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Do Bras Prevent Breast Sagging?

A few weeks ago, while I was on vacation, a controversial new study out of France took over the internet. After 15 years of studying 320 women, French scientist Jean-Denis Rouillon found that wearing a bra actually makes women's breasts saggier, a condition known medically as ptosis.

Bras and breasts are always two popular topics; whenever new research comes out about either, it inevitably makes it into the news in the news. But what was most interesting to me about this particular bit of research is what it revealed about the way we discuss about bras and breasts in our society. And some of that conversation is a little disconcerting.



What Does Previous Research on Bras and Sagging Breasts Say?

One of the reasons Rouillon's research elicited so many strong reactions is because his findings directly conflict with what the lingerie industry has been saying for years. No matter what your local lingerie boutique tells you, wearing a bra does not prevent sagging breasts. All breasts sag eventually; it's what they do. You can wear a bra 24/7 from puberty onwards, and the odds are still overwhelmingly in favor of sagging.

What many people don't know is that Rouillon's findings on bras and sagging breasts actually agree with a couple of rarely discussed academic papers on the subject. A 1990 study from Otsuma Women's University also found that wearing a bra contributes to sagging breasts, and a 2003 study by French researcher Laetitia Pierrot also found a reduction in sagging breasts after going without a bra for one year.  Despite decades of research on the subject, no study has yet found that bras prevent breast sagging. So my immediate reaction when I heard of Rouillon's research was, "Oh, okay. This lines up with what has been published before."

[As a quick aside, because it inevitably comes up when people are discussing the importance of bras, none of these studies are about athletic activity and sports bras. They are all about bras for everyday wear.]

Admittedly, all three of these studies have some major flaws. Rouillon's biggest one is pretty obvious: a lack of peer review. Because his findings have not yet been published in an academic journal, good judgment demands that we interpret his study results with caution. In addition, the other two studies, while published, have the pretty significant flaws of a small sample size, lack of racial/ethnic diversity, lack of age diversity, and lack of size diversity. And those are just the obvious issues. Unfortunately, these problems are common to every study on bras and breasts I've run across, including those studies the lingerie industry chooses to cite frequently.

I'm not really invested in the bra question one way or another. I believe if you wanna wear a bra, great and if you don't wanna wear a bra, still great. But I am not okay with how the lingerie industry dismisses some studies as invalid for not being rigorous enough, yet embraces other studies without comment, even when those other studies have the exact same issues. If small, homogenous samples are an issue in bra and breast research, they are always an issue. They don't suddenly become more of an issue when you hate a study and less of an issue when you like it.

One last note on sagging breasts... there's some good research out there on the causes. Breast ptosis appears to be correlated to factors like age, weight loss, breast size, number of pregnancies, and smoking. Again, there's no mention of the wearing or not wearing of bras. And I'm just thinking out loud here, but if bras actually prevented sagging breasts, don't you think the breast lift would be obsolete? After all, most women in Western countries have worn bras every day since puberty. And it could just be the cynic in me talking, but when bras are pitched as magical 'cure-alls' for something as unavoidable as sagging, I can't help but think, "You're trying to sell me something, aren't you?"

Dear Bra Fitters: Stop Using 'Tribal Women' to Make a Point.

This next issue is one that really gets under my skin. I am sick and tired of the lingerie community resorting to examples of anonymous, bare-chested, tribal women to make a point that going without bras will somehow "ruin" your body.

Not only is that kind of commentary ethnocentric in the extreme ("Hello!!! There are more ways of being beautiful than the Western way!"), I hate the notion of using someone's ethnicity and culture as some kind of lazy prop to make ill-conceived points about superiority. And yes, it's totally body snark.

These women's bodies do not exist to teach women in our part of the world a "lesson" about what happens if you're not a good girl who keeps her bra on. There is nothing wrong or inferior or degrading or primitive about sagging breasts. There is nothing wrong or inferior or degrading or primitive about non-Western standards of beauty. And there is nothing wrong or inferior or degrading or primitive about a culture placing more emphasis on the practical function of breasts rather than their decorative nature. And people need to stop acting like there is.

Moreover, when we pretend that sagging breasts are attributable to anything other than the factors mentioned above, we do women a disservice. Sagging breasts aren't something that happen because you're "irresponsible" and went too long without wearing a bra. They're something that happens as a side effect of being alive and carrying life. Some women's breasts sag when they're 18. Some women's breasts sag when they get pregnant for the first time. Some women's breasts sag when they become senior citizens. But ptosis (there's that word again!) is a natural part of life, and there is no miracle bra, cream, or contraption (short of surgery) that will change that. Let's stop setting women up for failure with unrealistic expectations.  Sagging is okay. More than okay, it's perfectly normal.

There are tons of great reasons to wear a bra anyway.

I'm pro-boobs, and I think they're beautiful and awesome and fantastic no matter their size or shape or age or whatever. I understand there are social reasons for wearing a bra (OMG...nipples!!!), and I understand that many women just feel more comfortable and confident with one, no matter their size. For me, I just like the way they look; lace on my boobs is pretty. And let's be clear... those are all sufficient reasons in and of themselves for wearing a bra.

What I don't like, however, is when the lingerie industry actively trades in falsehoods in order to sell more product. I hate that I only learned just a few years ago that bras don't prevent sagging. I hate that I didn't see any judgment-free, normalized images of breasts until I was in my mid-twenties. I hate that there are young girls growing up right now who believe their brand new breasts are deficient and defective because they're not naturally shaped the way they are in a t-shirt bra.

We should have a conversation about bras and breasts and all the reasons why we wear them and if they're doing the things the lingerie experts say they do. Those are all excellent and wonderful conversations to have. But let's start from a place of truth, honesty, and realness. Your breasts don't need to be full, uplifted, perky pears to be "perfect." Breasts come in all shapes and sizes, and they're all fine just the way they are.

What did you think of Rouillon's study? Did it affect the way you see bras? I'd love to get some other thoughts in the comments.


Cora
Cora Harrington

Founder and Editor in Chief of The Lingerie Addict. Author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie. I believe lingerie is fashion too, and that everyone who wants it deserves gorgeous lingerie.

45 Comments on this post

  1. Jenn says:

    I stopped wearing bras after reading about Rouillon’s research. I was not aware of the other two studies, so I am grateful you mentioned them.

  2. Jean says:

    I came across Prof Rouillon’s research too. Prof Rouillon stresses that his research study has a limitation i.e. the study’s samples (320 female aged 18 to aged 35) is not representative of the entire population. It is too early to claim that wearing a bra will put women’s health at risk as a more intensive research with larger female samples is needed.

    • Cora Cora says:

      Yup, we mention the sample size issue here. It’s a problem that’s common to all studies about bras and breasts, unfortunately.

  3. Auretha says:

    I’ve been an image stylist for 10 years, helping women love their bodies as is, with flattering clothing, colors and styles. I’ve seen many naked people in their closet and the interesting thing I have found is that NO MATTER HOW ‘PERFECT’ THE BODY, most people, especially women, will find something to pick themselves apart with. Sad fact. Which caused me to start doing more coaching on peoples’ heads along with their image!
    I LOVED this article, and found it more informative than anything I have studied on the subject. I have found myself going more and more braless these days, but in public, it lengthens my waist and is less, ahem…sexually stirring for some people I talk to, to wear a bra. I do want people to pay attention to what I’m saying. ;)
    Thank you for this article. I shared it on my SoulStyleTribe page on facebook, and will continue to read your work. Blessings, Sister. All the more reason to love this life and the awesome package we arrived in!!
    ps. You appreciate them more when your mom has hers hacked to pieces by cancer doctors. I’m all for natural treatments and remedies to breast cancer, which is curable, without mutilation, and do believe that wearing bras can block the flow of the lympth and seriously negatively affect breast tissue. I don’t understand why no one talks about this.
    XO Auretha

  4. Liz says:

    Thank you times a thousand for this article. I’ve been losing weight for about 42 weeks now, and one of the gigantic, crushing, twist-my-stomach-in knots-and-make-me-cry feelings I’ve been having throughout all this is that my breasts are friggin’ shrinking, and they look saggy and deflated, which makes me want to hide them in a bra (more for the less-pendulous look) — and that was difficult to say, because I absolutely detest wearing bras. About the only time I’ll willingly wear one is if I’m going OUT to see my significant other, to dinner or something nice like that, and only because there’s no real way to ‘save it for later tonight’ than to *wear* the dreadful thing.
    I just wish we could pick from where our bodies lost the fat. Why can’t it be my stomach, where it’s ‘dangerous and unhealthy’, instead of my breasts, which used to be so big and beautiful? Damn you, society, for making me feel like this about my self-image with your impossible “standards”!

  5. Taran Tula says:

    another male trying to act as if he knew anything about breasts. and bras do prevent sagging. its as simple as physics. gravity makes skin sag. if you always wear a bra that pull is supported by it and why NOT point out tribal women? be sick of that comparison but its actually a proof that when you don’t wear a bra they will sag more. no one is putting those women down. their culture doesn’t focus on breasts like we do. I am a woman and have always worn a bra. I have way better breasts than both of my sisters who don’t really wear bras. I wear sports bras to bed and I always have one on. I know for a fact its the reason why they don’t sag.

  6. Judy says:

    40D popping by with my first comment. I’ve worn a bra since puberty. I stopped at age 23. I am 24 now and I still don’t wear a bra unless I am working out (then I opt for a sports bra). I’ve ALWAYS had saggy boobs. I had saggy boobs when I was 13, at 16, and at 23. Not wearing a bra has not contributed to more drooping, my boobs have stayed the same. The skin is really thin and not elastic at all. The women that I see with perky breasts (I’m a body piercer, I pierce nipples) have thicker skin.

    I totally believe that sagging and bras are not relevant. I now only buy fancy lingerie bras for the pretty aspect but definitely not for the ‘make-my-boobs-perky-for-once-in-my-life’ aspect. I still love the ways bras make my boobs look but now I’ll only buy ones that are GOEGEOUS!

  7. Brook says:

    hi! Great post- and timely. I just encountered this problem rhetoric last week, when an older woman walked into the lingerie shop where we work. After some conversation, she starts pressuring my co-worker- who is 8 months pregnant- to wear only underwire bras- in order to prevent saggy breasts! This is a complete stranger, speaking to a very pregnant woman (who is currently finding underwires too uncomfortable anyway!) providing unsolicited, false advice…

    We were able to follow it up later with a more positive conversation about feminism and how rude that woman had been- but I’m glad to have some data to share next time someone decides to give unsolicited advice about personal choices. Thank you :)

  8. Laura O says:

    Loved this post <3 !! Almost am always braless at home but not many full breasted teachers with large areolas and nipples can keep a class room let alone the facility lounge focused unless they are harnessed…alas…best to avoid the principal's office as an adult…bras do serve a purpose :)

  9. Trudi says:

    Great post! It’s really such a tragedy that there should even be a study into whether bras cause breast sagging or not – I don’t think it matters either way! Either you like wearing bras or not, and it should just be a personal choice. I’m an E cup, so for, say, Zumba, I definitely wouldn’t go bra less, but that’s my own choice, and I would never judge someone for not wearing one. I think of them as a fashion choice, like the way my clothes fit better with a bra, and feel that they help distribute the weight better for back support, so my posture seems better ( but maybe that’s psychological…). However, when I walk around the house naked, I don’t cringe if I catch sight of myself with breasts ‘au naturale’ ( or saggy) – that’s just the way I am, and I’m okay with that :-)

  10. aleta says:

    I really liked this article. Having always worn a bra from puberty as think my mum thought it wasn’t “decent” not to, I can say that I probably didn’t need to for a good few years when I was younger as was very slim and only b cup at most. Only really felt uncomfortable physically when doing sports. However, since being pregnant and breast feeding I had gone for a c to a dd. this was a direct result of breastfeeding rather than weight gain. This means that obviously there is a lot more to sag! Having always wanted bigger breasts I realised that you can’t have every thing, if you want them bigger I think they are going to sag more as they are heavier. There is probably genetic factors and weight gain/loss involved too.None of us can fight gravity though! I think the problem is as mentioned before, that we have forgotten what real breasts look like, nearly every advert or glossy magazine is retouched or models /actresses featured have implants and no naturally saggy boobs! I remember looking at page three girls when I was a teenager and thinking there was something wrong with my breasts because they weren’t perfectly rounded. I try to speak to my daughter about images in magazines not being “real” and I don’t buy womens magazines myself anymore as they just didn’t do my self esteem any good. Breast sagging is the same as cellulite, a modern invention of a “disorder” that is a perfectly natural thing !

  11. Amanda says:

    Another excellent article! Having recently read a maddeningly stupid piece from The Daily Beast about how the “rosebud” nipple is the “preferred” nipple (with regard to size and color), this was a HUGE palate cleanser. Breasts come in many shapes and sizes… and all are wonderful.

  12. Maz says:

    Blimey, I’ve been in the lingerie industry for years, and I’m delighted to say I’ve never heard anyone make the ‘tribal women’ point – not even to flog a bra!
    This whole topic reminds me of one of the often-talked-about corset issue on weight loss, and I’ll always be astounded at some people’s naivety: wearing a bra supports & uplifts your breasts but won’t prevent sagging, the same way a corset takes 4″ off your waist instantly but will not make you lose weight!
    Maz x

  13. Lily says:

    Very good article- and something I wanted to add… I’ve been in the habit of only ever really wearing a bra when I leave the house or do exercise. Otherwise I am bra free! Household chores, study, reading The Lingerie Addict ;) all done bra-less. My mum and my grandmother have always done the same thing too, and our boobs seem to be doing okay with sagging. Then again, maybe it’s just genetics?

  14. Jaded says:

    I don’t even know what perky is. My breasts went from training bra to saggy by the time I was 12.

  15. Heather says:

    Great post!! Let’s be realistic, the only way to make sagging breasts uplifted and perkier again is via a breast lift procedure (with implants if lost volume), that’s it! No bras, no creams, no devises will ever make it happen!

  16. Amber says:

    Great article Treacle. I have had “sagging” breasts since puberty! It’s just how my breast tissue is. Never pregnant, don’t smoke, and I only just turned 30 last month, though my breasts have been “sagging” since I was 16! There is a LOT of stigma that goes on about it, even before the bra vs. no bra study, I have heard a LOT of women using body snark and making fun of womens breasts for not being “perky enough” or being “droopy”. It’s hurt my feelings more than once, especially because it’s always been something that I considered one of my “flaws”. Yes, it also totally hurts my feelings when people have used ethnic photos and made fun of the “national geographic” breasts. I am white, not ethnic, and I don’t care where you are from in this world or what ethnicity you are, it’s just awful to judge a woman’s breasts based on how perky they are. It’s not different than judging a woman on the size of her breasts. Ignorance is ignorance. It’s not bras or no bras that we need to change, it’s our thinking!

    PS. Did I mention that I really adore this post??

  17. Karen says:

    Its a sad fact that fearmongering is an age old selling tool. And the lingerie industry just lost the wind in its sails when it comes to spruiking bras as an anti-sag necessity.

    The closest example may be misconception regarding anti-wrinkle creams, which have never been proven to be effective:
    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-aging_cream (sorry about the lazy Wiki link).
    But as a result of powerful marketing and eager consumers wanting a silver bullet, the cycle continues.

    I agree the conversation should be about normalising sagging breasts, and wearing bras because they make you comfortable and/or feel great! Not out of fear that youre doing them a diservice by going without. An excellent article Ill definitely keep in mind when I go to fit bras =)

  18. Lucy says:

    If six years of post-secondary health studies have taught me anything, it’s to never take a publication at face-value, particularly when there’s a lack of peer review. If the author wanted to truly convince me, they would have to lead a double-blind study of women who only ever wore half a bra, day in and day out, for 10 years. One breast would be supported while the other breast was not. Apart from controls, the study groups would have to include those who had the breast on the same side of their dominant hand supported, and another group whose non-dominant side was supported, as there may be discrepancy in size and support based on which side of the body has more muscle tone.
    But more than simply the ptosis, I would be interested in how wearing of bras would affect on kyphosis of the spine due to distribution of the weight and how women compensate through their posture.

    • Racheal says:

      I’m not sure how one would conduct a double blind study in which the participants would only be wearing half a bra. I know for myself, I would be fully aware of only wearing half a bra, and exactly which side of my body it was on, and I would imagine that any woman would; this would take the ‘double’ out of the ‘blind’, no?

  19. Such a well thought out and well written article on this subject was a real pleasure to read. I have studied many reactions to this subject in the past few weeks and frankly, had the exact same reaction as you.
    None of it really matters, except the ability for women to embrace themselves. Coming from an art infused background, I agree with Emily: a woman’s body is a form of art and this subject should never even come up. Thanks for your wonderful insight!

  20. Manoela says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I was eager to read this for hours, and -once again- it was worth, because I could read every word and scream inside “YES YES YES!”. I love how you say you are “pro-boobs”, this is something our society needs. By being pro-boobs, you remind every one of us that we are all beautiful just for being a woman. And boobs are beautiful, every single pair (or even one) of them (yes, I agree that they look even better covered with lace – but that’s just our opinion!). I just loved it, your amazing words inspired me once again, it’s always good to remember why I chose to love and make my way into the lingerie world. Thank you.

  21. Bunny says:

    I have never liked bra’s and think they are a modern torture device.
    I have breasts that are an E cup and never wear a bra. I have perkier breasts that people I know my have who are a B cup. I have tried to explain this to people for years.

    If I need a bit of nipple coverage I use a silicone cover or a band-aid.

  22. Treacle,
    You have delivered another great post with many wonderful points. I like how you pointed out that bras aren’t meant to prevent sagging. Women may wear them for so many reasons. Whether that be for extra support, because they feel more comfortable in them or even if they just are a bra lover and enjoy a pretty bra. The best part about this post is how you pointed out that girls, young ladies, women of all ages should be taught that breasts come in all shapes and sizes and that it is wonderful. We all need to appreciate our bodies. Thanks for the wonderful article.

  23. Great post, Treacle. I think it’s important to note that both Rouillon’s study (actually a transcript of a student radio interview) and the other Pierrot paper (in which Rouillon is listed as a co-author) used measurements made on “sports” women. Rouillon choose young women who were active in sports 4x per week. So his conclusions were based not on ordinary everyday bra wear (although who knows what size or type of bra these women choose not to wear). As you pointed out, NONE of these “studies” (thesis papers in some cases) prove anything. Thanks for including photos from 007b. Women should wear what makes them feel good and definitely be able to love their boobs in or out of a bra.

  24. Brianna says:

    I identify with anonymous’s story so much. My breast have been on the saggy side of things since I was 13 years old. I always thought it was because I wore the wrong type of bra or started wearing a bra way too late. I daily go back and forth between wanting a boob job and acceptance of my breasts. (I’ve recently started going braless.) Anyway, the studies above+ the pictures of Western woman and their breast+and your wonderful commentary give me a great peace of mind today. Love the article :)

  25. Philippa Gurney says:

    Hi Treacle, lots of interesting comments in your post. I have always been blessed with fuller breasts and have mostly felt more comfortable wearing bras. Initially i resented having to wear them but played a lot of sport and quickly realised it was best on lots of levels!! I love wearing pretty/sexy underwear. I am now 50 years old and have been lucky enough to have met someone a few years ago who made me realise that my breasts were great just as they were so i now have cofidence with or without support!

  26. Elizabeth says:

    Before this study came out I’ve always been one to only wear a bra when I leave the house. I have never worn one to bed and if I’m home I don’t wear a bra. I’ll be 36 in july and I have two kids. My breasts are amazing and don’t sag. Could it be because the study is true or do I just have good genes? I don’t know but I was doing this long before the study so maybe it does ring a little truth.

  27. Melisa says:

    I loved this post. Thank you so much for this. Honestly, I wear bras because they are pretty and they make me feel beautiful. That’s all. And like you said, that’s a good enough reason.

  28. Avigayil says:

    Untill this study I was under the distinct impression that wearing a bra would prevent and perhaps reverse sagging issues. I at one point had even started wearing bralettes to bed.
    *sigh*

  29. Dandelion says:

    Very good article :).
    I’ve just one remark: I think it does make a big difference if you wear a fitting bra in the correct size or not. Regarding the fact that the majority of women wear the wrong bra size, the results of these studies don’t surprise me. I’m not saying that a fitting bra can prevent boobs from sagging, but I’ve read about a lot of women whose boobs became less saggy when they started to wear fitting bras.
    However, I agree that this shouldn’t be the main thing to discuss, but rather the point that saggy boobs are as normal as any other shape of breasts and to encourage women not to be ashamed about them.

    • Lita says:

      Completely agree! Sagging is normal, I don’t see why the media has gotten themselves all in a tizzy over this like it’s the most awful fate on earth.

      I would LOVE to see a study that compares the overall health effects of a well-fitted bra vs. a poor one vs. none at all!

    • MJ says:

      I really like the article too! I just wanted to point out though that wearing a better fitting bra won’t make your boobs less saggy. Breasts are not made from muscle. They have lots of adipose and connective tissue, ligaments, among other things. Bras might reduce the speed at which breasts sag but wont reverse sagging. IF anything maybe the bras made people stand straighter and that made it look like their breasts weren’t at the same level of sagging as before

      Anyway I just wanted to point that out.

  30. aneesa says:

    this article is perfect. Everyone needs to read this.

  31. Emily says:

    Fortunately I’ve been drawing from nude models since I was a freshman in high school, so something like a decade now. Most of them are women and they come in all shapes and sizes. And being so accustomed to unsexualized nudity for so long, has removed any shock I would have over veiwing natural breasts and un-photoshopped beauty. It’s a great drawing exercise, but it also helps normalize the human body.

    As for my breasts… I love bras, I just do!

  32. TBonz says:

    Somehow out of the blue, my doctor brought up the topic during my last visit, and explained why breasts sag, and that it’s pretty much an inevitable thing and not due to nursing or going braless. I don’t remember the words now, but I was surprised that short of surgery to artificially fix them, that was the fate of most breasts (with the possible exception of women who are smaller).

    It still sucks that they’re not perky, but at least there is no behavioral issue that causes this. It’s just another part of aging.

    If only I was brave enough (if we were all brave enough) to go braless! :) Then my eternal futile search for a proper-fitting bra would end. (band-cup size mismatch = tough time finding a bra that fits properly)

    But I’d be too uncomfortable going out without one and sadly, I’m not alone in that feeling.

  33. anonymous_this_time_please says:

    This post matters to me, nearly to the point of tears. I have had sagging breasts ever since I have had breasts to sag. I was never perky even at 17 as a B-cup. As an adult, I have had one boyfriend who was initially disgusted by my breasts then “got used to” them.
    And I thought it was my fault for not wearing a bra soon enough. I resisted wearing training bras until the day driving over train tracks made them bobble uncomfortably some time in junior high, and mentally called that proof that I had waited too long and had “ruined” my body. Even after learning that my genetic background does not tend toward perky, the self-blame and loathing still clung. The points that you make are like a lifeline. It will take more than this post to make me like my breasts–a 25 year habit is hard to break–but it helps me stop hating them.

  34. Norma says:

    An excellent article from pointing out the issues with research studies to promoting acceptance of all body shapes and sizes to the selling of bras. I loved this thought provoking article and think it is required reading for anyone in the lingerie industry.

  35. Lots of good points here, Treacle! I think the one that annoyed me the most about the original study was the correlation of ‘breasts that sag’ with ‘problem breasts’– I mean, whether your breasts sag or not is NOT a big deal. And then the vehemence of the response was a bit crazy too, as the ‘need to wear bras’ is not really true either.

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