My best black bra stabbed me in the back. Actually, it was closer to the heart, right into the tender spot under my arm. This wasn’t the first attempt. I’ve stitched that ill-intentioned wire back into its casing more than once. I’m not generally so patient with repeat offenders but this bra started out as such a good bra.
This was no cheap trashy pretender from the wrong side of Pennys. This was a piece of lingerie that I actually went through the agonies of being fitted for, in the sort of fitting-room that has a fully-functional door, pale carpet underfoot and a silk headscarf draped across the clothes rail. You would be correct in assuming that this was a Celtic Tiger bra, beyond my means even then, but so worth it. We are looking at the guts of a decade of use, on and off (as it were) and subtracting the breast-feeding years, so it’s fair to say I have worn it to death. I can’t complain too much that it tried to take me with it.
My best black bra was the bra, the bra that I wore when I needed more than just an anti-gravitational boost. I chose this bra when I wanted support at the small of my back during a lousy funeral. I opted for this bra when I had to face down a meeting of sour-faced wannabe nuns (don’t ask). I put on this bra when I knew someone else would be taking it off.
‘I need a new best bra,’ I muttered into the mirror while blow-drying my hair.
‘Great,’ exclaimed Husband who just happened to be passing by, ‘sure that will be a nice outing for you.’
‘Oh, yeah, terrific,’ said I, with all the enthusiasm such a ridiculous suggestion deserved.
‘What?’ says he, digging a hole for himself, ‘Why would shopping for bras not be great fun?’
Shall we count the ways?
For a start, the fancy pale-carpeted shop doesn’t even exist anymore. There’s a mobile phone outlet filling that gap. I suppose I could brave the lingerie department at Brown Thomas but I suspect they have alarms which would be activated by the fragility of my finances.
Bra-shopping in a regular plebeian shop requires abandoning all shame, getting down on ones hunkers and scouring the racks for the correct size. I am required to hunker down beneath a sign labelling my bust as Fuller or worse, Full Control. Alas, full control is precisely what I risk losing. Shades and styles are of little interest at this point. Balconettes, demi-cups, bandeaus and push-ups are shoved aside as I flick the hangers in an increasingly frantic search for the magic combination of numbers and letters.
Invariably, I find a hideous selection of mango, violet or aquamarine concoctions, half of them well-suited to the carnival in Rio, the others resembling what my Granny used to call a corselette. I make my way, puce-faced, to the fitting-rooms and join a hushed queue of equally despairing women. Each of us looks at the floor, hoping the assistant will ignore our existence, praying we don’t run into the neighbours and trying to recall which grey and battle-fatigued undergarment we strapped on that morning.
Already exhausted, I pull the curtain and begin the torturous fitting routine with potential candidates.
First and most important question: are the breasts, in fact, contained by the bra? Sadly not, is the usual riposte. Immediate disqualifiers are squishing (where the breasts are hooshed together forming a useful but unattractive shelf), smashing (where the breasts are held in but flattened out, neither useful nor alluring) and overflow (where a bra artistically creates four semi- breasts ). Marginal allowance is made for spillage, where the breasts are held in a provocative yet precarious position. Spillage holds the potential for fun but also runs the risk that the breasts but could make good their escape with no more encouragement than a vigorous sneeze.
Containment achieved, there are the minor issues of comfort and, heaven forfend, sex-appeal. Does it ride up my back or squeeze a roll of back fat like the top of a well-risen soufflé only less appetizing? Do the shoulder straps cut into my shoulders like cheese wire or do they look as though they should rightly be hauling a Samsonite suitcase? It doesn’t end there. Lace shows through light clothes, padding is surplus to requirements, under-wires try to kill you and mango is definitely not my colour.
Am I having fun yet? I have yet to even risk a wary glance at the price-tags.
Once, and only once, did Husband present me a gift of fancy lingerie. He was given short shrift and assured that I am a big fan of the book token. I am wondering now whether he thought I aimed to selfishly reserve all the fun of bra-shopping for myself?
There must be some way, in this era of holograms and 3-D jiggery-pokery, to make it all easier? Couldn’t they scan you, or make a cast of you or some such lark and then design the perfect bra for you and let you keep buying it in proper colours like navy and best black?
I may just get out my needle and thread and have one more go at stitching that wire back in position. Best black bras, after all, are hard to find.