Friday, April 20, 2007

A Corsetière's Saga

“You must try on this bra! Then I can determine how it fits you.”
Simple words. An everyday occurrence in the lingerie shops. Ah, but this was no ordinary lingerie shop that my girlfriend and I found ourselves in. This was the crème de la crème of French lingerie purveyors – Chalone.
But first, a little background. My girlfriend is a plus-sized woman, a “big girl” in our parlance. With plus sizes come big busts, and therein lies the problem. If that wasn’t enough already, Mother Nature has to complicate matters further. You see, when Nature endows, She doesn’t make it symmetrical. It is a known fact that if you have a pair of something – anything – they will never, ever, be exactly the same, i.e. your right arm will not be a mirror image of the left. We men know (we do, don’t we?) that our left testicle is slightly larger than the right and it descends lower as well. So it is with the female breast. One will be slightly larger (or smaller, depending on how you look at it) than the other. In my girlfriend’s case, the difference is noticeable.
Thus commences the Bra Saga. Having traipsed through countless shopping expeditions with her in search of The Perfect Bra, I have come away enlightened, educated, infinitely amused, and with a treasure-trove of memories to savour for posterity.
Beginning with the basic premise that my girlfriend is lop-sided, the Saga begins with fitting for the larger breast. Add to that the fact that she is big – 40D/42D – and you are looking at real problems. What problems? you say. Well, to start with, the local shops appear not to cater for the plus-sized woman. It seems everywhere we go, we are tormented by gorgeous, lacy bras, that stop at size 36D, or 38B if Lady Luck happens to be smiling on that particular day!
Now for a man, I am considered to be extremely well-informed about bra and cup sizes. And by the way, cup sizes refer to the fullness of the breast as the images accompanying this post will show. (Many thanks to the person who supplied these images and who kindly allowed for them to be used! You have my eternal gratitude!) So to encounter bras that stop at size 36D is nothing short of sacrilegious! Are Singaporean women truly that tiny? Are we a nation of petites? Definitely not, as you will see the “Pirelli tyres” jouncing along Orchard Road any day. Or the occasional woman bursting out of a bra or top that is wasting its time trying! And then there are the expatriate women – where are they obtaining their bras from? Surely it is too much of a hassle to order in, even though the Internet is a rich source – or do I stand corrected?
The men aren’t spared this either. A recent campaign by Triumph entitled “The Men Do Get It” aims to educate men who fight shy of purchasing intimate apparel for their girlfriends/wives. It is an evening where men, and only men, are allowed into the lingerie department. There, assisted by knowledgeable assistants, they make informed and no doubt “tasteful” purchases for the women in their lives.
It’s a start, one supposes. I myself am tickled pink at the lengths it will take for a man to come to terms with what his wife/girlfriend wears under her clothes. Not to mention there are the added complications of underwiring, padding and the lack thereof, of balcony and full cup bras, moulded cups, tulip cuts and extenders – the list is endless. In all fairness, my girl laughs at me whenever I complain that the men’s underwear section here does not cater for us unfortunates endowed with large genitals. I am often heard to lament about “fallout” – a term we use regardless of whether the subject at hand is an inadequately supported bust, or improperly contained penis and testicles. So fair’s fair in love and war – Bra Wars that is!
Now a new and major player has entered the Bra War arena: Avon. Avon? I can just see the quizzical and furrowed brows. Should you be thinking that this is the same Avon who supplied cosmetics in the pre-war era of the 1940s, of little old ladies with faces disarmingly over-rouged and Aspercrèmed, toting their little blue bags, then you’re not very far out. Except that in Millennium Singapore, Avon has become a multi-level company touting everything from cosmetics to perfumes, from bras to supplements, and even curtains! What hasn’t changed is that you still obtain your Avon goodies from the “Avon Ladies”. And only from them.
So these days, we no longer shop in the major department stores for bras only to be disappointed in the long run, although we still sneak a peek for kicks. We still talk of cups, underwiring and padding. We still drool over bras frothy with lace. But instead of the shops, it’s within the pages of the fortnightly Avon Catalogue (or Campaign as its known). That much remains the status quo. I’ve recently begun taking eurycoma longfolians (better known as tongkat ali or Ali’s Walking Stick), technically illegal in Singapore but I’ve seen it in the pharmacies disguised as a vitality supplement for men. I can assure you the only vitality it’ll invoke is “down there”. My girlfriend’s answer to this is kacip Fatima – a rainforest herb purportedly used for women’s wellness. Dig a little deeper into the research however, and a more covert result is promised! Both products are readily available from Avon, are a far cry from the “Avon cosmetics” of the past, and have catapulted the company well into the 21st century!
So whither the Bra? Fashion seems to have the last word, or should I say, the last laugh. I myself cannot fathom how a dress or blouse can hang on the flat chests currently in favour among the jet set of Singapore women; more on this subject in a later post. Some of the more enlightened women claim that they are so as their boyfriends cannot abide large breasts. They should be advised to seek a boyfriend with a correspondingly sized penis! Avon notwithstanding, at the end of the tunnel are the words of New York Times columnist Anne Hollander: “Breasts have lost much of their mythological aura and acquired some needed reality. … Emphasizing breasts is too great a pleasure to abandon.”

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