How our obsession with cleavage fell flat

I see the cleavage has gone for a hop. After years of spilling out, straining against and standing proud it has fallen flat. The fashion world has spoken.

“Whatever happened to the cleavage?,” asks the new issue of Vogue. The squished-together, hoicked-up presentation of bosoms has all but vanished from fashionable circles,” Jess Cartner-Morley, the Guardian’s fashion editor, wrote yesterday.

“Scaffolding breasts under the chin and framing them with a low-cut top, which has for decades been a shorthand for allure — the four-four-two of getting dressed up for a night out, if you like — is over,” she added.

Well, it if is over then personally I am relieved. As a straight woman I’ve seen more of other women’s breasts in the past ten years than I would have ever thought possible. I still find it kind of shocking — though not surprising these days — to see two breasts cantilevered up and out. It’s like seeing into someone else’s bedroom; and I don’t want to see into other people’s bedrooms, thanks very much.

Daytime cleavage makes me downright uneasy. Cleavage displayed by staff at the bank does not inspire confidence in the bank. Looking at another woman’s breasts over the computer or at lunch is not my idea of a good time.

Maybe men love it, but I suspect not. Cleavage is distracting; it is meant to be. Last summer I was walking down the street with a pretty girl whose breasts were quite exposed. I knew there was going to be trouble.

“You have beautiful breasts,” said a young man who was passing. He said it quietly and mildly.

“**** off, ***hole!” said my lovely companion. I thought this was a bit unfair. If you are revealing an intimate part of you, a body part with which our culture is obsessed, it is unreasonable to expect the rest of us to pretend we cannot see it.

Yet this is exactly what the craze for cleavage did: it made co-conspirators of us all. This was summed up by a male of my acquaintance who explained that ubiquitous cleavage is actually not party time for men, because you are a dirty old man if you are observed noticing it and a sexless fool if you aren’t.

Cleavage at night makes me think the cleavage-wearer is insecure. This is understandable as most of the big cleavage wearers are young women; they’ve got the best breasts, for a start. But it is extraordinary to be at a function, or in a bog-standard Irish pub, in the 21st-century and feel as if you are surrounded by naughty ladies from 18th-century Versailles.

Those 18th-century ladies had everything hoicked up with corsets. Their idle lives were led simply for display, they did not want to move about. They didn’t have the option of forgetting their bodies and concentrating on something else. Presumably working women in the 18th century could not afford corsets and the tortures they brought, or certainly could not afford to ruin corsets by working in them.

Yet we have revived the corset, or at least the corset look, which existed really only in the imaginations of Hollywood costume designers on the odd historical drama.

I say we, but in fact the corset look — deeply conservative and old fashioned as it is — was revived by both the porn industry and plastic surgery.

All those poor girls in the porn industry had to have boob jobs. Their breasts stick out at right angles to their bodies — and of course sensation in artificial breasts is greatly reduced, but who cares about how performers in the sex industry actually feel?

Anyway, their breasts look awkward and sore and hard to dress but none of this matters, strangely enough, in a porn film.

The cleavage problem went mainstream when the artificial breast went, for want of a better word, global. First of all the plastic surgery industry started to provide artificial breasts for the masses, leading to that succinct expression “Pay and Display”.

And also, it has to be said, women got a lot fatter. When you’re carrying extra pounds it’s nice to get yourself a half-cup bra and get them out for the lads, for the husband, for yourself.

Cleavage had become ubiquitous, and this was the point at which cleavage became unfashionable. Fashion, run as it is by a male gay aesthetic which favours an androgynous woman, has never liked breasts. They ruin the line.

But sometimes — in fact more times than it can admit — fashion cannot control what women wear. Within the fashion industry itself breasts are deeply unfashionable. Alexa Chung has spoken about her “secret breasts” which she never reveals, and the women who work in fashion slave and starve themselves to be skeletally thin.

But even the fashion industry could not fight Kim Kardashian, bless her. Her basic look is not influenced by fashion but rather by her husband’s fantasies: and husbands’ fantasies rarely lead to a high fashion look unless your husband is gay, or a designer , or both.

So now we are left with a lot of top buttons that will suddenly have to be used, and a bra industry in crisis. The cleavage, so beloved of Irish women of all ages, is gone. Allegedly.