When I was twelve, my sister took me to Hane’s department store to buy a training bra. I had already arrived at an exact understanding of which one I wanted. My mother permitted me to buy two; one to wear while the other was in the wash. At the time, my school uniform consisted of a white blouse with Peter Pan collar and a blue jumper. My small step toward womanhood was initiated by Brookside Elementary School’s gym uniform. It was a one piece blouson kind of thing. It was just sheer enough to cause me excruciating embarrassment when I wore it. My newly developing breasts were evident for all the other students to see. What was almost as bad was that I was subject to the other girl’s inspection when we had to change back from our gym uniforms to our dress uniforms. The girls shared one large shower room, and showers were required before returning to class. We had ten minutes to shower and change. That ten minutes could have been three hours; it was hell for me. I was skinny, under-developed and painfully awkward. The other girls were sometimes ruthless about my hard-edged, rib- defined physique. With the training bra came some dignity. Shielded from taunts and ridicule, I felt my budding breasts better belonged to me.
On that trip to Hane’s my sister suffered unexpected mortification. She is three and a half years older than I am; she was appalled that the sales woman asked her if she was seeking a training bra for herself. After that misunderstanding was rectified, we headed to the back of the store where Intimates were sold. My sister’s disgruntled attitude did not dampen my spirits. I had secretly studied the pages of our Sears and Roebuck’s magazine. I had visited department stores on excursions with my bustier and more endowed sixth grade friends. I knew exactly which box, which size would be mine. Little Miss 30AA. I liked that style bra because it had a little pink bow on the front band. There were not actual cups, instead, a stretchy, smooth cotton conformed to my growing figure.
I became an expert in bras, how they fit, which one for what event, where to shop for them and how to choose them. I saw beauty in their soft curves and concomitant functionality. I was drawn to there special beauty and how they serve. My interest blossomed such that I had my eye on all lingerie. In my home-economics sewing class, I whipped up a bra, a slip and a robe while the other girls made a skirt, a blouse and a sundress. The secret comfort and beauty hidden beneath a girl’s, a woman’s clothes was a secret I loved to keep.
The years granted my figure an ever-changing landscape. Gravity, maternity, children -- they have all worked their way on me. What startles me, even now, is how much pure, giddy joy I still find in looking at bras, underwear, chemises, garter belts, nightgown and robes. I can not account for my unnatural predilection for all things lingerie. I love Betsy Johnson, Calvin Klein, Chantelle Intimates, Cosabella, Elle Macpherson, Eberjey, Felina, Freya, Hanro, Honeydew, Huit, Josie, Kensie, La Perla, Le Mystere, Natori, On Gossamer, Panache, Shimera, and Zella -- to name a few.
My joy is complete, however, because my daughter, a student in Fashion and Design at Pratt Institute, has embraced my love of silks, laces and women’s secret things. She sews them like the couturier she has become. She stalks sample sales and sidewalk vendors in Manhattan. She is savvy and smart and has a far better eye than I for the very fine things found in the world of women’s unmentionables. Oops, I mentioned them!