Way back in the day, I worked in the lingerie department of the local store. Since we were selling ladies delicates, we were discreetly tucked back in a corner on an upper floor. It took an escalator or elevator and a store directory to find us. Not like the mall stores of today with their up-close and personal, floor-to-ceiling titillating pictorials, and in-your-face displays. Times were simpler and classier then.
Needless to say, awkward things do happen when you work in the lingerie section. Like the time we discovered that bank employees across the street had a birds-eye view into our dressing rooms. Old downtown buildings have high windows, and no one seemed to notice the bank building was taller than ours, with a bonus wall of windows. Although the fitting rooms had curtains, our nosy neighbors squinted out their 6th floor window, hoping for a slip-up- (don’t bank on it.) Unlucky for them, we spied them, spying on us, and that problem was fixed in a jiffy.
(No wonder the guy who opened my account wouldn’t look me in the eye!)
Another awkward time, a bra company decided it would be great PR to use “real” sales people in their local ads. I was the department supervisor, so when the newspaper came with its full-page ad…there I was. Oh no! No worries, I wasn’t in my skivvies or anything. I was modestly decked out in my wool suit, holding a Bali bra. The problem was, they captioned the ad as if it were a quote…
“I’ve been selling bras for years and I’ve NEVER seen a bra like this!”
OK- A couple of problems here:
1. I never said that, nor would I. I hadn’t been selling bras for years.I was twenty years old, I hadn’t even been wearing them for years!
2. I was flat. Times were lean-or at least I was, back then. I was barely out of the Jr.High joke years- “What do you have in common with a pirate? A sunken chest!” -(cue side-splitting laughter.) Or the High School years and “over the shoulder boulder holder” modesty requirement by our drill team coach. She also led us in a disturbing chant as we exercised:
We must-we must-
we must increase the bust!
The bigger the better-
the tighter the sweater-
we must-we must!
(Why people-just why?)
My sister lived in a different town, and she waited in anticipation for her copy of the newspaper. Right there on page two, a pleasingly plump, ample bosomed, middle-aged lady from their local department store, (complete with measuring tape at the ready), had the same caption and billing. Only in her case it all made perfect sense.
Lordy. My modeling debut and it was me holding Bra-Zilla with super-duty straps and sixteen hooks. I couldn’t fill half that bra! Oh why do these things always happen to me?
Then there was the unfortunate time a red-faced mama dragged her five-year-old son in, demanding I scold him about stealing because he had somehow made it out of the store with a teen training bra in a box. Yup the old box ‘o bras.
A staple of the department store back in the day.
To be fair, she had plunked him in a stroller of all things, and so they were right at eye-level for the little guy and an easy grab. In his defense, he thought it was movie candy, and I believed him. I didn’t give him a lecture either-but she gave me one…ironically, for not giving him one. She was certain he would grow up to be a thug.
Bras are more trouble than they’re worth. From the gravity defying rocket bras of the 50’s, to the bra burning 60’s, and beyond…to the new trend, the “bralette” (don’t get me started.) Bras are a real pain in the tail. Except for that one time when suddenly your underwire snaps in public, and then it’s chest pain. I was standing there just minding my own business, when out of the blue I felt a sudden sharp poke-then a jab, aimed right at my heart! (Elizabeth I’m comin’ to join ya…) Betrayal at its worst.
Attack of the Killer Underwire!
Lucky for me I don’t have implants. Heaven only knows what would have happened then.
I used to wear front-hooks, but learned the hard way a full-frontal bra malfunction is much more traumatic for everyone involved than the stealth attack of an underwire. Bruised but not defeated, I snuck somewhere private and wrangled the killer wire out. Heavy metal my foot. One wire still in/one wire out, now what? Maybe if I slouched no one would notice. It’s not that I was braless, I had backups at home. It’s just that this particular bra was a unicorn. You know what I mean. That one in a million. My favorite. And now it was dead.
To be honest, favorite is maybe too strong a word. Contrary to what the lingerie commercials depict, bras are tolerated at best. I, for one, have never sprouted wings or felt like strutting the runway after putting one on. And I don’t need the Victoria’s Secret Christmas push-up with Swarovski crystals from Santa either. No thanks, I’d rather have coal. I would settle for one that was cozy, fit well, and didn’t try to kill me.
Vintage Ad Caption: I dreamed I lived like a Queen in my Maidenform bra
For a lot of women, it’s a lifelong quest to find “the” bra. If by chance you find it, you buy out the store, only to find that the next time you need one, they’ve retired it. Every. Stinking. Time. But eternal optimists that we are, we never give up. I’m convinced that like Cinderella’s glass slipper, there must be a perfect match out there somewhere.
So I’m going unicorn shopping. Back to my old stomping grounds, the lingerie department. Preferably without windows. Or bankers. To try as many as it takes, for as long as it takes. Because this time I’m determined to find that perfect bra–or bust!
Picture credits: Christian Dior vintage ad, Charles Schultz (Charlie Brown), Bart Simpson, Austin Powers, Maidenform vintage ad, Cinderella, Bob’s Burgers