When it comes to workplace attire, there's no question the majority of women have lots of options. In the last 20 years, there's been a movement for variety, and with offices ranging from "business casual" to "casual casual", it's been somewhat easier (and cheaper) for us to buy clothes for work. But there's one busty problem that affects a lot of us: when it comes to breasts, how much is too much at the office?
"In a corporate world, you want to stand out for your job success and not your cleavage or triple Ds," says Diane Gottsman, a U.S. based etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas. "Because if you like it or not, when you are exposed, it sends a message."
Gottsman says in most corporate offices, the general rule of thumb is a woman's shirt or dress should land two inches above the cleavage. In other words, your breasts or "cleavage line" shouldn't be showing. She says the more skin you show in an office (for both men and women), the less power you actually have.
In 2010, Liz Jones, a reporter for the Daily Mail, said she used to use her cleavage to get away with making mistakes in a male-dominated newsroom. Jones says over time she grew tired of male attention and favouritism, and eventually had her breast size reduced.
She also pointed out several women in her office used their cleavage or way of dressing to either get ahead or work around problems they had at work.
Linda Allan, a Toronto-based behaviour and dress specialist says this advantage only ends up working for a smaller number of women than most people assume. "For every woman who gets away with that, there are far far more women who do not," she says. "It's very narcissistic for an individual to think their cleavage is keeping them hired and promotable."
But on the flipside, some women feel showing cleavage can attract unwanted attention, slut shaming and sexual harassment. The Canada National Council Women's Advisory Committee estimates that approximately 90 per cent of female employees will face some type of sexual harassment at the workplace, with young women and unmarried women at the highest risk.
And when women do decide to show their cleavage (for any reason), it's also common for them to be called distractions. One awkward study said women who showed their cleavage at the workplace left men "confused and teased." But as Jezebel writer Hugo Schwyzer says, "Most men are not biologically incapable of either empathy or intuition. They can learn to distinguish sexual interest from politeness, a fashion choice from an attempt at seduction."
Big boob problems
In this case, size does matter. Most women with large breasts would agree it's not easy to find workplace attire that buttons up or looks flattering.
"In a sense men and women are almost hostage to bad clothing styles that generally exist in stores," Allan says. "It's hard to go against trends to find something that's flattering and holds modesty."
Others disagree. Jezebel writer Dodai Stewart said in 2008, "If I'm comfortable, then I'm getting work done, and that's all that matters...I can't just put them away in a drawer and pull them out on Friday night. It doesn't work that way."
The other trends
Discussion around appropriateness of workplace attire tends to focus on a woman's bust-line or wearing flip-flops at the office, but Allan says in the last couple of years, she also sees an emerging trend of men wearing overly tight pants. "I have companies tell me they don't like to look at male employees standing sideways, and we see this trend with young men in particular."
And when it comes to ranking appropriateness, one study showed employees were more offended by cleavage, see-through clothes, shorts and flip-flops on men and women.
Making the call, for yourself
But whether you're just comfortable in your own skin, or just trying to keep up with trends, Gottsman says at the end of the day, the decision is solely yours. She has had clients who spoke to their employees individually about dressing appropriately, but women (and men) should keep in mind who they stand for.
"You start to realize you don’t have to be like everyone else and you have to be brand responsible," Gottsman says. "You are your brand and I am not talking about clothing."
What do you think, is workplace cleavage something you're OK with? Let us know in the comments below.
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We're the only primates with "permanent" ones.
"No other primate has a permanent breast," writer Carole Jahme (who holds a master's degree in evolutionary psychology) explains in <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/science/2010/may/14/breast-size-evolution" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>. "In non-human primates (and other mammal species) a full breast is a clear indication the female is suckling young," she adds. "Not so in humans." Exactly why humans stand alone among the primates, breast-wise, remains unknown. <a href="http://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s12110-998-1005-2.pdf" target="_blank">One hypothesis holds</a> that the "perennially enlarged breasts of human females" exist because their size and shape serve as a signal of "residual reproductive value." As <a href="http://www.livescience.com/32745-why-do-women-have-breasts.html" target="_blank">Livescience reports</a>, a more controversial theory suggests that women's breasts became round after the female ancestors of humans stood upright, which also resulted in the "gradual tilting of the pelvis, so the vagina was more oriented to the front of the body." Whatever the reason, the fact remains: humans are the only primates whose breasts remain full permanently, not just around childbirth.
The largest natural breasts are a 102ZZZ.
<a href="http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/size/largest-natural-breasts" target="_blank">The Guinness World Record</a> holder for the largest natural breasts is Annie Hawkins-Turner. Her chest measures 70 inches over the nipples and around her back. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/24/norma-stitz-worlds-biggest-boobs_n_884081.html" target="_blank">As HuffPost Style explains</a>, that amounts to 3.5 feet of cleavage (with each side weighing in at 56 pounds), and a bra size of 102ZZZ.
Breast orgasms exist.
Women orgasming through nipple stimulation is an actual thing, and there's science to back it. <a href="http://www.menshealth.com/sex-women/nipple-orgasm" target="_blank">As <em>Men's Health</em> reports,</a> in one study of 213 women, 29 percent said they had experienced a "breast orgasm" at one point or another. A 2011 study in the <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21797981" target="_blank"><em>Journal of Sexual Medicine</em></a> that used MRIs to track cortical responses to different types of physical stimulation found that nipple self-stimulation led to activation in the brain's genital sensory cortex, a result the researchers called "unexpected."
They make the perfect food.
When describing the benefits of breast milk and colostrum (the sticky, yellowish substance produced at the end of pregnancy and the first days of a baby's life) the <a href="http://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/" target="_blank">World Health Organization</a> doesn't mince words, calling it the "perfect food" for babies. Why the glowing recommendation? Breast milk contains antibodies that help babies fight infections and diseases and is easy for them to digest. Its made by cells in the breast called "alveoli," which produce milk in response to the hormone prolactin. It's released when babies suckle.
When it comes to milk, size doesn't matter.
For breastfeeding purposes, it simply doesn't matter whether a woman is an A cup or a D. As board certified lactation consultant (and retired La Leche League leader) Debbi Donovan <a href="http://www.ivillage.com/breastfeeding-there-correlation-between-breast-size-and-milk-production/6-n-137017" target="_blank">explains in an iVillage post:</a> "Larger breasts have a higher proportion of fatty tissue, compared to glandular tissue, but this has no effect on the amount of milk you're able to produce." Though women with smaller breasts sometimes worry they'll be unable to nurse their babies, it's actually women with larger breasts who sometimes have greater difficulties, because of positioning issues, <a href="http://www.ivillage.com/breastfeeding-there-correlation-between-breast-size-and-milk-production/6-n-137017" target="_blank"> she says.</a>
They fluctuate month-to-month (and even minute-to-minute).
Unhappy with your breast size? Give it a minute. That may be overstating things, but not by much. Many women experience breast growth -- as much as a full cup size -- during PMS, because the body has higher levels of the hormones progesterone and prolactin during that premenstrual phase, which can cause swelling, <a href="http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2011/08/05/what-the-yuck-can-pms-change-your-boob-size/" target="_blank">CNN reports.</a> Breast growth is also one of the hallmarks of pregnancy, and some sex experts, including the authors of <a href="http://www.salliefoley.com/" target="_blank">"Sex Matters for Women"</a> claim that breasts can swell by up to 25 percent during moments of intense sexual arousal.
The left tends to be larger.
As Jenna Pincott, author of <em>Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes: Bodies, Behavior, and Brains -- The Science Behind Love, Sex, and Attraction</em>, mentions in her book and <a href="http://jenapincott.com/why-is-your-left-breast-larger-than-the-right/" target="_blank">explains in-depth in a blog post on her website</a>, it's perfectly normal for women to have one breast that's larger than the other. And for around 65 percent of women, it's the left one. No one knows why the left side tends to be bigger, although theories abound: One suggests that immune hypersensitivity, which is higher on the left side of the body, has an impact on hormones that help determine breast size and shape; another that women tend to prefer to nurse on their left side (leaving their right hand free) which results in that side producing more milk, Pincott explains.
There are four nipple types.
If you thought there was only one type of nipple, you thought wrong. <a href="http://jezebel.com/5885739/what-type-of-nipple-are-you" target="_blank">As Jezebel writer Tracie Egan Morrissey discovered</a> when she went to visit her midwife for a prenatal visit, there are several common variations: "Normal" nipples stick out a few millimeters from the areola, and then even further when they're aroused or cold; "flat" nipples only protrude when they're stimulated or when temperatures change; "puffy" nipples have a raised areola; and "inverted" nipples (which come in grades) are essentially turned inward. As the <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/medical/IM02408" target="_blank">Mayo Clinic explains</a>, the latter type isn't necessarily problematic as long as it's always been that way, but if the nipple has only recently turned inward it <em>should</em> be checked by a doctor.