Rules of Cleavage
The 6 Rules of Cleavage
How Much Is Too Much?
By Shanna Thompson, LifeScript Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
There they rest smack in the middle of our chests – breasts. Utilitarian in function, diverse in form, gender-defining and sexually pleasing, there’s really no denying the commanding presence of cleavage. But this versatile asset isn’t all fun and games. Just one missed blouse button and your “girls” can suddenly go from classy to trashy. Learn how and when to give your cleavage its due stage time with our six rules for “best breast etiquette”…
When presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton showed a hint of cleavage at an appearance last summer, the issue of proper breast presentation was placed on a national stage. While little was revealed to the naked eye, the mere fact that it was noticed at all begs the question by women: Are people looking at me or my breasts?
Given that average breast size has grown from a 34B to a 36C since the 1970s and clothing styles are smaller and snugger, it’s no wonder the line between appropriate and “look at those!” has blurred. “I don’t think women are stupid,” says Elisabeth Squires, author of bOObs: A Guide to Your Girls (Seal Press, 2007). “I just don’t think anyone knows the rules.”
Rule #1: Acknowledge the Obvious
Sex sells. And like it or not, breasts are the dynamic duo that get beer sold and burgers bought. So it’s not such a stretch to realize your ta-tas are more likely to get checked out than, say, your knees or collarbones. As such, it makes a case for doing a double take in the mirror before walking out the front door in the morning. “[Women] understand the power of breasts in general, but they don’t understand the power of their own,” Squires says.
Granted, you may aim for different effects depending on the situation, but understanding how and when to tap into the versatility of your cleavage will help you achieve the desired result anywhere you go. “One can look like a hoochie mama or, on the other side of the spectrum, like Mother Superior or somewhere in between as a sexy and classy woman,” says Los Angeles image consultant Ashley Rothschild (RothschildImage.com). “There is nothing more fascinating than a woman who owns her sex appeal and her power; it speaks volumes.”
For best results, breast power should be wielded with awareness and intent. “We have to realize that breasts are also beautiful; it’s both your femininity and sexuality at the same time,” Squires says. “That’s what the power of cleavage is all about, using your sexuality or not.”
Rule #2: Sometimes Less Is More
In some industries, it is completely appropriate – in fact, required – to play up your cleavage: entertainment, fashion, Hooters, to name a few. However, unless your career success rests on your chest, it is probably wise to rely on other assets at the office. “If cleavage isn’t in your job description, don’t write it in,” Squires says. “If you take a look in the mirror and your breasts are standing out, that’s probably inappropriate.” (See related story: Wear This, Not That)
Too much boobage can make the difference between being perceived as a sexual being or a professional woman. “We all need to be appropriate and be responsible for what message we send out with our presentation,” Rothschild says. “Think before you even enter your closet what your image is going to communicate.” Also, buy a full-length mirror and don’t ever leave the house without taking a last look.
Rothschild recommends revealing no more than an inch of cleavage at work. The same holds true for your company’s holiday party and meeting your boyfriend’s parents for the first time. “Showing a lot of breast is going to be a distraction, especially in the workplace,” Squires says. “A woman will be wearing a very low-cut wrap dress or shirt, and everyone is focused on her boobs.”
Rule #3: Sometimes More Is More
All bets are off when the sun goes down. Feel free to flaunt your curves and play up your cleavage for a night out on the town. This is the time to pair a push-up bra with a plunging neckline or, if you are small-chested and really daring, go with a sexy backless number and skip the bra altogether. Just remember that this outfit definitely doesn’t double as office attire.
Rothschild says revealing two to three inches of cleavage during off hours will get the job done, but cautions “if it looks like you are going to pop out, you’ve gone way too far.” Think of your cleavage as an accessory, and make sure it suits your outfit and the occasion.
“If you are looking to distract people, I think [cleavage] is a great tool to use if that’s purposely what you want to do,” Squires says. “Or, quite frankly, you might be an exhibitionist, and that’s OK too.”
Pregnancy is the other exception when it comes to breast etiquette. Feel free to accentuate this short-lived bonus cleavage any way you please. “Breasts, when [women] are pregnant, are fully employed boobs,” she says. “Give their girls a break. Pregnant women should be able to get away with anything they want.”
Rule #4: Be Age-Appropriate
The scientific reality of being a woman is that gravity will eventually win in your quest for perky breasts. And since you can’t fight physics without a boob job (or a lot of duct tape). Wear a well-fitting bra, but skip boosters to avoid an unnaturally high, crinkled cleavage.
Instead, select a bra that separates and supports your breasts, and don’t be afraid to wear a top that shows off your décolletage. A sheer or lacy camisole adds a sexy detail that also camouflages less than perfect skin. But skip the plunging, belly-button baring neckline. And don’t even think about going braless. “You are never too old to be sexy, but it ridiculous to see a woman in her 60s or 70s walking around without a bra,” Rothschild says. “Be sexy, but totally appropriate.”
Rule # 5: Always Flatter Your Rack
Regardless of size, how successful you are at putting your best breasts forward is ultimately determined by your clothing. Here’s how Rothschild recommends you gussy up your girls:
• V-necklines will open up the décolletage and elongate your neck.
• Look for seaming on tops that emphasis your waist.
• Wrap dresses help create an hourglass shape. Add a cami underneath for more coverage.
• Wear necklaces that hang above the cleavage or down by your midriff.
• Avoid square necklines.
• Pleating, gathering or beading at the bust will provide a fuller look.
• Wrap dresses create a flattering shape for petite and larger chests.
• Achieve a sexy look with a low-cut fitted top draped with necklaces – beads, chains, pearls, the works – and paired with jeans.
• Wear a well-fitting bra
“When [women] get a good-fitting bra or minimizer bra, they look better in their clothes,” Squires says. “When you have larger breasts, they are moving all the time. It gives you the support you need and makes you feel more secure.”
Rule #6: Be Adaptable
Expect and accept that during the course of your life, your cleavage and breasts will change – a lot. Age, weight, pregnancy, PMS, and gravity all make a great case for continuously reevaluating how the rules above apply to your boobs. But even though women wear seven to eight different sizes of bras over their lifetimes, don’t expect your set to ever match up with anyone else’s. Like snowflakes, no two breasts are the same, not even those on the same chest.
And as your girls change, it is important to remember that maintaining a sexy, powerful presence isn’t just about your cleavage. “Think outside the bra,” Squires says, and use physical assets beyond your breasts such as toned arms, a strong back and flat tummy. And, of course, your best quality isn’t a body part at all. Says Squires, “Self-confidence can often be the sexiest thing you can wear.”
Want to learn more? Get your own copy of bOObs: A Guide to Your Girls .
Are You Wearing the Right Bra Size?
Over the years, you've gained weight, lost weight, perhaps had a baby, and begrudgingly endured the effects of gravity. Your body has changed since your teens and early 20s, but has your bra? Find out if you are wearing the right size with this bra quiz.