I broke my bra the other day—and it wasn’t just any bra. It wasn’t Gigi, the delicate one with the lace cups, or Millie, the satin one I just wear around. Nope, of all the bras to break, this one had to be my essential bra, my utili-bra, the one I have to have—old Bessie.
Bessie was a design marvel. After 15 years of wear, she still supported like new with steady as you go, no-dig cups and straps that lifted like a power hoist. She stayed cool in the heat and stayed put under pressure. She was the one sure to hold up for the tough jobs— like working a pitchfork through a monster mulch pile, running to catch the bus on a super windy day, or whirling a shopping cart through an elbow-flailing crowd at Costco.
Fact is I should have seen Bessie’s breakdown coming. After a decade and a half of wash and wear, her side panels were as thin and worn as a miser's sock heel. A week ago, I noticed a rip near her back clasp. “Uh oh,” I thought, “If the whole thing gives way while I’m public, I’ll be plunged into double trouble.”
Jiffy quick, I headed for my sewing machine. A fold here, a tuck there, and Bessie was repaired—I thought.
Two days later, while I dressed for a day of stacking wood, I pulled Bessie’s two sides together and poof —her left side panel tore off at the cup; gave way like a bad bungee.
Stunned, I stood there, one half of Bessie dangling from each hand. “Good luck sewing your way out of this mess,” I thought.
I stuffed Bessie’s parts into the drawer. Then I strapped on Millie, finished dressing, and decided I’d better have a beer.
“You’ve been nursing that bra along for months,” I grumbled as I pulled a frosty bottle from the fridge. “Now summer’s coming and guess what?” I twisted the cap off, then took a drink, “You’re not ready. You’ve got mulch to spread, a hot tub to clean, the house needs paint. Good God woman!—what’s your plan? You got no Bessie back up. Now that she’s hit the skids, you’ll be tackling those jobs in flimsy, do-nothin'-but-look-good satin and lace.”
I sunk into the chair at the table. “Think now. Use your wits.” Sitting there, drinking and thinking, it finally dawned on me. “Hey!—Bessie’s still got her tag! I’ll get the model number, hop online, and buy a new Bessie.”
Yeah right. Ever seen the tag on bra that has had 15 years of washing? After that many suds cycles, the tag isn't a tag. It's a ragged strip of polyester with no writing.
“Fine,” I thought as opened my laptop, “I don’t need her model number. With Bessie' rough-and-ready features, I’ll know her by sight.”
Swiping through the screens, I looked for a bra with non-padded, no-wire cups of breathable mesh. The cups had to be suspended on straps that raise and restrain. The straps had to be joined to a wide elastic surround. The whole rig had to hold the girls up, back and away, whether I was working a shovel, bathing a Great Dane, or jumping rope in the garage.
I searched the web until sundown. I bet I viewed 500 bras. Not one came close to Bessie. So, yesterday morning, I went bra shopping.
It had been 15 years since I’d bought a rugged duty bra. Back then, the bras offered in Bessie’s class were thin and comfortable but still had the chops to steady the boob.. Yes some had underwire. Yes, some had extra padding. But none of them—not a single cup — had the cap-it-off, derby hat design of the bras I came up against yesterday.
There I stood in the undies aisle, staring out at a sculpted cup jungle. Every bra on every rack as far as I could see was so prefab, so pre-cast. It was like the boobs were already in them. “What gives? Have all the hat makers gone into brassieres?”
As I wandered off through the racks, I felt like a baffled explorer on a bra safari. “I can’t wear this,” I mumbled as I plied the techno-formed cup on a 36C. “This is someone else’s bust.”
Just then, I heard a bright, perky voice behind me. “May I help you, Ma’am?”
I turned around to see a tall young lady with a big smile, big hoop earrings. I nodded towards the racks, “Are these all the brassieres you carry?”
“What type are you looking for?”
With a chuckle, I said, “One that doesn’t have cups that resemble sockets.”
She slightly tilted her head. “I don't understand.”
I held the bra up like an exhibit. “You see these cups? They’re like receptacles. A woman doesn’t put this bra on, she plugs into it.”
Now, the young lady rose to her tiptoes and hastily waved to someone behind me. “Oh Mary?” she called in a high voice, “A little help here, please?”
In two shakes, a petite woman with short, gray hair and half-moon glasses had joined us. “How can I help?” she asked.
“Mary, this woman isn’t happy with our line of brassieres.”
Mary turned to me, “None of our contour cups work for you?”
I returned the techno bra to the rack. “Nope. They’ve got more contour than I can handle.”
“But our bras are of the most modern design. They are formed using heat technology and a breast mold.”
Suddenly, I saw in my mind’s eye a woman, naked from the waist up, leaning forward into a mammogram-like machine—but instead of being squeezed she was being cupped. “You’re kidding,” I said, “You mean some woman actually stood still while they took a cast of her chest?”
Now the young sales lady got a gleam in her eyes. I’d stand still for it,” she said, “The
woman who did must be raking in the royalties. Every bra here has the same perfect shape.”
Marie said, “Yes, isn’t it wonderful how our bras all so flawless and consistent?”
“Cookie cutter,” I said, “that’s what they are. I am looking for a bra doesn’t fill out until I put the thing on.”
Mary pursed her lips and pointed to the far end of the section. “Our vintage styles are down there,” she said, her tone flat, “In boxed brassieres.”
“Thank you,” I said and then off I went.
The boxed bras were loaded into a four sided booth. There were lots of styles to choose from. Delighted, I selected four I liked then headed to the fitting room.
Seventeen bras later, I was still in there —lassoed by a pull-on model I decided to try as a last ditch effort. The first sixteen bras I tried squeezed me, smashed me or had me so bound up it was like getting a cleavage wedgy. “What kind of booby trap is this?” I said, one strap around my neck, the other caught on my ear, and the girls in full sway.
Struggling to get bra Seventeen off, I bent forward, backwards, twisted, and strained. Then, just as I was stung by elastic snap back, someone tapped on the fitting room door.
“Can I bring you another size?” said a female voice.
Sweaty and flushed, bra boxes piled about my feet, the fitting room hook loaded with
brassieres, I stopped cold. “Oh, please no.”
“If our vintage styles don’t suit you, try our sports bras in athletic wear,” then I heard her pad away.
Ten minutes later, I stumbled out of the fitting room, juggling a jumble of bra-stuffed boxes. When I arrived at the bra booth to put them back, I encountered another sales lady. She was stooped down, rearranging the boxes on the lower shelves.
“None of those fit?” she asked.
“Nope,” I said, steadying the boxes with my chin.
She patted the floor beside her. “Just set them here.”
I leaned forward to put the boxes down, and the whole overwhelming pile toppled over.
“Oh, oh, oh,” she chirped as she covered her head.
I just stood there, pushing frazzled curls off my forehead. “Sorry ‘bout that.”
She stood up. “You look like you’ve had a long day.”
“I’m in the middle of a bra bender so it’s no wonder.”
“Oh gosh, maybe you should take a break.”
“No can do. I’m headed to sports bras. Which way do I go?”
“Go past the escalator to the section by the big windows. You can’t miss it. ”
Soon as I passed the escalator, I was lost. The whole section was men’s suits. Standing there, tired and confused, I looked at my watch. “Four o’clock! How’d it get to be that late?” I realized the saleslady had been right, “I do need a break. I’ll come back tomorrow.”
As I turned to go, a flash of red light outside the big windows caught my eye. I crossed to the windows and looked out. Across the street was a neon sign: Bessie’s Bar—Best Happy Hour it flashed.
Shopped out and tired, I felt I had been shoved into some weird undie-world. Shop was hops. Sale was ales. Bra was bar. That neon sign was like an emergency beacon, urging me to cross the street—and so I did.
Marie Lemond is a character created by Kathleen King. Kathleen is an essayist and children’s fiction writer. Writing as Marie Lemond, Kathleen’s work has appeared in humorwriters.org, Country Magazine, Women and Golf Magazine, and Inside Golf News.