The answer: Because they can.
It would be easy to explain away this question as a case of availability bias: Lots of people sunbathe topless, but it’s only the rich and famous ones who capture our attention. Photos of a half-nude and apricating royal—Kate Middleton, perhaps, or Princess Di—are more likely to make the papers than a picture of the Explainer’s nudist cousin Linda. If a model like Heidi Klum or Kate Moss gets caught on camera topless, it’s not because stars like these are more inclined to flash but because they’re under perpetual surveillance, and because people would like to see them without their clothes.
It could also be that rich and famous women have the means to visit places where going topless is expected. If they’re stripping down on the French Riviera, that’s because they happen to be on the French Riviera—not because they like to strip. But this response brings up the question of why the French Riviera (where rich people tend to go) is so forgiving of breast exposure to begin with. Nor can the availability bias elucidate the link between topless fashion and social class. In fact, there’s a long history behind the wealthy, public bosom: The rich have been taking off their tops for centuries.
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