A handbra (also hand bra or hand-bra) is a technique used by actresses, models and other entertainers to cover their nipples and areolae with their own hands or in some other way to comply with censors' guidelines, public authorities and community standards when female breasts are required to be covered in film or other media. The technique can also be used by women to cover their private parts to maintain their modesty, when they find themselves with the breasts uncovered in front of others.
Social conventions requiring females to cover their breasts in public have been widespread throughout history and across cultures. Contemporary Western cultures usually regard the exposure of the nipples and areolae as immodest and sometimes prosecute it as indecent exposure. However, the covering of the nipples and areolae in some manner is regarded as sufficient to maintain modesty and decency, at least within the letter if not the spirit of the censors' guidelines.
At the start of the 20th century, the use of the handbra was not very popular or common in European or American cinema, where toplessness and nudity was quite common. In the 1930s, the Hays Code brought an end to nudity in all its forms, including toplessness, in Hollywood films. To remain within the censors' guidelines or community standards of decency and modesty, breasts of actresses in an otherwise topless scene were required to be covered, especially the nipples and areolae, with their hands (using a handbra gesture), arms, towel, pasties, some other object, or the angle of the body in relation to the camera.
Full nudity in film and toplessness, consisting of fully uncovered breasts, became more common in cinema after the 1960s, after which the use of the handbra technique or other obvious covering became less necessary and even passé or odd.
Similar community standards applied in other media, with female models being required to at least cover their breasts in some way.
The handbra technique became less common and an unnecessary pose in early 20th century European and American pinup postcard media as toplessness and nudity became more common. In America, after bare breasts become repressed in mainstream media circa 1930, the handbra became an increasingly durable pose, especially as more widespread American pinup literature emerged in the 1950s. Once bare breasts became common in pinup literature, after the early 1960s, the handbra pose became less necessary. As with pinup magazines of the 1950s, the handbra pose was a mainstay of late 20th century mainstream media, especially lad mags, such as FHM, Maxim, and Zoo Weekly, that prominently feature photos of scantily clad B movie actresses and models, and which avoid topless and nude glamour photography.
Examples include Brigitte Bardot (1955, 1971), Elizabeth Taylor in a Playboy magazine pictorial from the set of Cleopatra, Peggy Moffitt modeling Rudi Gernreich's topless maillot and how Life magazine handled the story (1964), and the emergence of handbras in publications such as the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue by model Elle MacPherson (1989).
Toward the end of the 20th century, the handbra appeared on numerous celebrity magazine covers. These include Janet Jackson's appearance on the September 1993 cover of Rolling Stone, which later named it their "Most Popular Cover Ever". In Bikini Science terms, the second pair of hands in this image significantly advance the cases of the handbra beyond what is possible by a single poser. The hands may operate alone or in conjunction of the wearer of the bra, and themselves have a wide range of differentiation, e.g., by sex, age, color. A second pair of hands accelerates the image to not just a costume or a pose, but also a situation.
In July 1994, Ronald Reagan's daughter Patti Davis appeared on the cover of Playboy with another model covering her breasts. Photographer Raphael Mazzucco created an eight-woman handbra on the cover of the 2006 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and a photo of Marisa Miller covering her breasts with her arms and her vulva with an iPod in the 2007 Swimsuit Issue.
The handbra was the subject of a pointed parody advertisement for Holding Your Own Boobs magazine performed by Sarah Michelle Gellar and Will Ferrell on the May 15, 1999 episode of Saturday Night Live. The infamous braless pose was featured in raunchy music video "HandBra" performed by Sensual Sutton.
There is a brassiere named the "handbra" that is fashioned in the shape of hands as a parody of the technique. Lady Gaga wore one in the music video for her 2013 single "Applause".