Exposing a nipple (or two) can be a costly prospect for women in Chicago, which, when you think about it, is total crap. According to the city's municipal code, showing off "any portion of the breast at or below the upper edge of the areola thereof any female person" carries a fine of at least $100 up to as much as $500. Meanwhile, for men, it's basically no shirt, no shoes, no problem.
Local couple Robyn Graves, 30, and Michelle Lytle, 28, came up with a pretty brilliant way to subvert the law: they created a garment that makes it look like you're topless. The seed was planted a few years ago when Graves was hosting couch surfers from Amsterdam and took them for a swim in Lake Michigan. One of the girls took off her top and, as Lytle puts it, "the lifeguard went nuts." The male bay-watcher, of course, wasn't wearing a top. Her Dutch visitor was baffled. "It's weird that we just accept that [inequality] as the norm and don't think about it," Graves says.
In early June, after months of development, they got the first 700-piece shipment of the TaTa Top, a $28 flesh-toned string-bikini top with nipples printed on it. By June 27, following a flurry of international media attention, they were completely sold out. Graves and Lytle initially fielded complaints about the limited sizing and variety of skin tones, and they've since begun offering three skin tones as well as larger sizes. They even filled an order for ten from Saudi Arabia.
Some women are buying the TaTa Top to make a statement—the release happened to coincide with a surge in attention for the Free the Nipple campaign, thanks in no small part to celebrity spawn Scout Willis, who strolled topless in New York City in late May to protest Instagram's nudity policy. But Graves and Lytle have also sold tops to women who've lost their breasts to cancer. One customer wrote the couple to say she was happy to have nipples again. Through the end of July, they'd donated $5 from each sale to the Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation, and they'll be partnering with a different charity going forward.
"Even if people are just wearing this as a novelty item, the more people who see it, it desensitizes people to it," Lytle says. "Even if they just think it's funny or a joke, they're still wearing it."
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