This Just In: International Symbol For “I Surrender” Doubles as “Need New Bra. Please Measure Me”

As a general rule, I detest clothing shopping. I usually do it alone, and in secret. Mostly because clothing shopping in this country has become something of a vicious sport, and I’m not comfortable being statistically capable, even for a small while, of trampling a Wal-Mart employee to death to get to the sale rack. I’m also painfully aware of the luxury we Americans enjoy in having access to so much for so little- without any mind paid to the social and environmental cost of acquiring those goods so cheaply- so I usually think twice before I buy anything, anything at all. This awareness, more than the price tag or the trendy stylings, or the need for whatever it is I’m shopping for, informs (and inhibits) my shopping habits.

That, and the fact that finding jeans in my size is a akin to trying to put a whole sea lion into a hot dog bun: some things are inherently disappointing, cause unnecessary sweating, and are better left unattempted.

Underneath my layer of consumer consciousness regarding child labor laws and the true cost of shipping formaldehyde-laced clothing in shipping containers across the ocean, there is another consumer layer. The layer that’s not interested in wearing earth toned shapeless sacks festooned with peace signs and silk screens of eagles midflight just to prove a point about consumerism. There is a layer that squeals and flaps her hands excitedly over… well… shoes. I love shoes. I do. And I like jewelry. And I like the idea that I, too, should be able to change up my look every season and not be condemned to financial or moral bankruptcy in the process.

Lately I’ve been trying to lighten up my rather heavy approach to shopping. I’m trying to abandon my role as Rancor Filled Older Sister Who Calls Younger Sister for Fashion Advice Because She Can’t Find Anything To Match Her Ironic T-Shirt Collection, and trying to be a little more gentle in my condemnation of retail therapy.

When my friend Victoria suggested last night that we go to an actual shop that sold only underthings to shop for said underthings, I tried to put aside my mixed feelings and instead embrace the reality that I would be, in less than twenty four hours, spending on one piece of underclothing –clothing that no one would see– what I would normally spend in one year on clothes.

As soon as I got to Victoria’s Secret (the store, not my friend’s), I realized I was dealing with the big leagues. I didn’t even have the stamina for my normal hand wringing because it took all my energy to just take in the fanfare with which these bras and panties were displayed. This was not the dismally lit lingerie section of the department store I normally shop. And these were not the JC Penney clearance rack bras I was used to shopping for. No, ma’am. These were meaty, beefy bras, complete with wires and multiple hooks and names like “Very Sexy” and “Angels”. These bras had names, for godssake.

Oh, and here’s the other reason I loathe clothing shopping: sizing. I started this blog three years ago with an entry about my shopping for jeans (an ordeal that could have easily involved my clawing the eyes out of sales associates and setting dressing rooms on fire, so mighty was my exasperation) and not much has changed in the world of denim leg enclosures for me. Ditto for bras. Bras are designed for women with much more to work with than what I’ve got. When bras my size are designed, they are stuffed with all manner of foams and liqui-gels and padding, presumably so that the wearer can feel like she can compete in some pretty severe chest bumping competitions without sustaining any major damage to her mammary glands. (Or maybe to give the illusion that she has actually outgrown training bras, but I’d say the chest bumping is really what the designers were going for). I’m not much into push up bras myself. I’m of the opinion that no one should be shoving foam into various parts of their ensemble to enhance their look (I’m talking to YOU, designers of 1980’s era shoulderpads). I’m small, but at least at peace with the fact that my genes have dictated that all the stuffing that should be on my chest has been stapled to my ass instead. I don’t want to carry two demitasse swimming pools in my shirt just because God is horribly unfair.

I guess I’ve never actually been bra shopping before. The whole process is supposed to start with a fitting (and not, like I presumed, by sighing heavily and steeling oneself for disappointment). The perky sales associate asked me if I wanted to be measured out in the open. Here? I thought. Right here in the middle of the store? Well, I guess so. I mean, we’re all here for the same thing, right? So, I threw my hands over my head, and the perky sales associate threw a tape measure around my chest. Then it was off to the fitting room, where Victoria informed me that the sales associate would be getting me “my drawer”. I repeat: I guess I have never been bra shopping before because when I was handed an entire drawer of bras, in different shapes, for me to try on, I nearly fell over from the excitement.

The poor sales associate must have thought I’d just spent the last ten years living in a cave because it took a few seconds for me to to wrap my head around the fact that Victoria’s Secret has been making the ordeal of trying on bras MUCH LESS OF AN ORDEAL via a very sexy system of streamlined organization. If I had been able to collect myself enough to form sentences, I might have grabbed the sales associate by the shoulders and exclaimed: This? This whole drawer? I get to try on a whole drawer of bras? This drawer here? Full of bras? And all of them are flattering? And none of them are filled with foam peanuts? And they’ve all been designed with my shape and size in mind? These bras here? WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY ADULT LIFE?

I settled for a comfortable contoured bra, which is far less imposing than a bra that is so full of strange viscous liquid, it comes with its own red haz-mat disposal bag. I think the sales clerk must have known she was dealing with novice when she rung me up because she actually congratulated me on my purchase when she took my credit card.

So, to all you bra designers who are trying to make us less endowed women feel like we’ve got some catching up to do: I’m not buying it. I’ll make you make you a deal, though. I’ll wear your silicone filled bras when you start padding the backs of your jeans with bags of frozen peas. I’d call it even if you did.