearing sheer tops? Probably not. In fact, Vogue seems to infer that you’re not ready to go sheer just yet. The article emphasises a recommendation that women start sleeping on their backs through the winter, rather than their sides. Why? Manhattan complexion expert Dangene told the magazine:
When you sleep on your side, you’re squinching your entire chest for hours. It’s like giving your chest crow’s feet!
The thought of crows feet on your chest sounds rather creepy, in my opinion. The article suggests sleeping on a memory foam mattress. They also suggest using several hundred dollars worth of sponsored product. But then, they’re a magazine with a very large staff to feed. We can forgive them for the blatant advertising.
Beyond Vogue, though, it would seem that women have to first become comfortable with the concept of wearing something sheer. Perhaps wearing a partially sheer lace top to a dinner with understanding friends is a good starting point. After doing that a few times, then maybe one could step up to something more sheer for a slightly larger social engagement.
A couple of weeks ago, we showed you several revealing looks from the New York runways and asked which ones you would wear. Most of the women who answered played it safe, with looks that were lace rather than completely sheer. No one chose any of the fully sheer, breast-revealing looks. That says a lot. Many women aren’t ready to bare their breasts, even if fashion allows it.
Creating A Safe Environment
Of course, everyone deserves the right to choose for themselves what they’re comfortable wearing. What is important is that women feel safe, not threatened, endangered, or ostracized, when they do decide to wear something that is more revealing than the current norm. Without a question, the laws need to change, but if people are not willing to give others that choice, if we do not accept and encourage those who are comfortable wearing something sheer or perhaps even a crystal-encrusted pasty over their nipple, then nothing improves for anyone.
AVogue article might get our attention but it takes more than words to make real change happen. While a sheer shirt would unquestionably be a bad fashion choice for me (trust me, you don’t want to see this), at least I have the right to wear one if I choose. If I have that right, why doesn’t Kat or any other woman? That’s what needs to change and it can’t happen soon enough.