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Example of a handbra

A handbra (also hand bra or hand-bra) is a technique used by actresses, models and other entertainers to cover their nipples and areolae with their own hands or in some other way to comply with censors' guidelines, public authorities and community standards when female breasts are required to be covered in film or other media. The technique can also be used by women to cover their breasts to maintain their modesty, when they find themselves with their breasts uncovered in front of others.[1]

Social conventions requiring females to cover their breasts in public have been widespread throughout history and across cultures. Contemporary Western cultures usually regard the exposure of the nipples and areolae as immodest and sometimes prosecute it as indecent exposure. However, the covering of the nipples and areolae in some manner is regarded as sufficient to maintain modesty and decency, at least within the letter if not the spirit of the censors' guidelines.

In cinema[edit]

At the start of the 20th century, the use of the handbra was not very popular or common in European or American cinema, where toplessness and nudity was quite common. In the 1930s, the Hays Code brought an end to nudity in all its forms, including toplessness, in Hollywood films. To remain within the censors' guidelines or community standards of decency and modesty, breasts of actresses in an otherwise topless scene were required to be covered, especially the nipples and areolae, with their hands (using a handbra gesture), arms, towel, pasties, some other object, or the angle of the body in relation to the camera.

Full nudity in film and toplessness, consisting of fully uncovered breasts, became more common in cinema after the 1960s, after which the use of the handbra technique or other obvious covering became less necessary and even passé or odd.

In print media[edit]

Michele Merkin in a 2006 glamour shoot, using a handbra

Similar community standards applied in other media, with female models being required to at least cover their breasts in some way.

The handbra technique became less common and an unnecessary pose in early 20th century European and American pinup postcard media as toplessness and nudity became more common. In America, after bare breasts become repressed in mainstream media circa 1930, the handbra became an increasingly durable pose, especially as more widespread American pinup literature emerged in the 1950s. Once bare breasts became common in pinup literature, after the early 1960s, the handbra pose became less necessary. As with pinup magazines of the 1950s, the handbra pose was a mainstay of late 20th century mainstream media, especially lad mags, such as FHM, Maxim, and Zoo Weekly,[2][3] that prominently featured photos of scantily clad actresses and models who wished to avoid topless and nude glamour photography.[4][5][6]

Examples include Brigitte Bardot (1955, 1971),[7] Elizabeth Taylor in a Playboy magazine pictorial from the set of Cleopatra,[8] Peggy Moffitt modeling Rudi Gernreich's topless maillot and how Life magazine handled the story (1964),[9][10] and the emergence of handbras in publications such as the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue by model Elle MacPherson (1989).[11]

Toward the end of the 20th century, the handbra appeared on numerous celebrity magazine covers. The August 1991 cover of Vanity Fair magazine, known as the More Demi Moore cover, contained a controversial handbra nude photograph of the then seven-months pregnant Demi Moore taken by Annie Leibovitz.[12] Two years later Janet Jackson appeared on the September 1993 cover of Rolling Stone with her nipples covered by a pair of male hands. The magazine later named it their "Most Popular Cover Ever".[13][14]

In July 1994, Ronald Reagan's daughter Patti Davis appeared on the cover of Playboy with another model covering her breasts. Photographer Raphael Mazzucco created an eight-woman handbra on the cover of the 2006 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and a photo of Marisa Miller covering her breasts with her arms and her vulva with an iPod in the 2007 Swimsuit Issue.[15]

The handbra was the subject of a pointed parody advertisement for Holding Your Own Boobs magazine performed by Sarah Michelle Gellar and Will Ferrell on the May 15, 1999 episode of Saturday Night Live. The infamous braless pose was featured in raunchy music video "HandBra" performed by Sensual Sutton.[16]


In 2014 Playboy Enterprises made its Playboy.com website "safe for work" by covering nipples with handbras and armbras.[17]

Other uses[edit]

There is a brassiere named the "handbra" that is fashioned in the shape of hands as a parody of the technique. Lady Gaga wore one in the music video for her 2013 single "Applause".[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cook, Lisa Fineberg (2009). Japan Took the J.A.P. Out of Me. Simon and Schuster. p. 106. ISBN 9781439166864.
  2. ^ "Erotic photography: art or porno?". Shot Addict. 12 June 2007. Archived from the original on 16 November 2007. Retrieved 29 November 2007. Recently several popular glamour magazines known as lad mags are reversing the trend by emphasizing glamour while showing less nudity, in favor of implied (covered) nudity or toplessness such as the handbra technique. Examples include FHM (For Him Magazine) and Maxim magazines, which launched in 1994 and 1995, respectively.
  3. ^ "News from Paul Merrill - Editor, Zoo". Press Gazette. Archived from the original on 2011-05-17. The deal has fallen through over a suggestion she do 'hand bra'.
  4. ^ Janice Turner (October 22, 2005). "Dirty young men". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-04-10. The cover model's breast is partially concealed by her cupped hand. 'We call that shot "hand-bra",' says Paul Merrill, launch editor of Zoo and now in charge of international editions, 'We use that a lot.' He flicks to a cover showing a model whose hair extensions cover her nipples: 'This is hair-bra,' he says.
  5. ^ "New Talent". Zoo Weekly. Retrieved 2007-11-29. Besides being amazingly bootylicous, the Shire gal loves to watch The Family Guy and drink vodka cranberries... all at the same time. Let's hope she does this like her Janet Jackson style profile pic. Three cheers for hand bra![dead link]
  6. ^ "Girls". Zoo Weekly. Retrieved 2007-11-29. You can't beat a babe who is happy to sex it up with a hand-bra.[dead link]
  7. ^ Rosebush, Judson. "Brigitte Bardot Covers Her Breasts". Bikini Science. Archived from the original on 2013-11-12.
  8. ^ "Elizabeth Taylor, 'Cleopatra', Playboy - November 1963".
  9. ^ Shana Alexander, "Fashion's Best Joke on Itself in Years", Life, July 10, 1964, p. 57
  10. ^ Peggy Moffitt and William Claxton, The Rudi Gernreich Book, Rizzoli, New York, 1991
  11. ^ Sports Illustrated, February 1989
  12. ^ "Celebrities make pregnancy seem glamorous". Today.com. The Associated Press. 24 April 2006.
  13. ^ Phil Rosenthal (February 3, 2004). "Cover story so bad, even FCC sees through it". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 2008-06-13. Retrieved 2007-12-05. And Jackson, who has a CD coming out, is no stranger to using her breasts to sell her music. Remember the handbra on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1993? Or the nipple ring on the cover of Vibe in 1997? Or the cover for her last album, All For You, in which she was nude, obscured only by a sheet?
  14. ^ Ogunnaike, Lola (February 4, 2004). "Capitalizing On Jackson Tempest". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-05-04. In 1993 she posed topless for the cover of Rolling Stone. Then, her nipples were obscured by a pair of male hands, not a silver brooch.
  15. ^ "All-Star SI Cover Model Beach Party". SI Cover Search. Time Inc. 2006-02-17. Archived from the original on 2007-01-26. Retrieved 2008-03-24.
  16. ^ "Saturday Night Live: Sarah Michelle Gellar/Backstreet Boys". Retrieved 2007-04-23.
  17. ^ Kim Lachance Shandrow (2 December 2014). "Playboy CEO: Nudity Could Completely Vanish From the Brand". Entrepreneur.
  18. ^ "Handbra: Tired of the Wonderbra?". Retrieved 2007-04-26.

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