(From Stephanie Becker, TODAY Producer)
There's nothing more fundamental to a full day sitting at my Today Show desk for hours than a good solid foundation. It's the undercover work I do before I even log in that gives me the important backing and support I need. I was reminded of this by this morning's story about the history of the brassiere. WATCH VIDEO
I've been thinking about it alot lately because I'm undergoing a bit of restructuring. The earth's gravitational force is having an excessive pull on certain anatomical pairs. My earlobes, nostrils and regrettably, my mammary glands. They're all in cahoots and are in the midst of easing their way down like an old barn.
My grandmother introduced me to the brassiere in the midst of the bra burning 60's. My excessively proper Grandma Belle wasn't taking any chances after she found out my Mom voted McGovern. No granddaughter of hers was going to leave the house without the proper foundations - in politics and more importantly in underwear. Coincidentally, Grandma Belle was born 1917; the same year corset metal was banned, freeing up 28 tons of metal for the war effort. Judging by her purchase for me, she must have worked for the enemy.
Grandma Belle bound me into some sort of medieval industrial strength torture device with 5 rows of hooks and eyes and four rows of revolting pink lace in the front and I think steel strapping to hold the whole contraption up. All this despite the fact that nothing was budding yet on my 8-year-old body. She proudly announced I was now harnessed into my first "training bra." In training for what? Breathing without expanding my lungs? Dressing like Madonna? Olympic strap snapping?" You'll know when you get older!" and she let out all knowing sigh. Grandma Belle promised that wearing a bra wouldn't kill me. Although there is one, sort of, documented case of a 23-year-old rather large gal, Berbel Zumner who was killed by lightening while wearing a bra with metal.
Despite my decades long use of this important product I am still mystified by the whole cup size thing. What kind of geometric progression do they use? It's the only time in life that a D is definitely better than an A. And what's a cup measure anyway? I did an experiment. If you pour a full 8-ounce cup of water into a 34A, the cup runneth over. If you fill up a 34B with 8 ounces, you can toss in a few ice cubes and there's still room. Since some Russian immigrant named Ida came up with the whole cup size thing in the 20s it must have been some communist conspiracy. And no word on the size of the first American brassiere patented by Mary Philips Jacob in 1914. She was sick of her whalebone corset sticking out from her flapper dress. Not wanting to be flapping in the wind she strapped together two handkerchiefs with a little pink ribbon and shazam! A $4.6 billion a year business was born.
As time has taken its toll as I sit at my desk at work, I have taken to hooking into the web to find the support I desperately need now. Finding the right undergarment is almost as confusing as shopping for the perfect laptop. A quick search sent me to Victoria’s Secret (what IS her secret?) and Maidenform and Playtex and Bali (the bra company not the island, I wish) and some XXX rated site that involved fur and whips and glitter glue. And the choices! There's strapless and plunging, sports bras, hooks, Velcro, zippers, clipped in the front, hooked in the back, lace and cotton and nylon and fur and underwire and overpriced. Form versus function, versus form, fashion and function. (And just in case you need it, one site has instructions on how to put on a bra. It's a like telling people how to lock the seatbelt on a plane. Although some guys I know could use a little remedial instruction on the take off. )
I am constantly astonished at the choices: the dramatic cleavage category, miracle bras, minimizers, maximizers, and tenderizers (okay I made that one up). But you can get one filled with rosemary and water padding (also good for basting). There's cotton padding and gel padding and one with just plain water padding (not sold in Siberia?).
Finding just the right bra is time consuming and I'm not getting any younger. So, as I often do when I can't find what I want, I log onto eBay. And there it was: "Vintage Brassiere Collection." It was a bundle of pink bras with endless rows of hooks in the back and lace in the front and straps that could hold up a sleeping elephant. I placed my bid and won and let out a huge sigh. It was Grandma's sigh from 39 years ago. I guess I'm no longer in training.
**Also, click on "Behind the Seams: Deconstructing the Modern Bra"