Pencil test (breasts)

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A pencil test is an informal test of breast development and the need to wear a bra conceived by Ann Landers.[1]


A pencil stick is placed in the inframammary fold, the point at which the underside of the breasts attach to the chest wall. If the pencil does not fall, the woman has "failed the pencil test" and needs to wear a bra. The supposition is that breasts that are not pendulous are self-supporting and do not need the added support of a bra.[2]

Social implications[edit]

No evidence has been offered as to its validity, but some people consider it a method to determine whether a young girl should begin wearing a bra. The theory is that if the girl places a pencil under her breast and if it stays in place, then wearing a bra is recommended; if it falls to the ground, a bra is not yet needed.[1][3] Other, more relevant factors when choosing whether to wear a bra include physical support of very large breasts, pain when exercising, and general comfort, as opposed to social pressures such as the desire to present breasts as "perky" or preventing nipples from being seen through clothing.

Breast sagging[edit]

Some women use the pencil test to determine if their breasts are sagging. However, some degree of ptosis is normal and natural. Sagging is partly determined by inherited traits like skin elasticity and breast density, which affects the ratio of lightweight fat to heavier mammary glands. Some sagging is due to the aging of the glandular tissues that produce breast firmness. The general public and the medical community define sagging differently. Plastic surgeons categorize the severity of ptosis by evaluating the position of the nipple relative to the inframammary fold. They don't consider a woman's breasts to be sagging unless the nipple is positioned below the inframammary fold. In the most advanced stage, the nipples are below the fold and point towards the ground.[4]

Wearing a bra does not prevent breasts from sagging. Many women, in the mistaken belief that breasts cannot anatomically support themselves, think that wearing a bra will prevent their breasts from sagging later in life.[5] Researchers, bra manufacturers, and health professionals cannot find any evidence to support the idea that wearing a bra for any amount of time slows breast ptosis.[6] Bra manufacturers are careful to claim that bras only affect the shape of breasts while they are being worn.[5][7]

In popular culture[edit]

In 1975, the student senate of the University of Texas at Austin passed a dress code that among other things made it mandatory for women to wear a bra if they could not pass the pencil test. The decision was filibustered by a female senate member, and she was physically removed from the room before the vote passed 11-9.[1]

In the 1997 film Breast Men, the pencil test was demonstrated by a female performer as a method of determining the desirability of having breast augmentation or breast implants. If, when placed under the breast against the skin of the torso, a pencil does not fall to the ground (i.e., the pencil is held in place by weight of the breast against the skin of the torso), augmentation is desirable.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c West, Richard (June 1975). "Texas Monthly Reporter: Low Talk". Texas Monthly. Emmis Communications: 12. ISSN 0148-7736. Retrieved 2011-02-22.
  2. ^ Manteuffel, Rachel (November 12, 2006). "Getting an 'F' in Biology". The Washington Post.
  3. ^ "Vanity fair". 58. Condé Nast Publications. January 1995: 108. Retrieved 2011-02-22. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ Younai, S. Sean. "Breast Sagging - Ptosis". Retrieved 2012-02-04.
  5. ^ a b "Female Intelligence Agency: Why do women wear bras?". 007b Breast. Retrieved 10 May 2011.
  6. ^ "Female Intelligence Agency: What causes sagging of breasts?". 007b Breast.
  7. ^ Cawthorne, Simon (November 2000). "Bras, the Bare Facts". Channel 4.