I Suffer From Post Traumatic Bra Stress Disorder

Tiptoe, through the binders...

I read an article recently about an entrepreneur whose chain of bra shops is rapidly expanding across the country.  Her stores emphasize measuring and custom fitting for each woman.

As I read, my hands started shaking.  I broke into a cold sweat.  The years melted away, and it was as if I was 12 again.

My mom had decided it was time I got a bra, so she took me to Sam’s.  This Sam’s had nothing to with Wal-Mart.  It was one of those independent department stores that every downtown used to have.

Down the curving staircase we went, to the ladies lingerie and foundation department.  A tiny, old, bird-like lady named Mrs. Morse was absolute ruler of this silk and spandex kingdom.  She had started work at Sam’s in the age of the horsehair bustle, and knew everything there was to know about foundation garments.  She must have been 97 years old. 

At 12, I was almost twice the lady’s size: gawky, chubby and awkward.

I was whisked into a curtained dressing room and ordered to strip from the waist up.  Then Mrs. Morse got busy with her tape measure.  Every inch of my pale, quivering flesh was mercilessly prodded and measured.   All the while she and my mom talked about breasts and bras in general, and my little offerings in particular.   Then she left me cowering in the corner and went to round up some of her stock-in-trade.

I wanted a stretchy undershirt like most girls my age wore.  Unlike most 12 year olds, however, I had some development going on.  I did not like it.  Nobody wants to be the first in the class to board the Puberty Express; nor do you want to be the last.  Different is fatal at 12.

Mrs. Morse brought back several spandex instruments of torture and bade me put one on.  I struggled into it and was checking myself out in the full-length mirror with a combination of fascination and horror, when the curtain was suddenly wrenched back.  Both my mother and Mrs. Morse crowded into the open doorway, and started stretching and tweaking as if my bra-clad bumps were on a mannequin, instead of being firmly attached to my blushing, mortified self. 

With the curtain drawn back, the dressing room was open to the entire rest of the floor.  Anyone walking through the foundation department could get a good look.   What if, God forbid, a BOY happened by?  I ducked and covered, sputtering “How about a little privacy, please!”  Both women looked puzzled by my distress: what was the big deal?

It seemed like hours before the experts were satisfied but finally I, and my newly confined jumbly bits, were allowed to escape.  

Sam’s has been closed for many years.  Mrs. Morse has long since gone to the big Lingerie Department In the Sky.  If God is really a woman, I’m sure Mrs. Morse is now taking care of all Her foundation garment needs. 

And while I wish nothing but the best for the entrepreneur in the article, I won’t be shopping at any of her stores.  Some of us were born to walk a solitary path through the brassiere garden of life.

*The lovely painting Woman In A Garden is a work by Daniel Ridgway Knight.  The brassiere embellishment is not original to the painting.

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About pegoleg

R-A-M-B-L-I-N-G-S, Ram...Blin!
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46 Responses to I Suffer From Post Traumatic Bra Stress Disorder

  1. Jackie says:

    “Different is fatal at 12.” – perfect.

    This entire experience sounds just terrible. Absolutely mortifying. My condolences to your 12-year-old self.

    I used to work bra wardrobe at Victoria’s Secret, and I expected everyone to be as sheepish as I am about public nudity, but I’ll tell ya – those ladies ripped off their clothes like they were on a game show and getting money to do it. It was alarming.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      I appreciate your appreciation of the humiliation. Expect a thank you note from my 12-year-old self.

      But I’m curious – what game shows are you watching where they rip off their clothes for money?

      Like

  2. egills says:

    I quiver in horror of the memory of my last fitting ending in me running screaming out of the shop! ( fully clothed by then ) and I now live by Gok’s famous line of “if you can lift more than an inch then it doesn’t fit” 😐

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  3. bigsheepcommunications says:

    I too suffered the pain of boarding the puberty express a little early. Our local store was called Evensons and I not only had to get my first bra there, but also the mortifying gym suits we had to wear in junior high school. Ahhhh, flashback!

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  4. Crap. I had blocked this out. Now you’ve gone and dredged it up and I’ll have to write a book about it. I was particularly haunted by the part about the totally strange, mean, brusque old lady with a tape measurer around her neck (you didn’t say that, but that’s where it was on my lady) yanking the curtain aside so she and my mother could gawk. Ugh.

    Why are bra ladies always so mean? (No offense, Jackie.)

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  5. I didn’t “need” a bra until I was 16…I desperately wanted to though, from the time I was 10…

    Luckily, I didn’t have a “Sam’s” experience…I just wore whatever my mom brought home for me.

    Much later, I remember shopping for a maternity bra with my younger brother in tow (he was 22 at the time)…he was actually getting into it (he’s straight!): “This one’s nice…” Fun times!

    Wendy

    P.S. So glad you included the disclaimer about the painting…

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      I bet not needing a bra was just as traumatic as needing one- it’s all about running with the pack in those early teen years.

      Hmmm, the shopping experience with your brother sounds just a little…off. But I’m not judging.

      Like

  6. SilverLining says:

    **chuckle**
    had some early bra-experiences myself……..starting to borrow them from my mom wasn’t that good an idea! And yes, I did play Highschool-basketball at that time….talking about jumbly-bits trying to escape a non-fitting bra……….
    It all worked out though….very understanding mom who went with me and let me choose color and style 🙂 I still VERY much appreciate nice underwear, thank you mom!

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      You must be a lot younger than I if your first experience involved a choice of color and style. Back in the day, bras were like model Ts – any color you wanted, as long as it was white. (Although black may have been available as well, my mother would have shielded my eyes from such decadence.)

      Like

      • SilverLining says:

        1971 🙂

        Like

        • pegoleg says:

          Me, too! 12 in 1971. Were you in the next dressing room at Sam’s?

          Like

        • SilverLining says:

          sorry to say I wasn’t, seems like I missed out on some fun 😉
          nope, my bra-introduction took place in one of Holland’s finer undergarment shops (I’m Dutch ;-)) where the lovely lady and my mom both laughed at the story of me lending my mom’s bra to start with…..how red in the face can you get??
          after that some measurements took place and I was directed to the dressing room and mom and her stockpiled me with all the possibilities in ladies undergarments…….I felt awkward all the time because they brought them in one by one and yes…..it was a curtained cubicle…..see the curtain opening and closing?? I kept jumping aside each time a new bra was thrust my way and the discarded ones were taken away…. I do remeber that first bra though 🙂 it had a soft feel to it (T-model I am sure) and was dotted with tiny pink flowers (pink is still my fav color ;-)) and I got matching panties with them 🙂 I walked on air when we left the store and my ordeal was over…

          Like

  7. Jane says:

    Wow! That sounds awful. I had my first fitting at V.S. at 40. They sent me home with bras so tight I could hardly breath. My breasts were up in the vicinity of my collarbones. I took them back and bought some sensible, 3 hook, padded strap numbers at Kohl’s.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Kind of like the sensible number your sister gave my daughter this past weekend???

      Like

      • Tar-Buns says:

        What’s that? Bra exchange at your cookout last weekend? By the way, how was that? Did you get all done on your list? Do tell, inquiring minds want to know! 🙂

        Like

        • Jane says:

          Cook out was great! Peg got the “good” hotdogs and made a fab cherry cake!

          Liz got some really swell graduation gifts from her Schulte Aunts.

          Good times!

          Like

        • pegoleg says:

          It was fab. The aunts gave Liz all sorts of delightful chatchkes (couldn’t even find that word in the dictionary, sorry) including a huge, bright pink and black lace push-up, strapless bra and rhumba panties.

          Like

  8. Lance Ponder says:

    As a voyeuristic male visiting this post I can tell you, at 12 my curiosity was still a servant to my revulsion of cooties. Guys have their own problems, but a wardrobe foundation is rarely one of them. I will add, however, that I find this story thoroughly amusing even though I’m quite sure you are sincere about the trauma you experienced at the time. It is a glorious thing to be able to laugh at one’s self – the real tragedy would be if you remained in trauma.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Love the line about your curiosity still being a servant to your revulsion of cooties at 12!

      What’s the old saying….embarassing experiences + time = humor. Kind of like childbirth. God’s amnesia kicks in and we only remember the joyful miracle part, not the back-breaking pain.

      Like

  9. Indy says:

    I love this article!!! Makes me realize that when it comes to a bra, I’m still my old 12 self at 38 🙂

    Like

  10. bigsheepcommunications says:

    Jumbly bits?? Did you make that up?

    Like

  11. Tar-Buns says:

    You crack me up, Peg. I remember that tiny old Lady at Sam’s. I don’t remember being fitted by her – maybe I blocked it out. I was pretty well endowed by 8th grade, mostly I know from pictures of family events, like Carolyn’s First Communion. What was more humiliating in my memory was going to the Chubbette Store to find a dress for said occasions. Wish I was smaller now so I didn’t have to always wear a brassiere in the hot weather. Oh, the mamories… I mean memories 🙂

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Having even worse flashbacks now. Shudder, shudder. I believe it was the Chubbette department at the Sub-Deb store. Who would NAME a place like that? I was mortified just to walk into that place. Was their motto “leave your self-esteem at the door?”

      Like

      • Tar-Buns says:

        I think you’ve hit on something that many years of therapy couldn’t uncover (kidding). It was the early shopping experiences of my life that turned me away from clothes shopping! And, I was pretty darn good looking then. I think I would be the “normal” size teenage girl today.

        But not in the magazines. That’s another topic.

        Like

  12. Al says:

    Maybe if the bra Nazi had still been alive, she could have prevented Janet Jackson’s calamitous “wardrobe malfunction.” One has to wonder.

    Like

  13. Sandy Sue says:

    I started wearing huge, baggy sweatshirts in 5th grade to hide the jumbly bits. Even in summer, I’d sweat to death before showing any curvage. My first bra expedition was exactly like yours, complete with Mom flinging open the curtain. Hmm. This is probably why I won’t try bras on (so they never fit) and prefer sports bras that keep everything tight and tucked away (the 21st century equivalent of a sweatshirt).

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      1) Huge baggy sweatshirts – check (huge baggy T-shirts in summer)
      2) Emotionally damaging first foundational experience – check
      3) Uber-tight sports bras for maximum tuckage – check
      Wait a minute, are you really me? Has anyone ever seen the two of us together?

      Like

  14. lexy3587 says:

    lol… i didn’t have that awful first-bra experience, apart from being damnably early (and therefore the first) in the group of girls in my class. However, they soon caught up and then overpassed, and I spent highschool and part of university being snootily directed to the ‘pre-teen’ section of the store when I asked for my size. Nothing like the ridicule of a busty store-clerk (who was probably wearing the type of pretty lacy bra I couldn’t find in my own size) to make you feel like you’re a decade behind in body shape than you ought to be 🙂

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      What was going on in the chest-department may be the single, biggest determinant of body image in girls 12-15 years old, and that self-image stays with you. Aren’t we humans strange?

      Like

  15. I’m traumatized for you. When I was this age I never considered girls were paying such close attention to this. I thought only we boys noticed the jumbly bits.

    Like

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