Bras in Bars

So I went to visit my college town a few months ago and, naturally, went to a bunch of my usual drinking holes. I had a bit of surprise when walking into this one joint that houses a lot of great local acts. For the most part, it looked exactly the same as I’d left it — murals on the walls, cushy couches strewn about haphazardly. Except for, of course, the festive assortment of bras draped from the ceiling.

I’ve seen this odd phenomenon before — in dive bars back home, or in random clubs in various cities. It’s by no means de rigeur (thank god), but it’s cropping up in the most unlikely of places and it leaves me feeling… well, uncomfortable.

I’ve been trying to parse out why this is.

To acquire these bras, bars typically offer some sort of incentive. Maybe a free drink, your name on the wall, that kind of deal. I’ve not been witness to any woman offering her bra up for this exchange, but I can only imagine these females demurely unhooking their bra and slipping the straps off their shoulders and handing the piece of fabric over. The typical locker room shuffle.

However, even if there is an exchange — monetary or otherwise — it still comes out in the bar’s favor.

What does the bar get out of this?

A) The titillation of nearby male customers watching the “show” — leading, perhaps, to increased drink orders (purchased for the very women who remove their brassieres) or increased regular customers

B) Increased interest in the drinks at the bar — buy one, get sloshed, want another.

C) Fueling the male fantasy of “girls gone wild” with an array of bras (a highly sexual symbol) at the bar — again, gaining more regular customers

D) Minimal cost: one shot per bra doesn’t add up to much.

Meanwhile what does the woman get?

A) Dubious “admiration” from fellow bar-mates

B) A drink totaling perhaps $5 in bar-money, $1 or less in reality (given the over-pricing of bar drinks)

C) Handing over an expensive swath of fabric that probably cost upwards of $50 (considering most of the bras I saw were specialty brands or Victoria’s Secret. Most looked new, or in good condition.)

Who comes out on top?

As a female customer, I see these bras and feel uncomfortable. I don’t enjoy looking up and feeling this weird pressure to take my own bra off and add it to the collection. I don’t like wondering why other women took theirs off, or imagining the hooting and hollering that might’ve occurred while they did it.

Maybe I just find it crass and my secret Emily Post is coming out, full of tsk tsks and condescension. Mostly, though, I find it mildly (or flagrantly) exploitative. Which sucks, because goddamnit, I liked that bar.

What do you think? Is it semi-harmless fun a la Girls Gone Wild? (For a parsing-out of that cultural product, see this post). Or is it more insidious than the neon-colored bra-art would lead one to believe?

– Kelly

A Guy Weighs In:

You have to look at what each person is getting out of it. The woman in this situation gets to be edgy/sexy/risque or what have you, without crossing any boundaries that weren’t set by her grandmother, who still thinks that wearing skirts above the knee is a big deal. She also gets to point out to anyone who will listen that the bra that now adorns the bar is hers, and will probably giggle out a solid exaggeration of what too many Cosmos will do to her, and if anyone gets the wrong idea, she can always point out to them that “she’s not that kind of girl” and that the public never actually got to see the twins, so stop getting any ideas, creep.

Meanwhile, the bartender gets a decoration that insinuates to his hordes of alcohol and testosterone fueled minions that the female half of his establishment’s patronage are the the type who will sleep with you if you pump them with enough drinks. At the very least, you’ll get see some titties. This means that every dude in the place trying to get some will be buying for two and mister barkeep will be seeing dollar signs.

– Will

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3 thoughts on “Bras in Bars

  1. Although I definitely relate to the kind of perspective you guys are analyzing this topic with (and which definitely hits the nail on the head, in my opinion), taking a couple steps back and seeing how this kind of situation arises in the grand scheme of “American bar culture”, and maybe even “American social interactions” points to much larger, more abstract fallacies. I’ve seen the game played on both sides of the Atlantic, and I know how different the rules can be, but the two factors which never fail to dictate the bulk of the rules– definitely sex and alcohol.

    Sometimes, I sadly get the feeling that the average American views Europe as a never-ending sprawl of street techno and orgies. This couldn’t be further from the truth, at least where I lived in Switzerland, where their society is just designed to handle it better over a long term period of time.

    It goes without saying that no matter where you go, if alcohol and sex is available, there will come a point where some one drinks too much, or two people decide they want to go somewhere else to exchange bodily fluids.

    But now let’s look at the consequences of those situations in the long term, especially when they are repeated in a casual process: the drunk person will eventually vomit and be too incapacitated to carry out even basic functions, and the one night stand will inevitably render any further contact awkward, or (in the worst case scenarios) result in the transmission of STI’s and/or pregnancy.

    So all that short term excitement and invigoration, the thrill of inebriation or titillation of a one night stand, is converted in the long term into all kinds negative ramifications. To sum up, these kinds of behaviors, regardless of where you are, can be pleasurable in doses, but are in no way sustainable over somebody’s youth or adulthood.

    This is where the cultural aspect fits in. In Switzerland, most people are both aware and accepting of both the short term and long term effects of this behavior. That is not to say they approve of it (they don’t, as the Swiss tend to be very conservative), but they realize that enforcing laws to limit people’s exposure to this kind of environment DOES NOT solve any of the negative effects of these behaviors. To the contrary, it only makes it worse. This is part of the reason why the Prohibition in America was such a failure– making something illegal will not deter the average person from seeking pleasure-giving activities (like drinking alcohol), and making that process more difficult (via legal limitations) will only make the determination to seek these activities even stronger than before. This leads to widespread ignorance of the negative effects of the pleasurable activities, which could cause criminal or harmful behavior (just look at Capone’s rise to power in Prohibition-era Chicago, or the Mexican cartels of today’s day and age).

    So because Switzerland’s laws are designed to allow the youth to have exposure, the average Swiss person realizes how little glory there is in getting drunk, or putting yourself in sexual situations (e.g. taking off your bra to earn yourself an overpriced drink) under the influence of alcohol. The legal age to consume beer and wine is 16, while harder alcohols come with an age limit of 18. Furthermore, the age of consent is 16, and sexual education and contraceptives are readily available (you can buy condoms in the Kiosk machines).

    America, in contrast, has a higher drinking age and age of consent, but I have yet been to a bar or pub in Switzerland where women’s bras were hung from the ceiling like bizarre hunting trophies. If that doesn’t say anything about the efficacy of these laws, I don’t know what does. I believe that these higher laws and authoritative stances towards social hedonism skews people’s views of alcohol, as well as sexual behavior, and causes them to glorify acts which are seen as juvenile and stupid by their European counterparts.

  2. Having bras on bars is he weirdest thing I’ve encountered so far. However, due to democracy, it can never be condemned

  3. I’m a student at Arizona State University and although we don’t have bars with this particular trend we do have bars and clubs where women are encouraged to dress scantily and are rewarded with male attention and/or alcohol. The guy who weighed appears very nonplussed over this trend as many men would. He is trying to justify the bras by saying it makes women feel sexy. But I don’t see how taking my bra off in front of a drunken hoard truly makes a woman feel sexy and beautiful. It’s an obvious case of peer pressure. Why do women feel it necessary to go to such extremes to obtain male approval, and why do men pressure women into this activity?

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