A bra that fits … that’s what I’d been really looking forward to.
The shop was chrome and glass. Silver cursive letters over the door read Oleanders: Purveyors of Fine Lingerie Since Day One. A single brassiere lay on a red satin pillow in the shop’s window.
As I opened the door, a hidden chime sounded the first five notes of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. The showroom’s couches were fluffed to pillowy clouds. Along each wall, rows of metal railings holding hundreds of hangers dangled bras in a dazzling array of reds, blacks and creams, the canary yellows exotic birds among domestics. The entire room crackled with a secret magic.
“Greetings,” said a rasping voice. I jumped. A tiny woman with leathery skin stood beside me, azure contacts gathering and reflecting the room’s light.
“Hello,” I said, swallowing.
“Griselda Oleander,” she said with a slight bow. “I’ve been expecting you. All Women of a Certain Age find their bodies rapidly shifting. Elasticity fades. For the bosom, gravity is a harsh mistress.”
I nodded a bow in return, then glanced down at my upper deck. Once perky in its own right, middle age after breastfeeding three children had indeed taken its toll. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled.
“Can you help?” I lowered my chin to peer into her eyes. “Can you find one that fits?”
“Hmmm.” She stared deeply into my chest. “That is not up to me. The bra, you see, chooses the woman. Follow me.” Her emerald skirt swished around her ankles as she led me to the back of the shop. The rear wall comprised three stalls, each six feet across. Instead of doors, heavy velvet curtains trailed from brass rods.
Mrs. Oleander pushed a curtain aside and waved me into the space. A paisley silk dressing gown hung beside a long mirror. “Set your bag on the stool. Leave your trousers on but remove the bra and T-shirt. Put on the robe and tell me when you’re ready.” She swished the drapery shut.
My hands trembled as I knotted the sash around my thickened waist. I poked my head from the fitting room. “Ready.”
Mrs. Oleander brandished a pale-blue measuring tape with ebony markings. “Lose the robe,” she commanded. As I undid the belt, I wondered why she had me put it on in the first place.
Her long fingers fluttered along my ribcage as she wound the tape around my torso. “Thirty-eight. Forty-two. Nine and three-quarters. Gee. Interesting. Every Oleander bra has a magical feature, you see. We use lace, Duoplex, silk charmeuse and the occasional rubber band. No two Oleander bras are alike; each is as unique as its creator. And of course, you’ll never get as good results with another’s bra.”
She turned on her heel and left. I shrugged back into the robe, tapping my fingers against my thigh, awaiting her return.
“Right. Try this one. Italian power mesh with a muslin inlay. Thirty-eight band, G cup. Nice and flexible. A real workhorse. Pull it on and give it a bounce.”
The damned thing looked like an oversize Ace bandage. I lay a hand against a wall, steadying myself. “G cups? Since when is that a thing?”
“Used to be DDDD,” she said. “Took up too much space on the tags.”
WTF? When did I get a rack that big? I took the industrial-strength bra dangling from her finger, fastened the endless row of hooks around my waist and swung the monster into place. Like slow-roasted eggplant still in its skin, my breasts sagged at the base of each cup. Mrs. Oleander unhooked the bra almost at once.
“No, no, no. The cups are puckering. Much too big. And the band is pinching.” (Oh, gee. Thank the lord, I thought. A DDDD dressed up as a G? I’m not ready to have a bosom the confounding breadth of my Great Aunt Doris’.)
“Try this. Balconette. Chantilly lace, handloomed in France. Forty E. Gives you a nice, rounded cleavage, with the top quarter of the breast exposed. Think romance, Paris, French doors open to a tiled terrace, a warm breeze giving movement to gauzy curtains.”
I hooked and twisted. When I looked in the mirror, I saw side boobs bulging near my armpits, glistening slugs of flesh. Scarlet sparks flew from my eyes, but Mrs. Oleander’s grin bloomed.
“Tricky customer, eh? Not to worry. We’ll find the perfect match here somewhere — I wonder, now — yes, why not — unusual combination — nickel titanium underwiring, calibrated not to set off metal detectors …”
Mrs. Oleander handed me the next brassiere. Its weight sent a sudden warmth through my fingers. I hooked and spun, straightened my spine and inspected my reflection. No bulges. Nice uplift. Cries of joy bubbled from my lips, silvery soap bubbles drifting toward the heavens.
She clapped her hands. “Oh, brava! Yes, indeed. Very good. Well, well, well … how curious … how very curious …” I removed and handed her the brassiere and asked her to wrap it in tissue. As she moved toward the register, she was muttering.
“Curious … curious …,” she said again.
Mrs. Oleander fixed me with her cerulean stare. “I remember every bra I’ve ever sold. Every single bra. It so happens that I’ve sold only one other of this brassiere. Just one.” She steepled her fingers under her chin and regarded me with interest. “Decades ago.”
“Curious how these things happen. The bra chooses the woman, remember. I sold its mate,” she drew in a breath, “to your mother.”
My spirits sank. My bra-line did not.
I handed her my credit card and Mrs. Oleander bowed me from the shop.
This piece appeared in AARP.org on February 26, 2020. Click Here.