Is 'business cleavage' ever appropriate?

Thanks to <em>Project Runway</em>, there’s a new style trend: business cleavage. (Photo: Lifetime)
Thanks to Project Runway, there’s a new style trend: business cleavage. (Photo: Lifetime)

Project Runway may have inadvertently introduced a new style trend: business cleavage.

Season 16 of the Lifetime reality television show is dedicated to size diversity, and its models range from size 2 to 16. During the Thursday premiere, called “One Size Does Not Fit All,” designers accepted a one-day challenge to create various looks using J.C. Penney accessories. While pinning a piece of black fabric on a mannequin, Samantha Rei, a 36-year-old designer from Minneapolis, remarked, “I want her to have a little bit of cleavage but have it be like, business cleavage,” earning a laugh from her teammate.

The idea resonated with judge Zac Posen, who after the show tweeted, “‘Business cleavage’ is the new slogan of the season. Who’s with me?”

Fans of the show seemed to approve.

Rei’s creation — which she described to judge Tim Gunn as “badass” — was a black V-neck dress. While her model wasn’t a fan of the look, calling it “matronly,” the designer advanced to the next round.

The whole situation did raise one very important question though: Is it ever appropriate to show cleavage during the day or at work? Is ‘business cleavage’ a thing?

That depends on whom you ask, says Shatonia Amee, a fashion director and wardrobe stylist for The Curvy Revolution magazine. “Some women, especially plus-size women, have obvious cleavage no matter what they wear, and those who want to cover it have limited options,” she tells Yahoo Style. “For example, a high neckline or a boat-neck top can make a curvy woman look boxy.”

Designer Samantha Rei who coined the term “business cleavage. (Photo: Lifetime)
Designer Samantha Rei who coined the term “business cleavage. (Photo: Lifetime)

Women could always throw on a cardigan or wear a chunky necklace if they’re self-conscious about revealing too much or wear a top that shows their neck, shoulders, and upper chest to distract from the bust line.

However, the idea that any body part would be inappropriate to show in the first place is arbitrary and problematic, says Marie Denee, founder of the Curvy Fashionista and the TCFStyle Expo.

“These rules are created without taking varying body types into consideration,” she tells Yahoo Style. “We often hear about teens violating their school dress codes, however there’s a different set of rules if the person is plus-size.”

Project Runway‘s size-inclusive season is a step forward, but according to Denee, the diverse model lineup will pose a new challenge. “It will be interesting to see how the designers and judges gauge what’s appropriate,” she says. “They will have to rethink their own internal stereotypes about plus-size women.”

Gunn has been an outspoken advocate of size-acceptance in fashion, penning a 2016 open letter to the industry in the Washington Post called “Designers Refuse to Make Clothes to Fit American Women. It’s a Disgrace.” He wrote, “There are 100 million plus-size women in America, and, for the past three years, they have increased their spending on clothes faster than their straight-size counterparts. There is money to be made here ($20.4 billion, up 17 percent from 2013). But many designers — dripping with disdain, lacking imagination or simply too cowardly to take a risk — still refuse to make clothes for them.”

He also called the shopping experience for a plus-size woman a “horribly insulting and demoralizing experience.”

“Tim Gunn is in an influential position to ‘make it work,’ and create change,” says Denee. “So let’s do this.”

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