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Confessions of a Reluctant Bra Buyer


Buying bras has never ranked high on my list of exciting ways to spend money.

I had distilled the process to a simple jog to the lingerie department twice a year to replenish my stockpile. I would flash a color and style number and the salesclerk would hand me the product: a flesh-colored bra with a flower embroidered on the front and two hooks in the back.

I had isolated this ideal specimen after years of experimentation. It was comfortable, impossible to ruin in the washing machine and invisible beneath a white shirt. Perfect. Then one day the salesclerk shook her head. Style 8264 had been discontinued.

In a daze, I moved past the "bra table," a bunch of merchandise scattered on a countertop, and looked to the surrounding racks for a glimmer of salvation.

I stood frozen in front of the Ballys, staring at row after row of cottons, nylons, silks and wires, each hanging jauntily by its straps.

Suddenly, I was reliving puberty, hiding behind my mother, intimidated by the array of breast-supporting options. Those big, rounded cups looked proud, as if daring me to prove I was woman enough to wear them.

When a saleswoman peeked around the Warners rack, I snapped back to reality. When I saw her pull out a cloth tape measure and some chalk, I cringed. This was personal. I had to do this on my own.

I could muster only a shred of excitement over the chance to update my lingerie look. I wanted a cross between the Lycra sheath that flattens me to a pancake when I go jogging and the little lace-and-satin number so skimpy that it offers as much coverage worn backward as forward. Was that being too picky?

Lest I discriminate against any deserving styles, I took a variety into the dressing room: front closures and back, whites and powder-blues, underwires upon underwires. (Unless I wanted a training bra, there was nary a wireless cup to be found.)

After fumbling for 10 minutes to get the first one off one of those hangers with the little slits that anchor the straps, I finally set it free and got it on. My breasts pointed forward like matching plastic funnels. From the side, I looked like a Klingon. Next . . .

I moved on to a push-up bra, admiring its shape before trying it on. The mirror betrayed that tactic. My newly won cleavage was up around my chin.

I tried another. And another, slowly working my way through the pile. The only possibility was a little too big. Maybe the saleswoman had another "in the back," that mystical place filled with clothing my size that never makes it onto the racks.

No, but she did produce another padded push-up model in my size.

I sulked back to the dressing room to gather my things, feeling as if I had failed at the most basic womanly task.

Just then the saleswoman came rushing in, cradling the bra of my dreams like a baby chicken.

"It's your size!" she exclaimed.

It was also electric blue.

"I'll take it," I said.

"Oh, good," she said, her smile slowly giving way to a look of concern. Then: "I should warn you, I think it's being discontinued."

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