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.