Boobs are great. They come in all colors, shapes, and sizes, and are beloved by women, men, and babies alike. And they are all the rage right now. Not just any boobs, but fun, happy, cartoon boobs. These boobs are decidedly un-porny, not particularly sexual, and pretty friendly looking. They’re design boobs and they’re coming soon to a tote bag, towel rack, or throw pillow near you.
These boobs look playful, but in a moment when women in the US are rightfully outraged by the toxic masculinity rampant in the workplace (and the White House), combined with threats on their reproductive rights, merchandise featuring female body parts in a way that seems more geared toward women than men feels particularly salient. A titty tee is less literal in its feminism than say, a “THE FUTURE IS FEMALE” t-shirt, but more direct than the subtly subversive high-necked and generously-frilled pioneer dresses the fashion world is currently rapt for.
“We definitely saw some spikes in sales around election time, and the week leading up to, and the day of the Women’s March,” said Tomra Palmer, a co-owner of the San Francisco boutique Gravel & Gold, which has been all-in on boobs since 2011. “But we’ve sold out of boob merchandise during every holiday season since we started producing it.”
This trend, now at a fever pitch in the West, has been a long time coming. In 2015, Quartz reported on how the people regulating Instagram were too easily scandalized by women’s breasts—they were being boobs about nipples, banning their exposure as obscene—and how a counter-movement was rising to #FreetheNipple. At the time, the painter Alice Lancaster had just debuted a new print for Calvin Klein—a sort of jaunty, Cubist interpretation of many boobs, pointing in all directions.
These boobs were huge! (With the fashion media.) They were feminist, and they were funny. They said f*ck off to the patriarchy, but in a way that Calvin Klein creative director Francisco Costa could easily put on a t-shirt—a t-shirt that you could wear to work or to drive your kids’ carpool, if you’re someone who wears Calvin Klein to do that.
Now, boobs like these are all over the place. Amongst a certain urbane set, cartoon boobs are as ubiquitous a design element as say, avocados or pineapples. Urban Outfitters has bought in. Mainstream media outlets have declared both 2017 and 2018 the years of boob merchandise, with titty tees, totes, and three-dimensional ceramic mugs as evidence.
Palmer says as popular as design boobs have been for her store, she feels somewhat protective of them.
“We’ve tried to remain clever and intentional about where we put this righteous print,” she wrote in an email. “We want it to retain the symbolic weight it’s gained over the last several years and keep it out of the realm of souvenir kitsch. We are aware that post-Trump election, and post-Women’s March, slogans are useful and eye catching, but that real action is required to create change and prevent backsliding into a repressive patriarchy. True feminism is far from reaching mainstream American and global culture, so bring on the boobs prints and pussy hats!”