(I wrote this in 2009, but will continue to unearth it until busty ladies get their dues)
Fashion is fickle. We all know this. Styles flit in and out of favour on the merry-go-round, enjoying their moment of glory then laying low until they can work their way back into our wardrobes. But while most trends, however unlikely, will get dragged into the spotlight at some point or other (hello, jodhpurs), there are some things that will just never quite manage it. Fleeces. Double denim. Nude tights. And, my own particular burden – cleavage.
Cleavage will never be cool. Despite all of Vivienne Westwood’s sterling efforts, no matter how much burlesque devotees try to bring back corseting, however many times Scarlett Johansson bends over in a movie, cleavage will always be the embarrassing auntie of fashion.
Cleavage takes an LBD from a cocktail bar to the Rover’s Return. A couple of cup sizes can be the difference between sexy and slutty, between Carrie Bradshaw and Carry On.
Of course, cleavage has had its champions over the years. Think of Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Can’t Help It, sashaying her way across that restaurant, her bullet bra leading the way like two guided missiles. But Jayne was about gaudy sex appeal, not style. In an era of elegant icons like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, Mansfield’s extreme proportions were a guilty pleasure.
Likewise, modern day breasts have their celebrity cheerleaders. Of course they’re a varied lot – at the good end of the scale we have Salma Hayek, Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, and the aforementioned Scarlett.
Luscious women who make cleavage look as at home on the red carpet as it does in a Yates’ Wine Lodge. Then there’s the bad end of the spectrum, where we find Jordan, Chantelle Houghton, Victoria Beckham’s gravity-defying melons, and 98 per cent of everyone at the British Soap Awards.
Then what is a chesty gal to do? Dressing big breasts is a constant Hobson’s choice – high collars turn us frumpy, fashioning our assets into a big matronly bosom, while plunging necklines take us into trashy territory quicker that you can say ‘my face is up here’. We can do va-va-voom with our eyes shut, but how about gamine? Boyfriend chic? Layering? It’s a minefield of sartorial no-goes.
Take Holly Willoughby. She’s an exemplar model of how to dress a busty figure, with her Very.co.uk range a treasure chest of flattering deep Vs, sweetheart necks and sturdy tailoring.
But with her wardrobe, Willoughby has resigned herself to being cosy, not cutting edge. She’s settling into her place on the This Morning sofa while Fearne Cotton, her flatter-chested counterpart, gets to run round in the sixties shifts and cement her place in all the trend reports. It just isn’t fair.
The conclusion I’ve come to, after a decade of gaping blouses, straining bodices and getting perilously stuck inside dresses in shop changing rooms, is this: designers are scared of breasts.
They don’t know what to do with them. It isn’t even a skinny/curvy issue, though naturally that plays a part in it. But the truth is that, since the days when Thoroughly Modern Millie lamented the way that only flat-chested girls get their pearls to hang straight, fashion hasn’t catered for anything above a C-cup.
Maybe it’s because an impressive décolletage diverts attention away from the clothes. Cleavage is a scene-stealer, not a blank canvas. There is a glimmer of hope though, in the form of model Lara Stone, who graces the cover of this month’s Vogue.
While her (supposed) 32Ds are still a far cry from my own FFs, it’s the most cleavage the glossies have featured in a long time. As Cornershop once sang, everybody needs a bosom for a pillow. But whether they can reclaim their place in fashion remains to be seen.