Those who use the crude phrase to see a woman’s breakfast regard women as objects of sexual consumption.
—Cf. also the sexual meanings of ‘crumpet’ in British English.
The phrase to see a woman’s breakfast can refer:
– either to a woman’s breasts 1 as revealed for example by a very low-cut dress;
– or to (the contours of) a woman’s genitals as revealed for example by a very short skirt.
—Cf. also ‘Charlie’s dead’ (your petticoat is showing).
1 However, according to A Dictionary of Catch Phrases British and American, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day (Taylor & Francis, 2005), by Eric Partridge and Paul Beale, “you can see their breakfasts (= their navels) is said of girls wearing very low-cut dresses”.
The earliest occurrence of to see a woman’s breakfast that I have found is from A Glasgow Gang Observed (London: Eyre Methuen, 1973), by James Patrick, the pseudonym of a lecturer in educational psychology—this is the relevant passage, as published in The Observer (London, England) of Sunday 28th January 1973:
By now it was nearly 10 o’clock and Baggy suggested going to the Granada Dance Hall. Pat and I filled up membership forms, Pat ostentatiously paid over the cash and we were in. […]
The girls looked superb in the half light; some wore lime green trouser-suits, some daring backless dresses, and others ‘sexy wee black froaks.’ Pat commented, as he pushed forward and was pushed back by the girls, that some dresses were so low, ‘Ye can see their breakfasts.’
The following is an extract from Cross Stitch (London: Century, 1991), by the U.S. author Diana Gabaldon (born 1952)—as reissued by Arrow Books, London, in 2004:
‘That’s how a fortune-teller works, you know. I do it for the church fête every year – or did, before the war; suppose I’ll do it again now. But a girl comes into the tent – and there am I, done up in a turban with a peacock feather borrowed from Mr Donaldson, and “robes of oriental splendour” – that’s the minister’s dressing gown, all over peacocks it is and yellow as the sun – anyway, I look her over while I pretend to be watching her hand, and I see she’s got her blouse cut down to her breakfast, cheap scent, and earrings down to her shoulders. I needn’t have a crystal ball to be tellin’ her she’ll have a child before the next year’s fête.’
The following is from the tabloid newspaper Weekend Herald (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Saturday 19th July 2003:
It looks like Serena Williams 2 is not just a champ at Wimbledon; the 21 year old is also a stunner off court.
The curvaceous lady picked up her Female Athlete of the Year prize when she arrived at the ESPY Awards 3 in Los Angeles looking glam in a slashed to the waist and split to the crotch hot pink number.
(If you look closely you can almost see her breakfast).
This is one athlete who won’t have to rely on public appearance fees when her tennis career is over—which probably won’t be for a long time yet—she is currently launching her own fashion firm catering for the well-rounded figure.
SEEIN’ SERENA: New fashion label launching soon
2 Serena Jameka Williams (born 1981) is a U.S. tennis player.
3 ESPY Awards is short for Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Awards.
The phrase also occurs in the review by Michael Coveney—published on Wednesday 18th June 2014 in WhatsOnStage—of the production of Hobson’s Choice 4 by the theatre director Nadia Fall at the Open Air Theatre, London:
Jodie McNee is a blazing furnace of tactical determination as Maggie, a fearsome prophet of the dominion of women. She exploits the mishap in the cellar to her advantage, enlisting the merchant’s son, Freddy Beenstock (Leon Williams), and the lawyer, Albert Prosser (Jordan Metcalfe), to wangle dowries for her sisters.
Those sisters, Vicky and Alice, are nicely contrasted by Hannah Britland and Nadia Clifford, and all three represent a dangerous sort of “uppishness” to Hobson since their mother died; does he really say that their skirts are so short he can see their breakfasts?
4 Hobson’s Choice, by the English playwright and novelist Harold Brighouse (1882-1958), was first performed in 1915.
The phrase occurs on Sunday 8th October 2017 in Very short skirts when pushing 40 – do you…?, a discussion thread on mumsnet, a website for parents in the United Kingdom:
NannyRed Sun 08-Oct-17 12:29:44
Are you one of those people that gets offended on other people’s behalf? A size 26 18yo wearing leggings stretched so tight you can see her breakfast DOES NOT look nice, but if she’s happy then why is it up to me to tell her she looks lovely when she looks shit?