Scan the magazine racks. You can't help noticing them. Charlize Theron's are revealed on May's Esquire. Jennifer Aniston's tease from the cover of Vanity Fair. And they have been popping up on TV and in movies--Jennifer Lopez's, if you recall, made a notable appearance at the Oscars.
What gives with all the nipples?
"I think nipples are just there now as a part of fashion," says Valerie Steele, acting director of the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. "They have really become an acceptable part of fashion for at least the high-fashion and street-style worlds."
But will the trend reach the rest of America? Lori Barghini is banking on it. Last summer, Barghini plus pals Julia Cobbs and Elizabeth and Bill Glaeser launched a Web site (http://www.bodyperks.com) to sell Bodyperks--basically, erect silicone nipples ($20 a set) that are meant to be tucked inside a bra.
The quartet from Minneapolis-St. Paul sought funding for their endeavor ('A lot of people looked at us like we were nuts," Barghini recalls), then sold more than 1,000 pairs at a South Dakota motorcycle rally.
Next, they went to Vegas, where they did their own market research. "We had someone dressed really provocatively, with cleavage. And someone else in a short skirt, high heels. And then we put a girl in khakis and a nice little sweater with pearls. I mean, real prim, but wearing the Perks. Guess who gets all the attention?" asks Barghini.
The woman was wearing the pearls and the Bodyperks, according to Barghini, noting "for men, it's almost like a subliminal thing. They're drawn to it like bees to honey."
She wasn't talking about the pearls.
Last month, the Bodyperks team attended a lingerie industry show in Las Vegas and with at least one major retailer interested in the product, says Barghini, Bodyperks could be available at a lingerie department near you soon.
"Movie stars and all those in that area are a little more forward in that," says Cyndi Salat, at Schwartz's Intimate Apparel in Wilmette, Ill. "As far as the general public? For everyday [wear], they're looking for a little more coverage."
Barghini is quick to note that Bodyperks are not meant for the office or boardroom, but instead as a fun accessory. "It's to go out and be sexy and flirt," she says.
Those who consider a funky faux diamond brooch from your granny a fun accessory might not feel the same way about these faux nipples. As Steele points out, the appearance of nipples in fashion can evoke strong emotions.
"Because of the way that they stand up like that, they can be a little embarrassing because they are showing that you are having some kind of physiological response," Steele says. "So I think that in that way, they are more revealing and, therefore, maybe more taboo than cleavage. . . . The nipples are a like a blush on the breasts. I think most women would be more embarrassed or anxious about that than about other forms of breast exposure."
While Barghini calls Bodyperks a fashion accouterment and puts them in the same category as a padded bra, she also thinks a woman who has had a mastectomy or is contemplating reconstruction could try them to see if they want that look.
New Yorker Liz Carr has tried them. "I've worn them at work a couple times and about five times clubbing," says Carr, a manager at Patricia Field, an eclectic New York boutique--yes, the same Patricia Field who is costume designer for HBO's "Sex and the City."
And the reaction?
"I got a lot of looks from men and women, and a lot of women asking me about them," says Carr, who says the boutique has sold about 10 pairs in the six months they've carried them. "When I was wearing them out, I was really happy about it. . . . It's like a toy thing. A fun way to slip out of yourself and be something different."