Peggy Keener: A girl’s bust friend

Published 5:45 pm Friday, October 28, 2022

In my last column I featured my Warner’s long line girdle. I don’t wear it anymore, preferring now to have my flesh in free fall. But, the girdle column got me thinking. Why talk about my bottom half while ignoring my top? Heck, there was plenty of drama up there growing up. Thus, today we’ll discuss the bra.

The word is actually brassier, but none of us young teens could spell it. Besides, “bra” made us hip, cool, worldly and oh, so cosmopolitan … our ultimate goal.

Our first bras were little more than extra large band-aids. Did we need them? We thought so. Wallace’s Department Store held my first encounter with extra large band-aids. It was the home of all luscious unmentionables.

One summer day, about age 14, I approached my sister with a discomfiting proposal. Would she go with me to buy my first bra, figuring that with two years of experience Mary knew everything there was to know about bras. And would she first show me hers?

Examining the contraption, I learned the brand was Best Form. I’d have to remember that. As for my cup size, I figured somewhere around demitasse. On to Wallace’s.

Disquieted does not begin to describe the tizzy I was in. More than anything, I wanted to appear an old hand at this bra game—to be calm and collected when addressing the clerk, and state in a firm voice that I was interested in a Best Form bra. Thus I chanted as we tramped the mile to downtown. “Best Form, Best Form, Best Form. I’d like to buy a Best Form bra.” Don’t you see? It was imperative that I be suave. For Pete’s sake, I was trading in my undershirt for lingerie here!

Entering Wallace’s, we headed straight for the bras, an entire wall of them with a clerk on a rolling ladder zipping back and forth just short of self- inflicting a whip lash. It was as clear as my flat chest that here was a master of her craft, clinging with only one hand while simultaneously lunging for the exact box. What a pro!

I was second in line, so I waited, transfixed on that clerk. Then suddenly—way too suddenly—it was my turn. Standing directly in front of me the saleslady looked me straight in the eye and purred, “How may I help you, dear?

Show time!

Using every bit of composure I had—after all, I had practiced ‘Best Form’ a thousand times—I spoke.

“I’d like to buy a Bust Form bra.”

Wait! What had I just said? And was what I just said what I thought I’d just said? “Bust?????” In may entire life I’d never uttered aloud such a provocative word. My teen vocabulary did not include anything that racy. But, there it was, out in the open swirling around me like a colony of bees. Bust …. bust …. bust! Beezlebub had taken control of my tongue!

In every respect, “bust” was one of those loaded words like “pregnant” or “lover” or “privates” that we Presbyterian girls never spoke out loud. We just didn’t. But, I just had.

In that moment I learned it is possible to, in a flash, turn from a white-faced Caucasian into a sock-eye-salmon skin-toned girl. I was mortified, praying I would fall through the floor to the closed mouth, confidential arms of the basement below. How could I face society again? Oh, Quasimodo. Now I knew how you had suffered.

The professional eye of the all-knowing clerk—having already measured my needs while benevolently ignoring my verbal slip-up—asked if I’d like to try one on. Did a girl do that! Here in the store? With only a cloth no sturdier than a shower curtain keeping everyone in Austin from seeing her nakedness!!

“No,” I replied hastily. “I’ll just take it home.”

On the walk back, I was deathly quiet, my lips too burned and peeling to comfortably speak. And Mary, kind Mary, wouldn’t have dreamed of belittling her sister. Once home, I made a mad dash for the upstairs bathroom. Never had I needed privacy from my two brothers than I did in that moment. Had I been able, I would have moved the toilet and bathtub in front of that door creating a fortress that even the Jaws of Life could not have ripped open.

I peered into the box. There it was. A thing with straps, hooks, eyes and cups. How was I supposed to get started? There were no pictures. Forging ahead, I fumbled the apparatus over my shoulders. It was ridiculous. Really now, God, if you sincerely wanted us girls to wear this fandangled thingamajig, why didn’t you put the little hooks and eyes in the front? How was I supposed to stretch my arms and fingers backwards? I didn’t even do backwards.

The struggle commenced. The sun began to set when I finally figured out the rigging. Next, the cups. They were sewn in tight concentric circles starting at the chest and ending with a knife-like point that was as sharp as a cloth bayonet. That’s when I looked down. What? There was a yawning empty gap from me to the cups. What had gone wrong?

If you think a contortionist is clever, you didn’t see me that day. I twisted and turned like a snappy Twirling Dervish. Still the remaining distance from me to the cups was like a crevasse, in every way resembling two empty Egyptian pyramids sitting on my chest! A small voice in my head said, “Bend over, Peggy.” So that’s what I did. Leaning like the Tower of Pisa, I filled the demitasse pyramids.

I’d like to say that the suffering ended there. It did not. I won’t even begin to describe the humiliation I felt for the next few days. First there were my disparaging brothers. Then there were my keen eyed classmates. I mean when a girl goes from Aunt-Jemima-pancake-flat to Rocky-Mountain-mamma-mia, folks do notice.

If you go back into the 50s Hollywood starlet archives, you will understand how I looked. My twin busts were so pointed that I could drape a cardigan sweater over my shoulders, down over the twin prongs and into the valley between. It was a guarantee that the cardigan wouldn’t budge an inch. It was impaled on my Bust Form.

What nobody told me then was the hysterically awful, irreverently grotesque problem my Bust Form bra was about to cause at my next school dance. Clenched together in the arms of my groovy teen swain, we looked like someone had slathered us in Elmer’s Glue. It was heavenly.

There in my reverie, my newly expanded bosom was smashed against the hairless chest of my true love. Dreamy! Helga the Viking Warrior—stand aside! Meanwhile I failed to know there was a hitch. You see, if a girl did not completely, absolutely, utterly (udderly?) fill out her bra with twin voluptuousness, a pair of gnawing caverns were left empty just short of the stiff sharp pinnacles.

The music stopped. We stepped apart. I looked down. To my consummate horror, my pyramids had imploded. In their places were a matching set of cratered volcanoes.

Twisting away from the arms of my startled love, I made a hell-bent dash for the girls’ room. Tissue! That’s what I needed. Boxed or rolled—didn’t matter. I only knew that right then it was a girl’s best friend. Rolling it into poochy balls, I stuffed them into the air spaces. Pop! Pop! Okay, so I was committing fraud, the very thing that could cause a lifetime of emotional scarring for a sinless demoiselle like myself. But, I’d deal with that later …. in long and pricey therapy.

You know, what’s laughable about this is that people now call those teen years the best years of our lives. Liars! With trauma engulfing us in our long line girdles below and our barbed harnesses on top, what were we thinking?

In our current twilight years, we old gals—with our bras measuring 38 long—can look back and laugh at all that silliness. Tee hee. Chuckle, chuckle. But … still … there lingers that delicately painful stab of dreamy remembrance …