"Raaaaab. Was it the 34A or AA that was too big?," my mom yells from across the small, dimly lit family-owned department store whose bras were a rite of passage for local junior high girls. Bra shopping at 12 is cringe-inducing enough, but when the store owners' son is a boy you know, it's excruciating. And there, as if on cue -- Todd Yaserian, walking toward me, straight from the free-standing racks of off-brand plaid Toughskins. From the way he lowered his head and smiled slightly, I knew I wasn't the first girl whose red face he'd seen pop out from behind these heavy, brown curtains. Even though I was fairly confident sweet Todd would never reveal my cup details, it's a moment of deep, pre-adolescent embarrassment I'll never forget. I wanted to become a puddle on that cold linoleum spot, leaving nothing behind but my white Maidenform AA's.
Thirty six years later, and I've still never been fitted properly for a bra. With my 30th high school reunion in a few days (see photo attached) and two hours of alone time before the next kid pick up, I tentatively step into a local bra store. With its rows upon rows of designer bras, panties spanning the gamut from high-waisted to something called Commando, and flowered bikinis that look like works of art, I'd unwittingly entered underwear nirvana.
With no previous experience, I'm dizzied by possibility. A woman behind the cash register talks easily, laughing with a customer seated a few feet away. I assume the customer is a regular and came in knowing not only her size but had a favorite make and model. I begin flipping through the racks, attempting to appear as though I have a plan. But I've only got two hours, and mindless perusal is getting me nowhere fast.
"I'm not sure what I'm doing," I blurt to the first unoccupied sales woman.
"No problem. We'll get you fitted." Yes, a plan in place.
My saleswoman, Esther, spends over an hour with me, giving me her undivided attention. We explore underwire versus no underwire, padded versus hello nipples, and sizes ranging from 34DD to 36FF. As someone who thought of herself as roughly a 36B, this sizing comes as a shock. Then my counsel advises against my running favorite -- a lacy black underwire.
"You see that, that's double boob." Esther's more experienced colleague Sydney points toward my left arm pit, to flesh that'd been pushed beyond the outer limits of the 34FF. I'm beginning to feel like a patient being observed by medical students.
When I make my final selection known to Esther, she calls for immediate backup. Still wearing the pretty black underwire, Sydney asks me to shake my boobs back and forth while leaning over. I give it my best shot, but there's a reason I've never danced that way. I'm lacking whatever fluidity is required to shimmy. The two women watch intently, keeping their laughter to a respectful minimum as I jerk to and fro. Everything stays put. A meeting of the minds regarding the severity of my double boob affliction results in a reserved thumbs up from Sydney.
There are still more underwear firsts I'd want to achieve. Spanx? But do I have to try them on? A resounding "Yes" from my counsel. My shoulders fall to my knees. I want a pair, particularly with the reunion so close, but do I have what it takes for another hour of shimmying, squeezing and staring? Plus, I'm growing tired of looking at my no-pack abs glorified in fluorescent lighting -- a stark, visual reminder that my pre-dawn exercise regimen has gotten me no closer to wearing one of those beautiful, lilac print bikinis.
I soldier on, limiting myself to three different styles -- unitard with legs, unitard without legs, and briefs. Getting them on and off requires slightly less balance than imagined, and I manage to remain upright while stretching leg number two through its illusive hole. After putting the unitard on backward, we agree the brief is best.
I leave the store boobs and head held high. I'd gotten exactly what I wanted and had never treated myself to. I go home to practice my shimmy for my next underwear first -- a black lace nightgown.
Random bra and life facts learned:
1) Moving up from a size 34 to a 38 does not mean that your breasts have gotten bigger, it means you have grown wider.
2) The existence of double boob, the Commando thong, and bra gap.
3) Self-consciousness in group dressing rooms diminishes drastically with age.
4) Half-naked shimmying in front of strangers can fun -- given the right strangers.
5) Bye, bye 36B.