A travel advertisement aired on the radio in Italy states that it is "perfectly legal" to be topless in New York City; is this true?

The ad doesn't say anything else useful to the question.

  • 5
    So why aren't there tons of Italians coming to NY and bearing themselves?
    – Octopus
    Dec 11, 2014 at 18:47
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    @Octopus: I suspect there are more people interested in seeing others topless than in being topless themselves. Both, either, or neither could be attracted by the ad ;-) If there aren't tons of topless Italians in NY then I guess it's some combination of the time of year and there only being a smallish number of Italians in the first place who can't find anywhere else to get topless. Dec 11, 2014 at 19:37
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    Potentially not perfectly legal, depending on how "perfectly" is defined. Toplessness in and of itself is legal. If done to demonstrate lewdness or incite public disturbance or similar, then toplessness can be cited as a cause. It can depend on total circumstances. And New York is similar to many other places in that respect. Dec 12, 2014 at 1:55
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    @Octopus the ad was aimed to Christmas vacation. Expect them soon enough :D Thanks for the input user2338816
    – Ciacciu
    Dec 12, 2014 at 9:21
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    I just saw a news article where the daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore was top-free on Lexington Ave., as part of her support of the Free the Nipple campaign. Video was cencored, though.
    – JDługosz
    Dec 13, 2014 at 9:00

1 Answer 1


Yes it is perfectly legal.

This is based on the Santorelli case, in which Ramona Santorelli was arrested for baring in public "that portion of the breast which is below the top of the areola". She was acquitted after the case went to the New York Court of Appeals (the highest court in New York) in 1992 on the grounds of equal protection. Since then there have been many similar cases decided the same way.

In February 2013, the New York City Police Department issued a command to all its officers through their daily roll call. It reminded officers that they are not to cite or arrest a woman for public lewdness, indecent exposure or any other section of the Penal Law for “simply exposing their breasts in public".

There are plenty of references for this:

  • 13
    @Ciacciu There is similar case law in Ontario. You'd be wrong if you imagined that women (or men) often take advantage of this law: i.e. although it's legal it is socially so unusual that it's basically non-existent.
    – ChrisW
    Dec 11, 2014 at 14:26
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    Also, much like many activities that are legal in and of themselves, they can be cited as aspects of illegal activities if they are needlessly disruptive. Much like the difference between free speech and yelling "fire" in a crowded movie theater, I believe there have been people cited for being confrontational with their toplessness since the ruling. Dec 11, 2014 at 15:21
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    @Ciacciu Yes, I added that not because it's a bad question but because the source of the claim was a "travel advertisement": an advertisement which said, "go to New York because it's legal to be topless there" would be a bit deceptive as well as being true. The case law happens because of equal rights: i.e. because it's not illegal for men therefore it's not illegal for women.
    – ChrisW
    Dec 11, 2014 at 15:30
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    @DVK: Because some people aren't quite as wild as they want people to think they are. :)
    – cHao
    Dec 11, 2014 at 16:18
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    @Ciacciu A law saying it's legal for women to be topless didn't "come into being". Instead what happened was: a) "Equal Protection Clause" passed as a constitutional amendment in the 19th century; b) woman arrested and convicted for violating "Penal Law § 245.01 (exposure of a person)"; c) on appeal, argues to the appeal court that law § 245.01 is unconstitutional because it violates the "Equal Protection Clause"; d) appeal court agrees and overturns the conviction. It's case law, i.e. precedent.
    – ChrisW
    Dec 11, 2014 at 17:38

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