Alison is my beautiful, warm and witty sister. Only two years apart – she’d want me to admit I’m the older- we’ve enjoyed a deep friendship our entire lives (if you don’t count that year or two during adolescence when she was a complete dork. Or maybe that was me…).
I’ve always called her “Al” and she calls me “Trace”, but awhile back, new nicknames were born during a shopping trip in Seattle…
Six or seven years ago, we were at Nordstrom’s and for the first time ever, I decided to take advantage of their renowned bra-fitting service. So, while Alison abandoned me in search of something that would satisfy her urge for retail therapy more than a new bra, I was snagged by one of the lingerie department’s “au pairs”, their “bosom buddies” – all young, pretty, perky (everywhere) and impeccably polite.
My PBF – Personal Bra Fitter – a sycophantic salesgirl with tape measure garlands draped about her neck, ushered me into a change room the size of a concert hall. This room – where I would very shortly be held as a topless hostage – was a torture chamber of unforgiving wall-to-wall mirrors. (In that moment, I understood how the “What Not To Wear” fashion victims must feel gazing at their figure flaws in the infamous 360-degree mirror.)
My PBF kindly suggested that “we take off our top”, but it was clear that we meant me and she wouldn’t be participating. With northern exposure readied, she unwound a tape measure from her neck and with practiced hands and eyes, sized up the challenge. With a cheery “Please just relax for a few minutes while I get some bras for you,” my PBF disappeared on a mission to find the perfect undergarment to give my ego and the girls a boost. I was left to contemplate my navel and other exposed body parts.
Over the next 45 minutes or so, I tried on dozens of bras, the ever-hopeful Goldilocks that I’d find one that was just right. My PBF supervised while instructing me in the finer points of “scooping” and “tucking”. (Here I thought “scooping” involved ice cream or juicy news stories and “tucking” was something you reminded your teenager to do with his t-shirt.)
It was a workout comparable to a five-mile hike. Uphill. In the hot sun. I was exhausted and sweaty with the effort and despite the chipper, encouraging chatter of my PBF, I had come to a point where my criteria for the perfect bra was “anything that lifted and separated”. Shouldn’t be a tall order for a bra.
It was at this moment of impending surrender that Alison returned to the lingerie department looking for me. I heard her as she called in to the change room:
“Hi, Trace, you still here?”
“Sadly, yes. Fifty down, 50 to go.”
“Really?! You haven’t found one yet?”
“Well, what do you think of this one?”
I opened the door to my mirrored stadium so Al could see me in my current spandex confection. I watched her eyes widen as she took in this brute of a bra best described as a beige breastplate: an elaborate prison of connective wire, elastic, hooks and straps that would require the skills of Houdini to extricate. I knew I wouldn’t make the pages of the Victoria’s Secret catalogue, confirmed by Alison’s ill-concealed snort.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh. But it just looks so, well, I don’t know – sturdy.”
“Sturdy? You mean high function, low fashion?”
“Oh, my god, you could deflect bullets off that.”
“Ha-ha. And, you can’t bruise my ego.”
Turning back to my reflection in the chamber of mirrors, I saw the bra for what it really was – armour! But in that moment, the exhaustion and frustration of the previous hour vanished, as the mere mortal in the hideous beige bra morphed into her alter-ego, suited up and ready to fight for the greater good. I threw my shoulders back, assumed the superhero stance, thumped my chest while bellowing:
“I’M XENA, WARRIOR PRINCESS!”
In response, Alison assumed a timid pose and in her most submissive voice, squeaked, “And I’m Weena.”
If mammary serves, Xena and her meek acolyte Weena conquered the Battle of the Bra at Nordstrom’s. While we won the battle, Nordstrom’s still won the war: Xena paid a king’s ransom for two overpriced breastplates.
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