With the exception of career drag queens, men have no business in bra departments.
Sometimes, though, we're required to venture into these forbidden zones, no matter how suicidal the mission. Due to my repeated failure, even when armed with a detailed text listing the exact size my 12-year-old daughter has instructed me to purchase, I seem incapable of returning home with a bra that "feels right." Which is why I privately refer to this sad vortex of breast retaining walls as The Island of Misfit Cups.
The open hostility with which I'm routinely greeted doesn't help. I thought we'd evolved as a culture, but the raw disdain my very presence seems to elicit in female bra shoppers has taught me otherwise. Whenever I set foot in a bra department -- be it Nordstroms, Target or KMart -- the same thing happens. The place empties faster than you can say Bra-Cha-Cha. (That's actually the name of a real bra, by the way, manufactured by a real company called -- get this -- "Spanx.")
You'd think I was Kevin Spacey at his skeeviest, lobbing rotten flounder heads into the strapless aisle.
These women don't seem to care that I can see them openly whispering about me from across the way, waiting for me to be done with my dirty business. But I'm there for my child, so I put up with the shunning.
Custom flex-fit, criss-cross, halter, strapless, underwire, quarter-cup, adhesive peel 'n stick. I'm the first to admit these are terms no man should ever have to know. Most never will, because as far as bras go, most guys -- after figuring out how to get a woman out of one -- feel they've completed their formal education.
A minefield, any way you slice it.
But my daughter's parents happen to be family men of the homosexual variety. Which in our case means at least one of us can be always relied on to find a relevant connection between any given topic and the American musical theatre.
Like now. In the Broadway show Woman of the Year, Lauren Bacall famously sang that she was "one of the girls who's one of the boys." Since our children were born, due to the particular division of labor in our marriage (Kelly goes to the office, I shop for bras) I've had to become one of the dads who's one of the moms.
It was cute when the kids were babies. I'd often run into moms while out with the children to shop for like diapers. The response of seeing a dad out trying to find just the right wipes for his baby's bottom was always the same. "Awwwwwuh." I figured they all knew I was one of them until one grandmotherly type winked as she said, "I see it's Mom's day off."
I quickly set her straight. "At our house, every day is mom's day off."
As you might imagine this has meant, for two men raising a daughter, much Googling. Usually with a satisfactory result. I've learned to make mermaid costumes, bake birthday cakes from scratch, even how to navigate that ninth circle of hell, the American Girl Doll Store.
Still, when given the choice of picking out her first bra with her dads or one of the 19 kind women who'd lined up to volunteer for the task since her birth, Elizabeth chose... not us.
"Are you nuts? What could you and Papa possibly know about shopping for a bra? I'm calling Miss Andrea."
Elizabeth and Andrea, the egg-donor who graciously provided the yolks for both our lovely children, had a wonderful, special, estrogen-bonding, female time that day, topped off I'm told by blue-raspberry Icees.
Which was nice for that first time, but that was a special occasion. As everyone knows, egg donors can't just clear their schedules at the drop of a hat every time your mutual issue needs underwear.
I was determined to Google myself into becoming what my daughter deserved: an educated, full-service, on-site cups and straps expert. But what I began to learn gave me pause. It turns out that terms like "push-up" and "deep plunge" are just the nipple on the iceberg. I soon found myself adrift in an alphabet soup of bizarre word combinations no male could have ever dreamed up: Smoothing Secrets Full Figure, Glamour Keyhold Balconette, Dream Angels Lace Racerback, and of course those twin Spanx creations, the Bra-lellujah and the Bra-Cha-Cha.
The Bra-Cha-Cha I tripped over while researching strapless bras.
Most women who've heard this story have immediately responded with, "Why on earth would you be looking for a strapless bra for a 12-year-old?"
Here's why. Elizabeth has always leaned toward what they call "casual sporty" attire. Which means that for years now, in warm weather she prefers to wear tank tops and, more recently, those camisole things with the really thin straps.
This was fine when she was was ten. It's an athletic look that suits her. But things have kind of exploded recently in what her grandmother likes to call the "Up There Area." What to do? We could let the straps show -- a look every woman in my mother's bridge club would tell you is universal code for "cheap, tacky skank." I could staple the camisole straps to the top of the bra straps, but Elizabeth pointed out that this would constitute child abuse. Or we could invest in a suitable strapless bra.
A quick trip to the Island of Misfit Cups proved unsatisfactory. They didn't have anything strapless that didn't also promise to push things up. I'm not ready for a preteen with things pushed up.
I returned to my computer. Google "best strapless bra" and you'll quickly be led to the Bra-Cha-Cha. The Bra-Cha-Cha costs $68.00. I wouldn't pay that for a brassiere spun from gold.
So you can imagine my joy one day when, at Costco, I spotted a two-pack of strapless bras for $17.99! As if that weren't enough a lady nearby was reading the packaging and chirping to a friend, "Este sujetador es tan versátil!" I quickly followed her lead and flipped the box over. It was true; photos on the back showed a "convertible" bra that was indeed amazingly versatile. Not only could it be worn strapless, there were actually optional straps included that could be configured into all kinds of styles I knew Elizabeth would love -- something called standard, halter style, even that zig-zaggy racerback thing.
I praised the gods of Costco. I could purchase not one but two versátil strapless bras at a bargain price, without ever having to set foot in another retail mammary support center. I checked my iPhone Notes for Elizabeth's current size, snapped up the corresponding two-pack, threw it in my cart and moved on to the tire department.
As I usually do when I buy clothes for Elizabeth, I left the package on her bed. Given her newfound modesty, she never mentioned my purchase, but the genius of it was self-evident. I felt certain she'd soon be nominating me for Bra-Daddy of the Year.
Cut to three weeks later. When I spotted in Elizabeth's clothes hamper what can only be called the most hoochie-mama stripper bra I've ever seen. Shiny satin ribbing running vertically up each pitch-black cup, like fingers. Sheer black lace all around the sides. There were bows.
"What is this?" I asked, fishing an undergarment Katy Perry would reject as too racy.
"A bra," she said.
"I can see that. I want to know where you got it."
"You bought it for me."
"I never bought you... that."
I had to drop the thing back in the hamper. The satin stripes were leering at me.
"Yes you did. You left it on my bed. There were two of them, in a pack. The other one's nude."
I was sputtering now. "I did not buy that. There's black lace around the sides. There are stripes running up the..."
"The cups. I know. I thought it was kind of grown-up but you were so set on getting me a bra where my straps wouldn't show I figured this was all you could find."
In my defense -- not that I have one -- the lace, the stripes, the bows, none of it was clearly visible from the packaging. Of course it is, if you look closely. Which I hadn't; I'd been too busy exalting in my bra bargain to realize I'd bought my daughter an undergarment fit for a pole dancer.
"It doesn't matter, it's strapless." Elizabeth went on. "Who's going to see it? Oh, except this girl at camp. She saw it on my bed last week and asked what I was doing with a bra from Victoria's Secret."
"What did you tell her?" I asked, my gut constricting.
"The truth. I said, 'My daddy bought it for me!'"
Once I was done figuring out what's appropriate attire when Child Protective Services shows up at your door, I finally had to face what every woman who's volunteered to bra shop with Elizabeth has been too polite ever to say: until the day we're able to grow a pair, men are doomed to remain tit-ignorant.
From that point on I decided that, when Miss Andrea's not free, I'll be taking one of those eighteen kind mom-wannabees up on their offers. From here on out I'm leaving it to the professionals.
As for that Costco red-light special? I considered donating those hoochie-mamas to Christina Aguilera, but ended up cremating them instead.
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