What makes it so difficult to find a good bra that doesn't have underwire? I've come to conclude that this is an impossible task.
I hate, hate bra shopping. It's on my list of ten-most-hated tasks. Snooty clerks, the expectation that I will bare all in front of them, having to pay a whole lot of money to wear something that fits decently, knowing that there's never a new invention to relieve me of the underwire...all of these factors make me dread the time I have to spend trying on articles of clothing that hardly anyone ever sees anyway.
About four years ago, my mother and sister suggested (this is stating things politely) that it was time for me to stop wearing my chest-mashing-but-oh-so-comfortable sports bras because it did nothing for the clothes that I wore. I couldn't help but agree.
Reluctantly, cautiously, I proceeded with a new mission: custom bra fitting. After talking to a few friends, I ventured forth to a store that would apparently fit me well with one of these appendages.
From the moment I set foot in the store, I felt conspicuous and uncomfortable. Never had my chest been so blatantly ogled and stared at by a group of women as in those first few moments. But I swallowed my nerves and proceeded. I was measured and examined and then ushered into a small change room. Over the next half hour I was brought a half dozen or more varieties and examined in my underwear until the sales person declared, after staring at my chest for some time, that she had found the perfect fit for me. After a good deal of self-congratulations, she swung the change room door open (thereby exposing me in my underwear to several waiting women) and marched to the front to ring up my order...which was an astonishingly high number for the three bras she had chosen for me. I could have bought a short-haul plane ticket for the amount those first three bras cost me.
When one broke a week later, on my second wearing of it, I took it back to the store and explained that the underwire had simply snapped upon my putting it on. After criticizing the way I must have done it, telling me that they had a no-return policy, and stating that it looked as if I'd washed it already, she refused to take the bra back or to give me my money back. That was the beginning of a four-week saga in which I eventually contacted the owner of the store while she was on her vacation; she ultimately apologized for her staff and ordered an exchange of my faulty product for a new one.
End of Bad Bra Shopping Experience #1.
Bad Bra Shopping Experience #2 happened about two years later, when the first three bras had been hand-washed and worn so many times that they were clearly looking a little worse for wear.
I went to a different little boutiquey shop that specialized in bra fittings. The owner of the store happened to be the woman helping me and she took one look at me and told me my measurements. She pulled four or five different bras off of the racks and gestured me to a change room. I walked in and reached out my hand for the goods, only to have her brush my hand aside and tell me to strip.
Huh? I thought with some shock. With her in the room?
She proceeded to tell me that there was nothing she'd never seen before and that she needed to show me how to fit and wear a bra. I felt nervy even thinking that I pretty much knew how things went. So I stripped, feeling rather shamed in the process of her watching me. She proceeded to fit the bra around my chest (surely I could have managed that part) and hooked the back. Then she told me to bend over so that she could show me how "the girls" should sit properly. While I was bent over she jiggled and pulled at the bra a few times, then told me to stand up. "Perfect," she announced.
Well, I for one would not have described that experience as anywhere near perfect, but I was glad that she was happy and simply bought the three bras that she suggested. Tail tucked between my legs, I left the store and determined that I would never buy another bra as long as I lived.
That sentiment lasted for almost two years, until three of my now-all-old six bras broke two weeks ago. Shoot, shoot, shoot I thought when each of them snapped. I mean, what are the odds of not one, not two, but three bras snapping (the underwire, of course) in one week. But then I thought, well, thank God, because I'm so tired of those underwires poking into my armpits.
For the past two weeks I have so enjoyed wearing my comfy sports bras. But I knew the day was coming when I'd have to suck it up and do it all again.
Bra Shopping Experience #3 was two days ago. I had about ninety minutes to myself to run a few errands and I put bra shopping first on my list to get it over with. I was there within five minutes of the store opening.
I walked in and saw the sales person standing behind the counter with phone in hand. She gave me a look that said as clearly as I'm writing the words: I'm busy, what do you want? What she actually said was "yes?" Well, honestly, what does she think I wanted...I was in a bra shop with nothing but a visa card in my hand.
"I'd like some help fitting a bra," I said with as little tone in my voice as possible but feeling already a sickening sense of deja vu.
"Well, ok, but you're going to have to wait for a few minutes," she said. She sighed. That sigh was bad enough. But then she gave me a look-over from bottom to top, gestured to the phone in her hand and added, in a tone you'd expect to hear on 90210, "I have to call to a customer and it's very, very, very, very, very important. So you'll just have to wait."
Yes, she said all five verys, with emphasis on the last. This is an exact quote.
Crap, I thought. This is about to become Bad Bra Shopping Experience #3.
What I wanted to do was give her the old Pierre Trudeau one-finger salute. What I wanted to say was "yeah, well you just lost this very, very, very, very very important customer."
I'm not sure why I didn't say it. My conservative Canadian roots must have kicked in somewhere because, although my mouth opened, nothing came out.
Seriously, who says that to a face-to-face waiting customer who's prepared to drop hundreds of dollars on a store that depends on women like me frequenting it? Did she take one look at me in my comfy old jean capris and green shirt (incidentally, the same slightly-cleavage-showing green shirt that got me a flirty conversation at a Starbucks a couple of months back) and say to herself that this was not a customer worthy of her time or energy? Did she see only the largeness of my physical being and decide that I was not worthy of her cute and pert and twenty-something-year-old attentions?
I don't know.
I said nothing. Nothing rude and nothing to acknowledge her statement. But I did continue to stand there, right across the desk from her, and merely looked at her without flinching the entire time she was making that phonecall to her all-important customer to tell her that her order had just arrived and that it was fantastic and she'd be so excited to see it.
I could have walked out. I even thought about it and I would have been ok with that. But then I decided this: If I walk out, who is that hurting? Not her, that's for sure - she's not going to give me a second thought. It's me that I'd hurt by walking out: My dignity and the feelings of self worth that I've gone to therapy to help me sort out. So I stood there and, to be honest, I smiled on the inside, knowing this time that it wasn't me, it was her.
I'm guessing that my relentless stare and silence in response to her rudeness did something to the sales person because when she got off the phone her tone of voice was different, maybe even apologetic, and she said something like "sorry - I guess that could have waited. I've only been working here a month and don't really know what I'm doing yet. Let's see if we can find a bra for you."
I relented internally and said "OK, then. Let's get me a bra." I let her show me to one of the change rooms. But when she made as if to follow me in with a handful of product in her arms, I held out my hand for the bras and said with a smile on my face, "I'm fine on my own, thanks." I closed the door to the change room. And minutes later, I walked out of the store with one good bra tucked under my arm.
I smiled as I climbed into my car. I've changed/grown a bit in recent years, I realized. Had someone been that rude to me a few years ago, I would have felt annihilated and I would have felt badly about myself, thinking that somehow I'd deserved the rudeness. But this time, I realized it was about her, not me. And while I wasn't rude, I didn't back down either. I said and did nothing that I would regret, but I stood my ground. I was ok with myself. And in the end, she actually changed her attitude towards me.
Did I love Bra Shopping Experience #3? Not particularly. But I'm ok with it now, too. I think I'll go back to the same store a month from now to check out their fall selections - maybe even get something in purple!
I'm wearing my latest bra at the moment and although it, too, sports underwire, it's a pretty darn good fit overall.
I think I did all right in there all on my own.