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Our Bodies, Our Bras

by on May.04, 2011, under History Facts

The writer travels to Europe with a suitcase full of bras.

Our Bodies, Our Bras

It was my job to clean out Mom’s belongings after she died and I was surprised to come across two dresser drawers full of nothing but bras. So many? What confronted me could have filled a brassiere museum.

Talk about the evolution of the bra in America – pointed cones, pre-elastic, partly elastic, bothersome seams right along the inner cups. Many were lined or lightly padded, from the era when our nipples were to be hidden from possible public view.

Some styles hooked in the front, but most hooked in the back, usually with two hooks, but even this feature ranged from one to four.

Part of the grieving process includes the bittersweet task of going through the relative’s personal effects. Nobody likes it and there’s no way around it. It’s something that can be delayed, but it cannot be ignored – whether we feel ready to face it or not. Being an only child, I had no siblings with whom to share the duty and I had exactly 12 days in the house to do it.

Then the family house in Illinois would be sold, the keys turned over to complete strangers who would know or care nothing about our family’s birthday celebrations in the den, or Thanksgivings enjoyed in the dining room, or the hours we had shared playing gin rummy by the fireplace.

So I told myself at the outset of my trip I needed to pack a lifetime of memories into just a dozen days.

The Legacy

I’m proud to be my mother’s daughter and likewise proud to wear Mom’s old bras. Some are practically antiques, so I can likely count them as family heirlooms. Theyrepresent every shade of almost-white, off-white and could-have-once-been-white imaginable, something advertisers would love to have challenge them in laundry soap commercials. Some had likely been washed and dried thousands of times, or so I assumed from the condition. Some hooks are loose and others gone altogether.

Brassieres have gone through the evolution of concealing a woman’s mammary
glands completely to delightfully accenting them, lifting them as dangerously high as possible. Some bras gave us a pointed look, while others flattened us, with little concern for our comfort. Basically, they shaped our breasts into whatever society dictated at that moment in time. Thanks to the wonder of the brassiere, our breasts have probably gone through more styling changes than any other part of our anatomy.

Our generation gap was clear. Where I could term bras as being optional wearing apparel, my mother’s generation celebrated a sense of freedom once they stopped wearing bras to bed under their nightgowns.

The idea of not wearing a bra during daylight hours would have never occurred to Mom. A bra was part of the female experience, a given. I distinctly remember her dressed in a fine tweed dress, down on her hands and knees, scrubbing the kitchen floor. In fact, she only dared to buy her first slacks in the early 1970s. Of course, she wore nylons underneath, because that’s just how a lady dresses, she explained to me.

After a dozen days of cleaning and sorting, giving away or selling items of furniture and filling boxes to go to charitable organizations, I locked up my childhood home for the last time. The taxi driver opened the trunk and I loaded my two suitcases (the bounty of bras folded neatly–cup over cup–as Mom had patiently taught me to do when I was 12) and headed to the airport for my international flight back home to Europe.

In retrospect, I feel I moved through the grieving process a few paces by trying on Mom’s bras. These bras probably spanned four decades, about half my mother’s life. What I was saying was, “l accept you are gone, but you are not to be forgotten.”

Likely the customs inspector will not forget me and my suitcases either.

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