A Temporary Uplift
The previously unknown pleasure of a bra that fits.
Founded in 1888 by Samuel Koch and run by his daughter Selma until her death in 2003, the Town Shop was still in family hands and still, from what I heard, providing first-rate service. It operated under the assumption that the fitting of a bra (“bra tending,” as it were) is an art not a science, and that 80 percent of all women are walking around in bras that don’t fit. My husband’s aunt, a 38DD, never went anywhere else, and a woman I used to work with, who claimed that her right breast was two sizes bigger than her left, swore that the Town Shop made that disparity disappear. The Town Shop boasts that it can fit anyone, from a AAA to a JJ — and to imagine a JJ, no less to fit one, is a feat.
“Let’s go inside,” I told my husband, who, for some reason, did not need to be prodded.
It was a rather cramped establishment with a no-nonsense décor, but it was busy. A variety of women, of the uninhibited New York variety, were talking candidly about what they were looking for:
“I need a brassiere for a big event,” a lacquered redhead announced. “I want nice cleavage but nothing sloppy.”
“My 36s are chafing,” announced a buxom client in tight jeans. “Don’t tell me I have to go to 38, please God.”
“All my bras are shot,” sighed a harried woman, who was pushing a stroller and holding a sulky 2-year-old by the hand.
“You know that a bra can’t take more than three months of hard wear,” the saleswoman said sternly before leading her away to refresh her tired bra supply.
I was met by an attractive, business-like saleswoman who took me to the back of the store and into a small changing room. She pulled the curtain and told me bluntly that my bra did not fit.
“Take off your top,” she instructed sharply. “See this” — she pointed to the flesh protruding from under my bra in a slight bulge. “Cup size too small. And this” — she took hold of the back of my bra as if to snap it in the manner of nasty junior high school boys. “Too big. Take it off,” she barked.
A mere glance and she had completed her assessment. “Wait here. No need to put that back on.” She waved contemptuously at the bra I had been wearing.
She eventually returned with two models. Both fit very well, though she told me the second was better. When I put on my shirt, she nodded, pleased. “See how beautifully it improves the line. Gives you a modern, slimmer look.”
“How much?” I ventured.
“$68. You’d pay more at Victoria’s Secret and it wouldn’t fit you half as well.” (I didn’t tell her that my bras were from Marshall’s and cost $6.95.)
“What do you think?” I asked my husband, as I emerged from the dressing room.
“Terrific!” he exclaimed loudly. “I can’t believe it! You look so sexy!”
I bought the $68 bra and took the saleswoman’s card so that I could order more, since she assured me that this would be necessary once I became habituated to such a good fit.
“You need at least five,” she explained, “since you have to give your bras a rest. Never wear one two days in a row and never put it in the washing machine. Soak it in mild detergent and squeeze it gently.”
I left the store with a new spring in my step. I was reminded of the humanitarian who, after spending time in a poor totalitarian country, concluded that what the people needed more than democracy was a good dentist. Perhaps women would be less bothered by patriarchal oppression if their bras fit them right.
Then again, maybe not.
“Do you really see a difference?” I asked my husband after we turned the corner.
He looked at me as though I were crazy. “Of course not,” he said. “Boobs are boobs.” • 12 November 2008
Paula Marantz Cohen is Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is author of the bestselling novels Jane Austen in Boca, Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan, and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale Review, The American Scholar, The Hudson Review, the Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Image by canonsnapper via Flickr (Creative Commons).