Sisterhood of the Ill-Fitting Bras

28 Aug

When you talk to old-timey people, they will tell of the dark days of the Licence Raj, when India was a “mixed economy” a.k.a. Socialist But Didn’t Want to Say So In Case They Had to Take care of People in More Ways Than Emotional. Those were the days when you daren’t run an efficient manufacturing unit, in case the government fined you for doing your job too well and exceeding your permitted quota of finished goods. The days when you drank Campa Cola and bloody well liked it because Coca Cola was too capitalist for pure Indian throats. When a Customs job was like Christmas every day because every Indian who came back from the splendidly debauched Abroad came dripping with exotic items such as French perfume, Swiss chocolates and Japanese electronics and were only to happy to “gift” you a little something if they could take in the majority of their haul.

Those were also the days when my mother customarily bid adieu to my father by telling him to take care of himself and to forget the perfume and eat all the chocolates he wanted – but for the love of God, bring her back a dozen bras.

For years, those bras were an integral part of any gift package that arrived for our family. Her sisters, living in capitalist luxury elsewhere in the world would buy them for her. My father, the poor man, knew lingerie shops in every country he’d been to. But I didn’t realize the depth of her obsession until my thirteenth birthday brought with it her idea of The Perfect Gift: training bras, made in France.

The lace was itchy, the elastic was uncomfortable and I couldn’t breathe. “I hate it!” I told her.

“They’re French!” she said, shocked. “How can you hate it?”

“I don’t care where they were made,” I insisted stubbornly. “I hate them.”

She fiddled with the straps and pushed and pulled (not that there was much at the time to push or pull but she tried her best) a bit. “Is that better?”

“No! It’s too tight. I can’t breathe.”

“Oh, that!” She let out a sigh of relief. “That’s just how a bra functions.”

“What!” I was stunned. The whole bra-burning thing suddenly made so much sense to me. First Wave Feminism, yay! “You mean I have to feel this way for the rest of my life? I can’t breathe from now till I’m dead?” Was this what they meant by ‘the pain of being a woman’? “I won’t! I refuse!”

“Well, then do you want your breasts to droop to the floor?” It was clear she didn’t think much of this course of action.

I toyed with the idea of saying yes just to piss her off. But truly, that didn’t sound very comfortable. “No.”

“Then this is how it is,” she said firmly. “If every other woman can do it, so can you.”

Temporarily defeated by the thought of the Droopy Boobies, I let it go. But soon found another thing to complain about: “All this twisting and pulling is too much trouble, I don’t like it and I can’t see what I’m doing and I’m getting angry and since you want me to control my temper, I can’t wear a bra. The end.”

Not that easily, it turned out. A phone call was placed and I soon received a lovely gift from my aunt in America: a front open bra. “Great,” I muttered glumly.

“Look,” said my mother in the accents one generally reserves for toddlers. “It has pretty little flowers embroidered around the border. So pretty!”

I thought I might vomit.

Reading the rebellion on my face, Ma immediately changed tactics. “Fine, why don’t we go look for some Indian bras then? You can choose what you like.”

“Something loose and comfortable?” I asked hopefully.

Whatever you like,” she said with a worrying amunt of smugness in her voice.

I soon found out why: nobody makes anything resembling a passable bra in India.

Oh, they looked like bras, and they’re called bras, but in texture they resembled the very finest the khadi industry had to offer and they fit about as well as if I’d hung lampshades about my bosom. They had names like Fairy and Angel and featured pictures of coy women and their magnificent bosoms on the cover of their cardboard cartons, but the only way you could achieve a similar result was if you stood in the same pose as they did, which is to say leaning back with your arms behind your head. It being a little hard to go about normal life in such a fashion, I went back to my hated training bras – at least they were pretty and soft. And the lace might be itchy but at least it didn’t make it look as though my breasts were collapsing in the middle. I now understood why women of my grandmother’s generation had stuck to their little “bodices” instead of switching to the new fangled bra to go with their painstakingly stitched saree blouses.

Now that I’m older and Indian women are buying imported bras in the comfort of their own cities, I have to wonder: what do Indian women who don’t feel like (or can’t afford to) shelling out upwards of several hundred rupees a bra do when they need a little support? Are they all buying Fairy and Angel, figuring nobody will notice the odd contours under the all forgiving saree? And why hasn’t anybody figured out that all these women must be dying for the same comforts and variety of choice offered to their Western counterparts? Not just out of the goodness of their hearts (I’m not that naive) but there must be a fortune to be made here.

For myself, ever since I upgraded to adult sized brassieres, I’ve been hunting for a good bra. I have found two, one of them despite a disapproving fitter at Victoria’s Secret who was outraged that my breasts defied her decries of what would properly fit. “I said you have to go up a size,” she told me in condemnatory tones as I jumped around the dressing room, delirious with happiness at finding a bra that finally fit me the way it was supposed to.

It’s experiences like that one that make me think that Secrets from Your Sister might actually be on to something. I don’t know yet if I’ve given up enough to pay them for their services, but I feel comforted by the thought that if all else fails and they pull my two preferred bras off the market, I’ll at least have them to fall back on, even if I do have to go to Canada for the privilege. Somewhere in this cold world, someone cares about my boobies’ comfort, even if I have to pay them for it.

Actually I’d be all for the Spanx bra if I could wear it with something other than round neck Ts which I usually avoid like the plague – seriously, I can deal with stepping into it rather than snapping it on, but with bands that wide, what on earth can you wear it with? Your pyjamas?

[Pic Source]


Posted by on August 28, 2008 in Life, Personal


39 responses to “Sisterhood of the Ill-Fitting Bras

  1. M

    August 28, 2008 at 3:43 pm


    Just HOW do you come up with your ideas for posts? I simultaneously LOLed and nodded along to your post ๐Ÿ™‚

    Indian bras – in their defence, they have improved – to take a well known S.Indian brand, Naidu-Hall – their current crop of all cotton bras are very comfortable – especially when your assets are not quite in model shape any more! (usually wear underwired bras from the US, but they were too uncomfortable in TN’s summer, so went local shopping) Jockey also has a large presence in India and I saw Jockey bras in B’lore in the Rs 300 range (some sale). Is Victoria’s Secret all it claims to be? My lifelong kanjoosy keeps me from entering that store ๐Ÿ™‚


  2. OrangeJammies

    August 28, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    Omigod, this is such a coincidence! I’ve been thinking bras all of this past week and carrying around a La Senza coupon I got for my birthday!
    I so miss my VS ones, but La Senza isn’t too bad except that the underwiring occasionally tears through the fabric and pokes into your skin. I’m going to try Etam soon. Marks and Spencer isn’t bad either, but yes, they’re all way more expensive than basic necessities should be. And yes, the Fairies and the Angels and the Libertinas still sadly and uglily exist. Sigh!

  3. Pitu

    August 28, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    Yuck, I hate bras. Hate em. VS bras esp the underwired ones are horrid. The only comfy stuff is by Gilligan O Malley. I think I have one total :-p

    Support camisoles are the way to go, baby!! And also, when you cannot wear a cami, wear falsies! ๐Ÿ˜€

  4. Broom

    August 28, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    I still remember how I felt the first time I wore a bra from Victoria’s Secret. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
    I’ve never been able to find bras that make me feel like I’m not really wearing one, anywhere else. I tried La Senza and M&S & Jockey. They all failed.
    For Christmas, TG & I treated ourselves to a large international shipment of bras from VS. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Kanan

    August 28, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    I didn’t feel like reading the whole thing, Amrita. Sorry. But I am with Pitu on this. I am thinking whoever created these bras didn’t have to wear one. ๐Ÿ˜ To wear an underwired one is like the worst thing anyone can do to themselves. YIKES!

  6. ana

    August 28, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    I actually remember liking those cotton bras that I had when I was a teenager before moving to America. And I hate bras, constricting buggers. Now I don’t think I could ever wear a cotton bra again. . . or go without one period.


  7. pitu

    August 29, 2008 at 12:17 am

    “my grandmotherโ€™s generation had stuck to their little โ€œbodicesโ€

    Amrita, what is this bodice of which you speak? Am confused.

  8. A Cynic in Wonderland

    August 29, 2008 at 12:59 am

    I worked on a retail store brand which was planning to launch some once. and we had all these wrong- side- of- forties women coming and describing their dream bras – they kept on talking about ‘katoris’ shaped ones and other extremely vivid descriptions which included zips in strategic places ( for ease of ahem taking off) and other fairly interesting stuff ( and mind you these were Indian very middle class, middle aged women). It was an eye opening experience for a fresh-out-of college me ( the boss told me later that my face was all shades of crimson through the research). So yus, there is DEFINITELY a fortune to be had out there.
    Great post!

  9. Hades

    August 29, 2008 at 2:52 am

    Sigh! Being a woman is tough.

    And I really never quite understood why burning bras was a feminist thing. This post clears some things, I guess.

  10. Ramsu

    August 29, 2008 at 3:19 am

    You know, I figure it is a sign of my development as a mature male that I was able to actually read through this post without shifting uncomfortably ๐Ÿ˜€

    Having said that, I did find it fairly funny in a from-the-outside-looking-in kind of way. No wait, that didn’t come out quite right… Ah, screw it!


    ps: Did you know that VS is actually made in Guduvancheri? Make what you will of that little factoid.

  11. revathi

    August 29, 2008 at 3:35 am

    Yes, I remember those terrible bras that I wore as a teenager with their bad quality elastic ( my mother said that at least it has an elastic) that were too tight in the beginning but lost their elasticity in a week. The straps were made out of some stiff material that cut into your shoulders, made you feel like you are in an iron cage the whole day. I got so used to them that when I first bought a real good one in europe, it felt too loose and I felt like I wasnt wearing one.

  12. desigirl

    August 29, 2008 at 5:56 am

    HOW do you have a perfect family folk lore for every darned thing under the sun??? I am amazed!! But thrilled cos what else will be there for u to regale us with??!

    BTW, just discovered the perfect bra (well to suit current condition) at Debenhams. Tho mum claims she buys 4 for the same price it cost me one here, am not bovvered! It fits like a ruddy glove – er, however a bra’s supposed to fit. Deep joy!

  13. memsaab

    August 29, 2008 at 10:27 am

    My friend Ruth refers to underwire bras as “Support Can Be Iron-Clad” bras. This is just a fabulous post, Amrita…besides harassment from clueless men, the evils of finding a comfortable (and pretty) bra has to be right up there in its ability to unite women across the globe (no pun intended). In my next life I want to be flat as a board so I don’t have to worry about it! (But I still want to be a woman/)

  14. M

    August 29, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    Sorry, using your comment space to address others, but Pitu, Kanan, alas, I too was once like you, despising underwires…then time did its thing (two kids and the associated nursing and gravity helped as well, I’m sure) and now, I’m afraid, the underwire is my friend! I actually find Gilligan and OMalley somewhat…flimsy for me ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

    Ah bra-elastic…I remember my mother and aunts had regular changing-the-bra-elastic sewing parties – you could buy replacement elastic and swap out the loose ones, as the body of the bra usually stayed in one piece a lot longer than the elastid did!


  15. Amrita

    August 29, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    M – hey, go right ahead ๐Ÿ™‚ I love it when you guys talk amongst yourselves. The nice thing about VS is the variety. I do have friends who can never find anything that fits them properly there but with a little bit of patience I was able to find a model that fit me fine. Ah, the kanjoosi! Try their sales ๐Ÿ˜€ I don’t remember elastic changing parties but I do remember Naidu Hall because I needed to get some saree blouse bras (v.important) and they were the only ones halfway decent. I don’t care for Jockey myself. I think their panties are great and so are their camisoles but their bras are rubbish. For me anyway.

    OJ – I’m always thinking about bras! ๐Ÿ˜€ I’ve never tried La Senza and you’re scaring me with the underwire horror stories.

    Pitu – You might like the Spanx bra. And their new model (which I intend to buy soon) even looks like it has a manageable band. The “bodice” was like a sleeveless vest made out of thin, translucent cotton that my grandma and her sisters wore under their blouses. It was pretty much like going commando except they had a little lining there to make it more comfy or suppress any sticking out etc I guess. Homemade Granny lingerie.

    Broom – LOL @ the Christmas gift! I’ve done the same for my mom. The old Spanx made me feel like I wasn’t wearing anything (well, almost, I don’t think it’s physically possible for anyone over an A cup to feel like they’re wearing nothing at all) but the problem was that I wear V necks and it just wouldn’t go.

    Kanan – that’s alright ๐Ÿ™‚ If it’s the wrong size then an underwire can kill you with pain. Otherwise it does wonders for your shape.

    Ana – unnatural being! ๐Ÿ˜€ Or maybe they’re better in Pakistan? Don’t they make really good cotton in Pakistan? Am I making this up?

    Cynic – AHAHAHAHAHA!!! I can imagine the nice aunties telling the nice boy what uncle ji and they would like for Christmas! Did the store launch finally? If I were a go getter type person I’d probably do something about it.

    Hades – I didn’t udnerstand either until I had to strap one on! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Ramsu – lolz, Peeping Tom! REALLY? Goddammit, it’s like a sign.

    Revathi – “my mother said that at least it has an elastic” HAHAHAHAH!!! that is the saddest and funniest thing Ive heard so far!

    DG – well, you need a family like mine that won’t shut up and always has an opinion on everything to start with. ๐Ÿ˜€ Debehams, eh? I’m gonna come to the UK if they start pulling my brands off the market.

    Memsaab – seriously, I dont know why women always want to tinker with their breast size. I suppose it’s a grass is greener syndrome but it’s always seemed to me that women with smaller breasts have it so much easier. Not that I’m exactly exploding across the chest but … Support can Be Iron Clad, heh heh.

  16. Pitu

    August 29, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    Ahem, let me just say my BFF and I called each other ‘omelettes’ since adolescence and this is why our bra purchases are non-existent ๐Ÿ˜€ Don’t have curves, don’t want em ๐Ÿ˜€

  17. memsaab

    August 29, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    This may be Too Much Information—forgive me if it is—but I did have breast reduction surgery about 11 years ago and have spent those 11 years wondering what took me so long. Best money I ever spent. Women who get implants that are bigger than their heads?—WTF?! I seriously don’t get it.

  18. Sharanya Manivannan

    August 29, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    Oh Indian bras are the worst!! The only worse thing than the majority of Indian bras (I’ve found one or two Enamor ones I liked) are some of the bra saleswomen of Chennai. They stare, pass comments about your body right in front you, speak to you in a disgusted tone (“why is this girl shopping for INTIMATES by herself?!”), embarrass you, and then throw dirty looks as you walk away without purchasing anything. Brrrr….

  19. the mad momma

    August 29, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    oh God.. a bra post. Where were you when I was bitching abt padded bras? Any decent bras in India – are padded. Size 44D – padded. I ask you – what woman who is a size 44 D, needs pads?????

    And God yes – I hate wearing them but hey – as M said – two kids and I atleast need to wear them when I am out in public!

  20. ana

    August 29, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    Amrita: I don’t know how good the cotton is in Pakistan compared to elsewhere, but I do know that the last cotton bra from there that I owned had such awesome support, almost like an underwire, that I wanted to hold on to it forever. . . .and then I grew out of it, exponentially.

    And now I have to contend with this nasty nylon spandex stuff. . . woe is me. ๐Ÿ˜€

  21. Pitu

    August 29, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Mad Momma, are you sure you didn’t bump into Anna Nicole Smith in one of those stores? ๐Ÿ˜€ Because, clearly, 44D is toooo small!

  22. terri

    August 29, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    If I wore saris in life, I wouldn’t subject my body to the confines of a bra. I’ve started buying dark-colored clothes to escape wearing one in this sweltering weather. “Do you want them to sag?’ asked my shocked mother, as though they were perky to begin with.

  23. Sindhu

    August 29, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    Loved this entry. ๐Ÿ™‚ You write really well.

    Indian bras and I just don’t get along. My mom’s tried to convince me to try a few but I just can’t fathom how the bra-makers came up with such horrible designs and cuts and overall style! All the Indian bras succeeded in doing was shaping my boobs into unnatural shapes, making me highly uncomfortable, and providing me some sort of awkward support where I felt extremely claustrophobic.

    Victoria Secret’s all the way for me – I have found the perfect bras there. Sure, they can be a little pricey, but they are totally worth it in my eyes. (Too bad Singapore doesn’t have a VS…)

  24. Sachita

    August 29, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    oh thank the webworld for posts like these.

    My only problem till date was, I could never figure out what the right one would be i,e exactly what kind of look am I going for with these Bras.
    I can figure out rocket science but not that bra science.

    Now that you gals are putting in the braless option, I would take that anyday. But I don’t want them droop either.

  25. DesiGirl

    August 30, 2008 at 1:37 am

    gosh that comment by terri cracked me up!!

    Ams, the more I hear about your folklore filled family, the more I think you being a writer isn’t such a far out thing after all! I mean, what else can you be?!

  26. bollyviewer

    August 30, 2008 at 2:02 am

    OMG, what a hilarious post and so true!!! I came to US, discovered Victoria’s Secret and am still hooked (pun not intended). Its too bad Canada doesnt have any VS (La Senza is too much like Indian bras than I care to think of) – so I just stock up whenever I cross the border.

  27. Priyanka

    August 31, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    Well, I am kind of getting around talking to guys about my periods, and now here we are having a discussion on the discomfort of bras in an open site!! :p
    Don’t the guys want to comment on anything going on in here!!! Will their fascination for boobs lessen if they found out the torment we go through??

  28. Amrita

    August 31, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    Pitu – LOL, do your boobs fit in a champagne glass? Someone on another site once wrote that the French thought the perfect boob was one that fit in a champagne glass. And for the longest time I kept misunderstanding it by unconsciously imagining a champagne flute and thinking, “Wow, the french are kinky and into freak shows”.

    MM – 44 DD paddeds? WTF? ๐Ÿ˜€ Those women better be careful turning around coz if they might take someone’s eye out if they turned around too quick

    Sharanya – oh Lord, I once tried to buy an Enamor bra in Coimbatore and the women there did everything but throw me out of the store rather than let me buy what I wanted. They desperately wanted me to buy some horrible beaded thing with loads of lace by Lovable that pushed my boobs up under my chin. Finally I bought my Enamor and they refused to give me a bill for it. Good times.

    Terri – AHAHAHA!!! But I thought breast feeding improved your figure? No? Harold Robbins is a liar!

    Ana – lolz, you better take an umbrella out with you next time you leave the house to save you from all the rotten tamaater heading your way.

    Memsaab – not at all ๐Ÿ™‚ I personally have thought that I might go for a little lift up in my 40s or 50s in case I need it. I’m planning my mid life crisis as you see. But mostly, watching Nip/Tuck has made me violently against plastic surgery in general because there’s no way you can watch those men attack a nose with hammer and chisel and come away with anything other than intense love for your nose.

    Sindhu – thank you ๐Ÿ™‚ VS really seems to be the bra of choice around these parts

    Sachita – ah, well that depends on what kind of clothes you wear and whether you like to feel a little sexy or naughty underneath ๐Ÿ™‚ The benefit of a good underwire, otoh, lies in the shape it gives your torso. And as long as you figure out a style that suits your breasts, you can experiment with designs until you find one that you like. Take a friend along!

    Dg – it sure beats therapy ๐Ÿ˜€

    BV – The more I hear about La Sena the more I believe I’ll leave it alone. Hey you ought to chekc out this Secrets from you Sister thing if you’re ever in TO and tell us about it.

    Priyanka – we’re a-marching forward! ๐Ÿ˜€ To be fair to my regular male readers, at least two of the comments here have been from males. But generally, I suppose discretion is the better part of valor.

  29. Zahra

    September 1, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    Howlarious!!!! ๐Ÿ˜€
    Amazingly funny and well written post….loved it absolutely, esp since I could identify with every line!! I still remember how I kicked and fidgeted when my mom decided that it was ‘time’….. and nearly passed out when I realized that I’d be caged up for life :(….. ahhh, to be an eight-year-old again!!!

    Pleeease write more!!!

  30. Sheela

    September 13, 2008 at 9:01 am

    Gr8 posts…..
    there is a store in pondy bazaar, Instore, they have all the leading brands in lingerie and trial rooms too…i liked the service and collection….they have another shop in purasawalkam too i guess…..

  31. Amrita

    September 14, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    Zahra & Sheela – thanks for coming by!

  32. Banno

    September 23, 2008 at 5:31 am

    Hilarious. So Victoria’s Secret it is then? I guess I can trust your judgement on this.

  33. Amrita

    September 23, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    It works for me but you have to search a bit. I must confess that I do have friends who can;t find anything to fit them at VS.

  34. guessworker

    December 11, 2008 at 11:24 pm

    There are some other side effects as well.

  35. ravi nair

    December 13, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    This post did educate me a lot. Now it makes sense what the tightly wrapped “gift” is when I go to India etc and have to give my cousins wives, mother etc. Thankfully my wife goes by herself or with her friends to Victoria’s Secret etc, not that I would mind the occasional sojourn to one of them locally.

    Come to think of it, with all the complaints I hear from women here, it might be a good idea to start a BRA company-could make a killing I guess :-).

    Thank God, I am not asked to go shopping by my wife. I’ll stick to the Bath and Body Works store-there stops our “mutual interest” or maybe the “gourmet coffee bean” store, where I find the beans that we love.

  36. Abracadabra

    June 11, 2009 at 2:48 am

    What the hell is wrong with me? I go and say something about bras in a post on “magnificent bosoms” and reserve my tittle tattle for this post about bras!

    But thank heavens you’re not one to take umbrage at a silly someone’s abject senseless when it comes to context sensitivity. And, incidentally, I too happen to think “Small and Humble” is just as magnificent, so Shakira, you Go Girl! ๐Ÿ˜€

%d bloggers like this: