Under the Wire
An uplifting look at brassieres
Let’s face it: bosoms have been enticing men ever since Eve first tempted Adam in the Garden of Eden. But it wasn’t until the ancient Greeks came along in about 2500 BC that “the girls” finally got the recognition they deserved. Greek men worshipped the female form and Grecian ladies played up their assets by wearing bras—displaying their breasts in ways no toga could.
Apparently, the trend caught on. Today, there are bra styles ad infinitum. There are racerback, T-shirt, strapless, padded, lace, wireless, push-up, athletic, full coverage, plunge, demi-cup—and don’t forget ones for maternity and nursing.
My own personal memory of my first “underpinnings” goes back to Camp Madeleine Mulford Girl Scout Camp when I was 12 years old. I was about to enter seventh grade, on the cusp of womanhood, and everyone I knew was getting a bra. Even though all was quiet on my pre-nubile front, it was too embarrassing to continue wearing undershirts after sixth grade. Over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder or not, my time was nigh. And so my mother took me to Lord & Taylor to get my first “trainer.” Designed for girls with the same attributes as mine, it was a bra for flatties—no cup, just a sheath of stretchy cotton. The problem was that I had nothing to fill it, and therefore, nothing to keep it in place. Every time I raised my arms, the bra rode up my chest. Great. Nothing like a double whammy for the nubie—uncomfortable and humiliating.
But the most embarrassing moment came when I had to change into my bathing suit for a swim in the camp’s frigid lake. As both arms went up to wiggle out of my T-shirt, and my new bra wiggled around my neck, I heard one of the other campers titter, “You’re a carpenter’s dream!” Whatever that had to do with my body I had no idea back then. Now I know. Very funny.
More recently, I attended a cocktail party and a group of friends started talking about bras. (C’mon, what’s left after the trade imbalance has been solved?) It was time to return to basics and be upfront with one another. I boldly asked, “How do you wash your bras?”
One girlfriend said she washes hers in the shower. Others said they wash theirs by hand. Some cleave to their washer’s delicate cycle, using cold water and fancy soap; while others let it all hang out, turning the dial right up to light wash/air dry. (I could only wonder: What would Marilyn do?)
I decided to seek expert advice—in the person of the manager at the local Victoria’s Secret—to uncover what I could about the all-encompassing world of brassieres.
“Women should be measured every six to nine months,” my newfound breast friend informed me, “regardless of weight gain or loss, because hormones and seasons can affect bra size.” Clearly, I was in for a cram session. “In addition, a woman’s bra size depends on push-up, padding, and fit. You can have an ideal-size chest, but bras themselves can vary, requiring what we call ‘sister sizes.’ For instance, you could be a 34C, but according to the bra style, you might go down to a 32D, or up to a 36B.” Who knew?
Which is why I surveyed both men and women to help get a grip on just what it is about two particulars of the female anatomy that set them above all others.