“Pineapple!,” my friend once whispered to me urgently as we stood among a group of strangers at a party in London. It was our code word, and in this instance she was telling me that my pastie had come loose and the outline of a small erect nipple could be seen through my satin dress. I rushed to the bathroom to re-adjust my outfit and protect my modesty. The flesh-colored sticker meant to control and flatten my nips had lost its stickiness, so I licked the underside, re-applied it, and prayed it would stay in place for the rest of the evening.

Ten years later, the reality-TV star turned mogul Kim Kardashian, through her lingerie-and-basics line, Skims, has brought out a new bra with fake nipples built into it, to give you the exact look we’ve all been taking great pains to avoid. The whiplash is akin to what everyone in Mean Girls must have felt when Regina George decided to strut around North Shore High in a shirt with chest holes cut out of it. And, like in Mean Girls, people have seemingly embraced the trend without skipping a beat.

The snafu that spawned a trend, thanks to Mean Girls’s Regina George.

It helps that Kardashian, who has 364 million followers on Instagram, filmed what turned out to be a viral video introducing the nipple-push-up bra. “The earth’s temperature is getting hotter and hotter,” says a bespectacled, nipple-bra-clad, sexy-librarian-esque Kardashian in the video. “The sea levels are rising. The ice sheets are melting. And I’m not a scientist. But I do believe everyone can use their skill set to do their part. That’s why I’m introducing a brand-new bra with a built-in nipple. So no matter how hot it is, you’ll always look cold. Some days are hard. But these nipples are harder. And unlike the icebergs, these aren’t going anywhere.” Let that sink in for a moment.

Apart from making little rational sense, the video also pissed off a lot of climate activists. Comments on the video included “That’s probably the dumbest thing to come up with” and “I’m at a loss for words,” with praise of any sort—the comedian Katherine Ryan wrote “loving your work babe”—being very much in the minority.

And yet, less than two weeks after its debut, on Halloween, the nipple bra was completely out of stock, in all sizes (30 to 44, A to F) and colors (including “sand,” “sienna,” and “onyx”). Seemingly every influencer under the sun was singing its praises, filming videos of themselves looking like they’d had overnight boob jobs. Kim Kardashian might just have her hardened nipples on the pulse.

“Some days are hard. But these nipples are harder.”

The nipple itself is not unaccustomed to controversy, and throughout history it has gone in and out of fashion. The primary role of the nipple in society has seemingly always been in conflict between a maternal one and a sexual one, much like women themselves, who are so often categorized as either Madonna or whore.

Madonna at a Jean-Paul Gaultier fashion-show benefit in Los Angeles, 1992.

In art, nipples are regularly seen as a symbol of fertility. Diana of Ephesus, also known as Artemis, was a fertility goddess from classical mythology and is sometimes depicted with dozens of breasts. The Virgin Mary is regularly seen with her breast out in artwork, the baby Jesus either being breastfed or sitting beside her exposed chest.

Agnès Sorel (also known as Dame de Beauté, or Lady of Beauty), King Charles VII of France’s mistress, allegedly had her gowns tailored to expose her favorite breast (the left), leading her rivals to accuse her of destroying the modesty of the French people.

One of the most famously nipple-centric works of art is the 16th century’s Gabrielle d’Estrées and One of Her Sisters, which depicts one of the women in the painting pinching her sister’s nipple between her thumb and forefinger. While this was originally most likely intended as a symbol of fertility (perhaps with erotic undertones), in the 19th century the Louvre covered the work with a sheet because of its risqué content, reflecting the constantly changing view of nipples. (The painting is on view today, sans covering.)

Gabrielle d’Estrées and One of Her Sisters, painted by an unknown artist from the Fontainebleau School in 1594 and currently residing in the Louvre.

In Delacroix’s painting Liberty Leading the People, from the 19th century, the mother of France is portrayed with her breasts out. Later, Manet’s Olympia (currently on view at New York’s Met) caused a scandal in France, with many seeing it as vulgar for the way the artist realistically depicted a naked sex worker, a world apart from the etherial, mythical nudes people were used to. It was re-created in person in the 1960s by Carolee Schneemann, amid the sexual revolution and the feminist movement, as women attempted to reclaim their bodies.

The whiplash is akin to what everyone in Mean Girls must have felt when Regina George decided to strut around North Shore High in a shirt with chest holes cut out of it.

Even within my lifetime, I’ve witnessed several cultural shifts around the nipple. When I was a teenager, the third page of England’s most widely read newspaper, The Sun, featured a topless model offering her opinion on current affairs. A campaign to remove the feature was unsuccessful until 2015.

And in 2004, Justin Timberlake famously tore the front of Janet Jackson’s top off, exposing her during their Super Bowl halftime performance while singing, “gonna have you naked by the end of this song.” The wardrobe malfunction effectively ended Jackson’s career, while having seemingly little implication for Timberlake.

Shalom Harlow in John Galliano, 1997.

Then there’s the “free the nipple” campaign, which took off in the 2010s and has become known for its topless protests and efforts to de-sexualize women’s nipples.

In the 1990s, designers often opted to display the nipple—see John Galliano’s Dior Haute Couture autumn-winter 1997–98 show, featuring an essentially topless Shalom Harlow channeling “Mata Hari in Bagatelle”—and stars followed suit, with the sheer dress Kate Moss wore to a party in London, showing just her underwear and bare skin underneath, becoming an instant classic.

Agnès Sorel, the mistress of King Charles VII of France, allegedly had her gowns tailored to expose her favorite breast (the right).

Now, with the 90s back in fashion, we’ve seen a resurgence of nipple-displaying garb, from stars including Florence Pugh, Rihanna, Suki Waterhouse, and Cara Delevingne, the latter two of whom have arguably made it part of their personal brand to be rocking a visible nipple at all times.

Women are suddenly asking their boyfriends if they think nipples are hot, and asking their work friends whether they could get away with not wearing a bra to the office. In some ways, Kim’s nipple bra just feels like the coming-out party of a long-germinating trend.

The sheer dress Kate Moss wore to an Elite Model Management party in 1993 became an instantly classic.

But while it might seem like we’ve come far in the acceptance of nipples, women’s breasts are still so sexualized that mothers often receive grief for breastfeeding their babies in public. Even Kim’s nipple-bra video channels provocativeness over empowerment—this is, after all, the same woman who used a sex tape to launch her career. It all feels a long way from the paintings that worshipped the Madonna for feeding her baby.

In some ways, Kim’s nipple bra just feels like the coming-out party of a long-germinating trend.

I’m not sure the nipple will ever escape the duality of its existence. So we might as well embrace it.

Gone are the days of nipple pasties—I now regularly wear tops that show what’s underneath. Some tops suit just a bit of nip, and with the nipple bra, the tiny- and huge-breasted among us can reap the benefits once allotted only to owners of a perfectly perky pair.

And while Kardashian might not have intended for it to be used for this purpose, the nipple bra is being heralded by those who no longer have nipples following breast-cancer surgeries.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring—as we’ve seen many times before, the fashion faux pas of yesterday could very well be the trend of tomorrow. Maybe one day, Kardashian will be releasing spanx with visible panty lines, or knickers with built-in camel toes.

For now, Kim’s bras allow every woman to enter a room nipple-first.

Flora Gill is a London-based writer