No man – unless he’s Gok Wan – can be expected to understand about bras. It seems that I’m not very good at it myself despite many years of experience. It all seems perfectly simple. You start with the measurement around your ribcage, and then add on to that various letters of the alphabet to indicate the volume of the breasts concerned. What’s hard about that?
Frankly, when you compare it to the identifying names and numbers of the different models of certain cars, it seems a doddle. The difference, I suppose, is that there’s no compulsion on men to get their heads around bra measurements whereas obviously if they’re thinking of investing in a new car, no amount of time is too great to be spent studying magazines and listening intently to the latest pronouncements by badly dressed men on BBC TV.
Some time, when I’ve nothing better to do, I might compile a list of The Things That Would Be Different If Men Had To Do Them. The trouble is that that list always starts with Having Babies, and every woman who’s ever given birth wants to be included in that discussion.
Meanwhile, returning to the subject of bras, does anyone out there find that she can just go into a shop, take what she thinks is the appropriately sized bra off the hanger, and go away happy? The last time I tried choosing bras off a hanger was in M&S and (with no disrespect intended to Marks as they’re no worse than any other retailer and do at least have a huge variety of styles), I took, in stages, ten bras, each one supposedly of about the same size, into the fitting room – and not one fitted. If anyone thinks I was being fussy, think again. When I say they didn’t fit, what I mean was that in many cases they couldn’t even be fastened around my ribcage while others were so loose they fell down to my waist. A few could be done up, but the accommodation for my breasts was about half what was needed so just a fraction of the essential me was contained inside the cup, the rest bulging out in all directions. Once, I put one on and sighed with pleasure as it felt so comfortable. This was the one! The band felt secure, my bosom fitted nicely inside the cup, this was perfect! I put my T shirt on over the top and looked in the mirror, and couldn’t see my bust! I looked like a rather podgy man. I looked down – no breasts in the place where they usually lived! When I took off the T shirt I realised they’d sidled around into my armpits where they sat, looking smug and comfortable but more like lumps of dough than objects of beauty.
Then there’s the question of the wires. Can you actually imagine any man wearing a garment containing wires? It just wouldn’t happen, would it? The fact is that wearing wires is doomed. It’s inevitably going to produce problems and discomfort, at the very least. I can almost feel sorry for the designers as the infinite variety of women’s figures makes it next to impossible to design a wire that will fit all comfortably. If it sits happily under the breast, you can be sure that the ends will poke sharply into the soft area between them, or into the flesh under the armpit.
But let’s suppose for a moment that you’ve found the perfect bra, which fits comfortably and just as the designer intended. What could go wrong now?
Well, for a start, let’s grapple with the vexed topic of nipples. Who was it that decreed that women should be assumed to be nipple-less in public? Men too have nipples. Are they bombarded with advice on how to avoid them being visible under their clothes? Are there little nipple-shields for men to be worn under T shirts? I think not. But women are programmed to believe that their nipples must lead a double life, rather like spies; invisible most of the time, before springing into action when the situation demands.
This means that a seam has to be inserted across the cup so as to conceal the nipple, but because no seam is ever going to be totally smooth like skin, any garment worn over the bra is going to reveal little lumps and puckers of fabric, each one looking from outside remarkably like – a nipple! This will attract an interested audience of men trying to decide which little lump is actually the nipple (no, I don’t know why either), or of women criticizing your choice of bra.
As if this wasn’t enough to spoil the appearance of your clothes, we next have the innate idiocy of some designers/buyers. Does a bra really need to be made more feminine? By its nature, it can’t be much else, but how many manufacturers insist on adding tiresome bows or miniature roses? You put on your slinky new top over your deliciously pretty and flattering new bra, but nobody is going to think how nice/sexy you look as their eyes will be drawn to the bizarre construction whose outline is deforming the fabric between your breasts. What has she got tucked down there? A hamster? A sandwich in case she feels a bit peckish later?
At least these days they make bras which mould the breasts into relatively normal, rounded shapes, unlike those of the 1950s which contorted the bosom into something which looked as if it should be contained in an armaments storeroom. The only exceptions nowadays are sports bras, which still produce a scarily aggressive silhouette. Whenever I drive to the gym I half expect the police to stop me for possessing offensive weapons!
So, is there an alternative? I don’t know how many women of the 60’s really did burn their bras, never to return to wearing one. I suspect very few did, because the average natural bosom, left unsupported, doesn’t produce an attractive shape underneath clothes, and certainly doesn’t help if you’re running for a train. Some women wear crop tops underneath loose and flowing clothes, but this won’t do if you work in a formal office, particularly if you work in the City where the attributes of female staff seem to require as much studying as the year-end results of multi-national companies. Is there an answer? I wish I knew.