In October, Kim Kardashian launched Skims’s Ultimate Push-up Nipple Bra with a “built-in raised nipple.” The bra has since sold out, but a slew of other nipple-related products have entered the fashion-market chat. If you want nipple rings without the pain, FashionNova now has pierced pasties for you. New York brand Vaquera released jersey polos with attached pointy bras. Jean Paul Gaultier’s Tattoo Collection, which also dropped in October, boasts faux nipple rings on naked screen-printed crop tops. If you throw in the fact that Pamela Anderson collabed on a swimwear line with Frankies Bikinis in April, it’s clear that 2023 has been a big year for boobs.
The classic breast-enhancing staple, the push-up bra, has also seen a triumphant return on red carpets this year (hello Selena Gomez and Billie Eilish). With this revival and the subsequent rise of the faux nipple, the fashion industry is veering away from an oversized silhouette in favor of more defined, form-fitting styles. “The popularity of corsets during the past few years appears to have been just the tip of the iceberg in the ‘return of boobs,’” says fashion-trend forecaster Agus Panzoni. This shift has also taken place against a backdrop of sexual references ramping up across the runways, Panzoni says. Take the $200K Durex condoms in Diesel’s Fall/Winter 2023 collection, for example. Or AVAVAV’s show from the same season, during which the clothes fell off models while they walked. Dsquared2 even released fashionable sex toys in February.
But despite an increase in sartorial suggestiveness, young people are having less sex than previous generations — which is why Panzoni says Skims’s faux erect-nipple imprint perfectly captures the “paradoxical landscape” of sexuality as a fashion trend. “It emerges as a juxtaposition to a culture fixated on physical perfection and attractiveness, yet seemingly indifferent to genuine sexual desire and intimacy,” she says. In other words, we’re treating our bodies as assets to be viewed and optimized for social media, which, Panzoni says, makes everyone “conventionally attractive yet devoid of authentic sexuality.”
“It emerges as a juxtaposition to a culture fixated on physical perfection and attractiveness, yet seemingly indifferent to genuine sexual desire and intimacy.”
And in the pursuit of aligning with the “in” definition of beauty, some are heading to the plastic-surgery clinic. Melissa Doft, a double board-certified plastic surgeon, says she’s seen a lot of young people interested in undergoing breast augmentation. “But it's not the same boob job we were once doing,” she says. “They're not looking for an over-the-top, curvy body; they're looking for something very understated but going to give them the shape they’re lacking in their clothing.” She says she’s also had requests for nipple fillers to make them more erect and prominent.
While a conspicuous nipple (natural or not) might be a fad, it also has a lot to do with economics and women’s rights, says Sarah Pedersen, a professor of communication and media at Robert Gordon University and author of The Politicization of Mumsnet. For example, she says, the voluptuous figure popularized after World War II can be seen as a way of messaging to women “thank you for your service — now, go back into the kitchen.” Similarly, today’s in-vogue “fertile” body shape might be a response to economic issues and the declining birth rate across the Western world. “People are asking: ‘Why are these selfish women not having children? Why are they obsessed with their careers?’ Pedersen says. “But children are very much a luxury at the moment.”
It’s a quandary that brings to mind America Ferrara’s Barbie monologue: To be in fashion, you need to project fertility with a prominent chest (while looking Ozempic-thin everywhere else). Only it’s too expensive for many to have children, most offices don’t condone boob shirts in their dress codes, and the nipples might be fake. As Panzoni puts it: “The faux hard nipple resonates perfectly with contemporary times.”