Saturday, July 6, 2013

When is topless sunbathing OK?

Amazingly today is 'Bikini Day' (who knew?), which marks the 67th anniversary of the invention of the two-piece swimsuit by a Parisian fashion designer, Louis RĂ©ard. With a UK July heatwave expected and New Yorkers stripping off in Central Park, Dr Brooke Magnanti offers a cheeky guide as to when it's OK to bare all.

News has broken that police have been warned to let topless women sunbathing in Central Park do their thing. I love that this is happening, and especially, that it's happening in New York. You could not pay me to put on a swimsuit in New York, but not because of fear of having my wobbly bits on display so much as being from Florida, where natives don't even think about leaving their scarves and coats at home until the mercury tops 35 degrees. The middle of New York City sure does get warm in summer, but the way they go on about it, you'd think it was the surface of Venus. I've been there in August (New York, not Venus). It ain't.

Still, more power to the topless lasses of New York, because this is a huge step for the US. Where I grew up has approximately the same climate as the inside of a boiled kettle, only with mosquitoes. Sadly it is also at the tail end of the Bible belt so going topless was out of the question. There came a point every summer where it felt like we weren't living, so much as swimming at the bottom of a boiling ocean. Less garb up top would have been a welcome relief.

Since living in Britain the rules on when to don and when to doff bikini tops have been difficult to parse. Bathing topless has that sometimes-common, sometimes-posh air that makes the apparent rules absolutely impenetrable to someone like me. Marbella fine, Margate not fine. Cool to do on a continental holiday, unless you're Kate Middleton, in which case you've let the royals down. Lack of tan lines is classy, until you get a sunburn, then it's mug shots and the dole queue all the way.

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