Bras: Bewildering and Bewitching
There's nothing more complicated than a bra snap when you're in a hurry. Anon.
Roger has found a number of articles written by others on the subject of the brassiere. We have assembled these articles below.
Anon, “Bras: The hidden dangers,” about 2004
Anon, “Andy McNab to Design Lingerie,” in McPeteSez, 12/15/05:
Euan Ferguson, “Christmas spending: 'Fifty quid for a bra? Oh, go on then'” The Observer, Sunday December 15, 2002
Tony Chase, “Dolly’s Secrets Bared,” National Enquirer about 1990:
Jessica Maxwell, “The Black Bra Connection: Why is this sultry queen of intimate apparel de rigueur in the Northwest?”,
Washington magazine, Dec. 1989, pp. 33-35
Roger K, “Doubled-Letter Codes for Bras are Irrational”
Anon physicist, “Spurious Rounding,” in Funny Times, “News of the Weird” column, April 2003
Anon, “Bras: The hidden dangers,” from p. 11 of “The Little Red Book,” a booklet published by The Week magazine, about 2004:
Undressing a woman is risky business. Men have such a poor understanding of the mechanics of feminine undergarments that many risk injuring themselves while trying to remove a brassiere, says a new study. The British Journal of Plastic Surgery cites the case of a 27-year-old man who, at the culmination of a convivial and alcoholic evening with an attractive female companion," twisted his left middle finger in a bra strap. So severe was the injury that the man went to the emergency room, where it was discovered he had sustained a fractured finger and ligament damage. "This is the type of thing that is more commonly associated with sport, particularly rock climbing," plastic surgeon Andrew Fleming of London's St. George's Hospital reports. Surveys show that 40 percent of men in their 30s and 40s are equally uncoordinated when grappling with clasps and hooks, and risk similar injury. Researchers recommend that men take lingerie-removing lessons to prevent accidents.
News item, “Andy McNab to Design Lingerie,” reprinted in McPeteSez online lingerie newsletter, 12/15/05:
Euan Ferguson, “Christmas spending: 'Fifty quid for a bra? Oh, go on then'” (“Euan Ferguson joins the hordes of men in lingerie shops who no longer blush when they're going for a thong”); The Observer, Sunday December 15, 2002 (online at http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,860227,00.html)
Five short years ago, British men stumbled through ladies' lingerie departments, reaching out for the price tag on a bra with the furtiveness of a vicar grabbing a porn video. We made wild guesses at size, and struggled manfully not to look at the chest of the female assistant and blurt out a comparison, and generally made breasts of ourselves.
All has changed, forever. I have just left one Soho branch of Agent Provocateur, where they were so crowded at 6pm on a Friday that they were buzzing in customers four at a time, most of them men on their own. Savvy, unembarrassed at the racks of pink bras and sexy corsets before them, and well-versed in female dimensions. They'd come prepared with sizes, and knew all the stuff about the width of the back, and the cup, and the only statistic that surprised them was the price.
Tony Chase, Dolly Parton’s clothes designer, “Dolly’s Secrets Bared,” National Enquirer, about 1990:
Of course she is very conscious of her wonderful bust. She lost a lot of weight some time back—and that included her bustline. None of her old bras fit her. I said, ‘Let’s throw out the old bras and go for new ones.’ Dolly agreed, but she wouldn’t let me throw out the old bras. I was baffled, and I asked her why. She laughed, ‘You’d better let me burn them. Can you imagine what would happen if collectors got ahold of these monsters?’
Jessica Maxwell, “The Black Bra Connection: Why is this sultry queen of intimate apparel de rigueur in the Northwest?”, Washington magazine, Dec. 1989, pp. 33-35
When a friend of mine was 8 years old, she got a part as one of the "no-neck little monsters" in a community production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The female lead had to do a whole scene wearing a black bra. "She let me sit in her dressing room with her before the show," my friend recalls, "and watch her put on her makeup. I thought her black bra was the most womanly thing I'd ever seen. I couldn't wait to have one of my own."
One night the star forgot to bring her black bra—all she had was the white one she was wearing. She panicked. "I can't do the scene in a white bra!" she screamed. "It has to be black!" Finally she sent a stagehand back to her apartment to get her black bra, saving the scene, the show, and probably her career.
She was right, the bra had to be black. White is utilitarian—your mother wore white. Pink is immature. Flesh has all the allure of a Band-Aid. Red has the fire, but not the mystery. Other colors might be arty but their message is unclear. A purple bra? A green one? Interesting, maybe. But black ... black is a complete sentence written with invisible ink in a secret language every American male past the age of 12 understands.
"Yeah, it has to be black."
"Black. Definitely black."
"Black, only black."
"Black bras? They're gonna let you write about black bras?"
"Before we were married, my husband told me he'd never seen a woman wearing garters. So one night I wore a merry widow under my jeans and sweatshirt. We went out to play pool, and while we were waiting for a table he put his hand on my thigh and felt the little bump of the garter. We were out of there in two seconds. When he saw that it was black, I thought I was going to have to give him tranquilizers. The effect was amazing."
The above are highlights of a quick survey on the Black Bra Effect—10 men and one woman (because she happened to call me in the middle of it). The findings were unanimous from both sides—black bras have this weird power, this irresistible force field. It's something men acknowledge without thinking about it, and they admit to it with complete candor. To them, the existence of the Black Bra Effect is not open for discussion. It is fact. More interestingly, there is no shame in it—none whatsoever. It is simply The Big Of Course.
I decided to call another friend—hearing about Black Bra Power from those who wield it has its insights.
"My husband bought me a black corset for a Valentine's Day present," one woman recounted. "But it didn't fit quite right, so I tried to return it. I found a great deep-purple one and took it up to make an even exchange, but the saleswoman remembered when my husband bought the black one. 'Oh, no, no, no, no,' she said. 'It must be black. He really wanted it to be black.' Then she had me try it on and showed me how they could tailor it to fit better, which she assured me was a much wiser solution."
The very fact that Northwest women own so much black lingerie was a revelation to me. When I was in college in Oregon in the '70s, none of us had the money to buy fancy underwear, and of course bras weren't in anyway. The subsequent years I spent working in California were years spent in pastels; you might own one black bra for a holiday dress
But in the Northwest these days, everyone wears so much black, an entire wardrobe of black bras is a necessity. Our obsession with black, in fact, deeply disturbs many visitors—especially if they're from a sun state. "Everyone's so depressed up here," one Miami woman proclaimed while visiting her Seattleite sister for the first time. “All you wear is black."
We are not, of course, depressed. It is merely our eclectic Italian/ Japanese palette, a sophisticated recognition of the world's two most profound design centers. The Milan suit, the Nippon kimono, both have long been black for the color's elegance, its understatement, its clarity of form, its subtle power. And besides, black looks right beneath our northern silver skies.
Consequently, a Northwest woman is unprepared if she doesn't possess a comfortable black bra for jeans, sweaters, a T-strap one for tank tops, a French-cup one for a bit of décolletage, a backless one for low-back dresses, a strapless something or other for strapless something or others, and it's always good to have a lacy regular black bra for one's better cold-weather clothes.
This is hardly depressing. As a woman, I find it great fun; if I were a man, I reckon I'd be in Hawg Heaven. The possibilities of surprise are endless, the variations ... oh my.
Still, none of this answers the question: Why do black bras have the effect on men they do? Why wouldn't the scene work without a black bra? And why on earth is the male response to black bras so incredibly universal?
We could explore the idea of contrast—black is dramatic against pale boreal skin. But if that were all there is to it, the Black Bra Effect would be rendered null and void against dark skin. And it isn't. One of my interviewees is married to a glorious black woman; another one's wife lives in a tanning booth--both men still firmly prefer black lingerie.
We might wax artistic and offer up the old black--all colors theory, that it possesses a unique full-spectrum power. Too heady, I say. As I explained, men do not think their way through the Black Bra Effect; black bras, in fact, turn men's brains to Grape Nuts.
We could chalk it up to social conditioning—to the mind warp of Playboy and Penthouse and the like, although the attraction was always in a model's lack of clothing.
And we could examine the dark potential of Forbidden Fruit, of the inherent badness of black, of the black bra as the answer to the black leather jacket—heaven forbid a woman should wear both! For this, of course, we have only the Victorians to thank—once they rendered carnal knowledge a sin, the black market for the Black Bra Effect took off like a French postcard in the Pony Express. There's truth in this, surely ... the French, after all, invented the brassiere. But why is black so bad? What is the source of that old black magic?
It must lie in the realm of the unconscious, and its roots must be deep. In fact, I strongly suspect we are dealing with nothing less than the fear, and the titillation, of the unknown—and of woman's association with it.
The true power of woman is her mystery. Like nature, she is cyclic, in sync with the moon—a phenomenon as elemental as the very ocean. The void she carries in her womb is the source of all human life. All males come from that, and on tome primal level they know it. When a man makes love with a woman, it is an act of blind faith—he knows not where he is going. He is going toward the void, the void is black.
Whether we understand it or not, black bras, then, just might be the most profound sexual signal a woman could give, a delicate, external promise of the dark joys of the abyss. And wouldn't it be wonderful if the essence of black bras weren't mindless, superficial lust? Wouldn't it be grand if the real Black Bra Effect were love, were the expression of a man's inexplicable longing to return to the body where he was born?
Roger K, “Doubled-Letter Codes for Bras are Irrational”:
Why do the letter-codes for bra sizes double up after D? (I.e., DD, etc.) In some cases manufacturers’ numbering systems compound the oddity by resuming single-lettering after DD or DDD, sometimes skipping E or F, and sometimes not. It’s illogical, and it wasn’t done with other products. For instance, when the scale for shoe sizes was first established, it wasn’t realized that a few folks would like shoes narrower than size A; hence size AA had to be slipped in later. The same thing happened with the size ranges of drill gauges and various other mechanical items. On the other end of the scale, however, when it was necessary to add an unforeseen size or two on the upside, the hardware industry didn’t double up the letters, because there was a whole alphabet’s worth of headroom for them to use, stretching all the way out to Z.
Hmmm. Maybe bra mfgrs. didn’t want to hint to their customers that they might eventually stretch all the way out to Z?!
Anon physicist, “Spurious Rounding” in Funny Times, “News of the Weird” column, April 2003:
Writing in The Journal of Clothing, Science and Technology, a Southampton University (England) physicist found that many women wear the wrong-size bra because retailers commit a math error known as ‘spurious rounding’ when converting bust and rib-cage size to bra size.