An email arrives from TGB reader, Judith:
I am a 36B, take my bra off whenever I hit the door, feel dragged down by breasts when tired or hot, hate the bra pressure under my breasts, chafe in the summer, long for a comfy, modestly shapely bra at 75.
“Bet you and your readers would have a plethora of experiences and suggestions.”
When I was about 14, my mother took me to the Meier & Frank department store in downtown Portland, Oregon, to the bra department. There wasn't much reason for me to be there yet but do recall that in the mid-1950s, women and girls were not supposed to jiggle or bounce and it was time, my mother determined, to initiate me into the world of grownup underwear.
Within the intimate apparel department on an upper floor, brassieres were laid out flat on tables inside dividers that were labeled by size. My mother's breasts were modestly sized and as we walked among the field of bras toward the sales clerk behind a counter in the back, I remember being shocked at the expansive dimensions of D and E sizes. “Do women really come THAT big?” I asked.
Apparently I said this loudly enough for everyone in the department to hear. Chagrined, my mother grabbed my hand, pulled me quickly toward the sales clerk and asked – at top volume - “Do you have bras for beginners?”
Of course, all the shoppers again turned to look at us and now it was my turn to be embarrassed. It was many years until I appreciated my mother's retaliatory humor.
From day one, I hated that harness. It never fit right, always cut into my shoulders or ribs and even a year later when I was fully developed, I never filled out an A cup so my bras were always wrinkly. No stretchy materials yet in those days.
Fast forward 12 or 15 years. “Women's Lib.” Marches. Bra burning. It is in dispute whether any feminists actually burned their bras but the idea, then, was much discussed among my friends and it gave me a reason to stop wearing that garment that was so itchy and binding.
It was the end of my association with brassieres so I am uniquely unqualified to deal with Judith's question. The only additional, personal information I have is that I'm surprised at how saggy these tiny tits have become by age 70, but it's still not enough to stuff into even a small bra.
Looking around the web for information is discouraging. Almost every website related to elders and bras is concerned primarily with “adaptive” clothing, clothing for women with “special needs” or those who live in nursing homes – that is, bras that are easy to get into and out of for women with, for example, arthritis or for caregivers who help elders dress.
This is so pervasive I can only call it ageism – that bra sellers and those who write about the topic assume all women past a certain age are impaired. It's good these are available for people who need them but there are many more women with Judith's dilemma.
This story at a website called brawise assumes all old women of unstated age have a variety of ailments and trouble dressing themselves.
This one, although titled, Fashions for Elderly Women, speaks to people who shop for and dress elder women and not to women who wear the clothes. The language is really quite bizarre.
Another, targeting what the writer calls “mature gals,” was the most informative article about bras - which tells you all you need to know about the availability of good information online.
At Yahoo!, someone asked when old women stop wearing bras as if it were a fait accompli to do so. This is the best answer from someone calling herself Mother Hen who directly addresses Judith's problem and also has a sense of humor about it:
”Every night from the time a girl starts wearing a bra, she is ready to abandon it. They are the most binding things I have ever been forced to wear. As I grew older, I found that they really [are] a necessary evil.
“While we are young, we may be able to get away without a bra and it's quite becoming to many people. But, when we get old, just sweating is enough to encourage any rational woman of age to wear a bra.
“I hope I have enlightened you on this subject. Now, I'm ready to rip mine off and let the flab fly free.”
Just in passing, I came across a number of histories of the brassiere. Wikipedia's is thorough with some wonderfully fun graphics and this one, less comprehensive, has some additional images that are worth seeing.
I hope some of you can be more helpful for Judith than I have been.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: Pain