A BALLOON IN CACTUS

By Maggie Van Ostrand

Bosom Buddies

 

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a working woman toiling amidst the trauma and traffic of the U.S.A., or a retired woman living amidst the smiles and sunsets of Mexico, you need a bosom buddy.

Qualified to fill this time-honored category would be other women, one’s mother and/or mother-in-law, one’s husband and/or someone else’s husband, even one’s adult children. For me, there’s no doubt about #1 in the bosom buddy category: that would be my brassiere.

The reverse is also true: I qualify as bosom buddy to their manufacturers which is easy; there’s only one requisite. Gravity.

Here’s information ex-pat retirees probably never wanted to know: The bosom comes in many sizes, A to I, and can be shaped like knolls, eggplants, cones, and thin old women frequently appear to be adorned with a pair of blackjacks.

According to a new book about the history of the brassiere, Uplift, women have gone from boyish flatness to torpedo to plunge to water-gel brassieres in a mere century and a half. The history of the brassiere was summed up by actress Tallulah Bankhead, who once said of a play she disliked: “There’s less here than meets the eye.”

After 140 years of attempts to design the ideal breast supporter using materials from feather-bones to spandex, some patents are just plain quirky, ranging from a fur-lined bra to one with an electric heating system. That might be a very friendly thing if you’re married to an Eskimo, though a micro fan hidden in a bra to cool yourself might be more beneficial if you live in Mexico.

No less than 100% of the men I interviewed don’t give a flying fig whether a woman was born amply endowed like Mae West, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, or medically endowed like Dolly Parton, Pamela Anderson and Demi Moore. I guess the bosom’s origin is the one exception to their rule about how they hate it when women lie to them.

Back in 1932, actress Maureen O’Sullivan (future mother of Mia Farrow) was photographed in a perky-bosomed pose, urging Sears’ customers to “Be sure to measure” before ordering any foundation garment. Those were the days before brassieres were mass produced, when women actually had personal fittings. None of these hanging-from-a-hook-at-Walmart bras for them. Brassieres presented myriad possibilities for shaping, from early 1900s mono-bosoms to the torpedoes of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Speaking of torpedoes, in World War II, Maiden Form was commissioned by the U.S. Government to fashion a type of support for the army’s carrier pigeons, when radio silence was being observed immediately before D-Day. Talk about a hooter holster! Steven Spielberg should make a movie and call it “Saving Private Pigeon.”

Brassiere manufacturers also supplied the military with everything from pup tents to parachutes. Notice any similarities? Women have gone from training bras to sports bras to burning bras and today, the brassiere is often worn on the outside of a garment. Bras no longer are considered “under” wear.

Even Elizabeth, Queen of England, wears a brassiere; not just any old bra, of course, but one designed by Rigby & Peller, to whom she granted her Royal Warrant as Official Corsetieres in 1960. I wonder if they also design her hats.

Now, we’re dealing with the syndrome of looking as though we’re not wearing a bra at all. “Sex and the City” has introduced the Nipple Enhancer, a “bodyperk,” which gives people everywhere the illusion that the wearer is constantly standing on a drafty iceberg. We’ve come a long way, baby. Or have we? Not to worry, dear reader. The world may suffer economic disarray but it will survive as long as women continue to have what it takes and a place to put them.

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