Showing cleavage! What is acceptable?

This article was last updated on June 18, 2022

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Breasts, tits, knockers: what man would say no to that? Being one, a man that is (ha!), I would have to question any man who said no. It is a basic part of our culture: they are pretty; they are sexual; they are primordial.

Cleavage refers to the exposed part of a woman’s breasts not covered by the material of a garment. What is acceptable? What is not acceptable? Of course, the answer depends on the country, the society and the period. However, I am writing as a man describing the odd contradiction of this and the whole idea of attractiveness and sexual attractiveness.

An episode of television show Seinfeld has George and Jerry visiting a TV producer to convince him to give them some work. While there, the producer’s daughter, played by Denise Richards shows up. At one point, the daughter leans over a couch fumbling around in her purse. George, of course, notices this and unable to glance away, stares at the woman’s décolleté which is prominently on display. The camera is totally focused on George staring at the daughter when the producer walks into view. He leans over to George and says, "Get a good look, Costanza?"

The rest of the episode has Jerry dealing with George as this incident may have cost them a job. Jerry explains that looking at cleavage is like looking at the sun: "you get a sense of it then you look away". [chuckles] Yes, you do not stare or you’ll go blind.

Now, we all laughed at George Costanza; we all laughed at Jerry’s assessment of the situation. However, I ask again: What is acceptable? What is not acceptable?

My wife and I enjoy watching the television show House. This series takes place in a hospital and the head administrator is a woman. So far, so good. Nevertheless, probably for ratings, the show dresses this woman in blouses cut just a tad too low, just a bit too much cleavage for a workplace. I suppose I should be titillated but considering the setting of a hospital where a certain degree of sober professionalism is called for, this just seems totally unrealistic.

I have recently read that our North American society is showing a trend towards more cleavage which seems totally in keeping with the changes in our mores. After all, what was acceptable on TV, in movies and on billboards 40 years ago and what is acceptable now? If I may make a cultural reference: just how many of George Carlin’s "Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television" (1972) can you actually hear today?

My point here is about what’s professional and what’s acceptable. However, when I use the word acceptable, just what do I mean?

I am a man. I am very much, if I may paraphrase a common phrase used in other circles, a "flaming" heterosexual. There is no doubt I am attracted to women. However, like all men, I work with women and my place which represents an area requiring a certain degree of professionalism. This is not an area for anything sexual; this is an area for work.

As a man, I ask at what point what looks good and stylish becomes provocative, sexual in nature. I know we live in a country, a culture where there are norms dictated by our society including the styles dictated by the publicity of the companies affecting those norms of our society. Nevertheless, are there guidelines for business as opposed to guidelines for going out to a dance club?

I have to admit that I find it disconcerting or distracting to be confronted with something which is sexual. Okay, the fact that women have breasts to begin with could be construed as distracting to this flaming heterosexual [laughs] but what I am really talking about is when the amount of cleavage goes beyond what one would consider as stylish to become something more akin to being sexually provocative. It is an odd mixed signal I’m getting: be professional in the workplace and yet, here’s an indication of something sexual however discrete or subtle.

True story.

I work with a woman who is married with children; your normal housewife. However, from time to time she comes in with a blouse or a sweater which is cut just a tad lower than normal. Why? Does she think she’s stylish? Does she do it to please her husband? Is she totally oblivious to what other men may think or is she deliberately seeking the indirect approval of other men? Who knows? I certainly don’t but I do sometimes notice her tugging at her blouse or a sweater in some vain attempt to try and reduce the amount of cleavage showing. If she’s embarrassed by showing so much cleavage, why does she wear something which is cut lower than normal? After all, this is an office; this situation does demand professionalism; why show any cleavage at all?

Quite frankly, I’ve wondered if at sometime in the past, I had inadvertently "stared" like George Costanza and now that I’ve been busted, this woman feels uncomfortable with me and that’s why she tugs at her blouse or sweater. Hmmm, does she tug at her sweater when in the company of others?

However, regardless of this woman, I have run into this situation elsewhere. A woman is dressed provocatively and I have to do my utmost to not look. As Jerry said, I can look to get a sense of it but then I have to look away. 🙂

Of course…

I doubt I, as a man, can ever truly escape this type of situation. After all, men are men and somewhere, there is always a spark of that primordial urge to propagate the species. I mean there is always some sort of sexual thing, tension, whatever that plays a part of the relationship with women.

I think of this dialogue from the movie When Harry Met Sally:

Harry Burns: You realize of course that we could never be friends.
Sally Albright: Why not?
Harry Burns: What I’m saying is – and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form – is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.
Sally Albright: That’s not true. I have a number of men friends and there is no sex involved.
Harry Burns: No you don’t.
Sally Albright: Yes I do.
Harry Burns: No you don’t.
Sally Albright: Yes I do.
Harry Burns: You only think you do.
Sally Albright: You say I’m having sex with these men without my knowledge?
Harry Burns: No, what I’m saying is they all WANT to have sex with you.
Sally Albright: They do not.
Harry Burns: Do too.
Sally Albright: They do not.
Harry Burns: Do too.
Sally Albright: How do you know?
Harry Burns: Because no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.
Sally Albright: So, you’re saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?
Harry Burns: No. You pretty much want to nail ‘em too.
Sally Albright: What if THEY don’t want to have sex with YOU?
Harry Burns: Doesn’t matter because the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.
Sally Albright: Well, I guess we’re not going to be friends then.
Harry Burns: I guess not.
Sally Albright: That’s too bad. You were the only person I knew in New York.

[sigh] That’s too bad. You were the only person I knew at the office. 🙂

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  1. Women who show cleavage are whores. So if a woman wants to look as whorish as possible, she should show alot of cleavage. If a woman wants to look less like a whore, then she should show less cleavage. To men, a woman showing cleavage is easier to trick them into having sex with them.

  2. Easily, the post is actually the best on this deserving topic. I fit in with your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your upcoming updates.

  3. Interesting article. Not sure if I agree with all of it and certainly disagree with RP. I do not think we can judge women in that way.

  4. RP – I like your comment_content.

    Folks, I heard about a mcomment_IDdle school-age boy who couldn’t concentrate on his test because the girl sitting directly across from him was showing quite a bit of cleavage. Yes — mcomment_IDdle school.

    About the only freedom us women now have with our bodies is the freedom to display it to all of the males.

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