Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mrs. Smiling, 1 Mouse Place

Stella Gibbons' marvelous comic novel, "Cold Comfort Farm" is about Flora Poste and her attempt to civilize her rural cousins, the Starkadder family, of Howling, Dorset. Although the drama involving the Starkadders is the main focus of the novel, one of my favorite characters is a minor one, Flora's London friend, Mrs. Smiling. Mrs. Smiling is single - a widow - and well-off, and has a series of beaux she cultivates but never commits to. She lives in a little house with geraniums hanging in baskets. And she has a hobby.
Mrs. Smiling's ... interest was her collection of brassieres, and her search for a perfect one. She was reputed to have the largest and finest collection of these garments in the world. It was hoped that on her death it would be left to the nation.

She was an authority on the proper cut, fit, color, construction, and proper functioning of brassieres; and her friends had learned that her interest, even in moments of extreme emotional or physical distress, could be aroused and her composure restored, by the hasty utterance of the phrase:

"I saw a brassiere today, Mary, that would have interested you..."
Tootsie Farklepants recently posted about the frustrations of bra-shopping. A lot of commenters agreed.

Bra shopping is discouraging, demoralizing, and humiliating for most women. A garment so formidably engineered, with such a complex system of sizing, and such an exacting standard of proper fit is intimidating.

Back when I was a young mother, I wore plain and utilitarian bras - the kind of thing that springs to mind when you hear the phrase "durable goods" in the financial news. Equipped with triple-hook closures and wide shoulder straps designed to evenly distribute heavy loads, gusseted inserts for ease of movement, and snappable flaps to allow the rapid deployment of the assests they protect to fulfill their mission of infant nutrition. They came in colors like "toast"or "nude" or plain white. Their molded cups were as formidable and as enticing as shoulder pads or athletic gear.

In recent years, however, I've switched from wearing these dull and boring garments to wearing beautiful, lacy, sexy bras. It's like having a pretty secret beneath my everyday clothes.

I like brassieres from French lingerie-makers like Lejaby and Aubade and Simone Perele, classy and expensive looking - (not just looking; I can only afford them when they're on sale). I like their cheaper imitators, Felina, Jezebel, and Passionata, with their sluttish - but ever so sexy - bosom-revealing demi-bras, or "balconnette" syles. I love the exquisite detail in their garments.

And lace. Give me some lace.

It's often asserted - by lingerie retailers - that bras have a "shelf life" of only 3-6 months or so, and should be replaced when their elastic gets flabby, for fear they won't provide proper bosom support. When I wore workaday bras, this seemed unrealistic. As a friend of mine said the other day "Three months? That's when they finally get comfortable!"

For a lacy bra, unlike a more practical one, this is all too true. Like fresh flowers, beautiful lingerie is fragile. All it takes is [The Man I Love] tossing it into the washer and dryer with the blue jeans a couple of times, and that lovely pale pink La Perla confection becomes a torn and snaggled shred of lavender-grey netting.

So every six months or so I go online and check out what's on sale - at, or, or - the Grand Dame of bra retailing - Nordstrom. Sometimes I get a little carried away. Apparently, I ordered some things from Nordstrom, and then forgot I did, and ordered some more from The other day two shipments landed on my doorstep with a bouquet of beautiful bras!

At this rate, I too will someday have the largest and finest collection of these garments in this world! Like Mrs. Smiling:
Mrs. Smiling then went away, her face lit by that remote expression that characterizes the collector when on the trail of a specimen.
She would have LOVED shopping for brassieres on the internet!


KathyR said...

So pretty.

Not itchy?

Optimist said...

I am inspired!! How do you know your size in each? Are they pretty much uniform that way?


M. Bouffant said...

I'm not sure I needed to know that you're walking around w/ hot underwear on, but more power to you.

1blueshi1 said...

my obsession is shoes...WHY did eBay have to come up with the bright idea of emailing me when shoes are posted that match my idea of heaven?
on the other hand, I rock a complete wardrobe of Carlos Santanas and Jessica Simpsons, not to mention Aldo and BCBG Girls, for less than half of what they retail husband finds some comfort in that. Just not enough!