Fitting Bras

Men, you have no idea how important it is to have a bra fit well. (I suppose there might be something analogous in male attire, but probably not something that most of you have to wear every day.) Well, I’m here to tell you: it’s critical. It is extremely hard to get bras to fit right, and a constant, nagging discomfort when they don’t. Perhaps that’s why a lot of women I know hate to shop for bras. We know we’re going to spend hours rifling through racks and trying things on (when every trip in and out of the fitting room means getting undressed and redressed completely), and still go home with something that doesn’t quite work. Shopping with friends can take the edge off by making the whole situation very funny: you find the most ridiculous bras you can and try them on for each other, laughing uproariously and wondering who the hell would ever wear that for real.

One difficulty in buying bras is that they don’t all fit the same way, even within a given size. Just like clothing, bras come in different styles, and some styles work better with your body shape than others. If, like me, you wear an unusual size, finding anything at all in that size can be tricky.

There used to exist a cadre of women who actually knew how to fit bras, and worked in department stores sharing this knowledge with the benighted masses. They could tell you exactly what was wrong with each bra you tried on, and, after you’d rejected half a dozen, would trot out to the racks and instantly, unerringly, lay their hands on the item that would fit.

Macy’s used to have them, but the Macy’s ladies appear to have gone the way of the dodo. So I now know of only one place on earth where buying bras is relatively painless: Lady Grace. I just realized looking at their website that it’s actually a chain, with locations in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. I’ve only been to the store in Brookline. When I first started going there, thanks to a friend, around fifteen years ago, their fitters were the classic little old ladies. Now they’re young ladies, but, thank God, the wisdom has been passed on. On my recent visit to Boston, I spent an hour and a half in Lady Grace, departing with seven new bras, and a whole new world of comfort.

There’s one difficulty that a single visit can’t resolve. Many breasts are not the same size all month. Water retention before our periods makes them swell (and become tender – no touchy!), so a bra that fits well the first week of our cycle won’t later on. So, yes, there is a reason why we need about two dozen bras in service in any given month.

Bra Straps

What is it with the visible bra straps these days? There’s something in my upbringing, American or Asian, I dunno, that tells me that only sluts let their bra straps show. I could never wear spaghetti-strap tops or dresses because I absolutely need to wear a bra, and there’d be no way to hide its straps. (Yes, there are strapless bras, I have one because of a bridesmaid’s dress I had to wear once, but it’s practically a corset – doesn’t exactly fit with the carefree look one is trying to create with spaghetti straps.)

But lately I see girls and women letting the straps of their bras – and sometimes backs and fronts! – just hang out of whatever they’re wearing. I can’t help but think it looks trashy. Not to mention, in some cases, REALLY stupid (yes, even on Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex & the City). Honey, that backless black halter top with the white bra entirely visible from the back? Not workin’ for ya.

In Italy there are bras with transparent plastic shoulder straps which are supposed to resolve this problem, but it just doesn’t work. No matter how transparent, the straps are clearly not skin, especially when they’re digging into the shoulder. You might fool the eye at a distance, but that’s not really the point, is it?

So my advice to my daughter has been: enjoy the braless look while you still can, and give it up when it’s time to.

More on Bras

August 20, 2003

(Another of those articles that generated responses!)

A woman friend forwarded this to me: “A good friend is like a good bra: hard to find, very comfortable, supportive, holds you up when you are down, and always close to the heart.”

Buying bras in less-developed countries was very difficult back in the 1970s-80s. Sally Kibblewhite, who was my English teacher at Woodstock, wrote me: “The thought of you going off with seven bras reminded me of the selection I had when we set off for India, because we had been advised that bazaar bras were not ideal. I had washed them and they were drying in the sitting room of David’s brother’s house. He never forgot this vision of many pastel-coloured bras dangling from the clothes horse, and regularly asked me how my bras were going.”

I wish someone had thought to warn me about the less-than-idealness of bras in India. When we left the US for Bangladesh, my breasts weren’t large enough to worry about wearing bras, and none of us thought ahead to the time when they might be (my then-stepmother rarely wore a bra herself, being an uninhibited flower-child type, and small-breasted). By the time I got to boarding school at Woodstock 18 months later, I needed a bra. Being socially naive, I didn’t realize this until I took a dip in a cold river (wearing a T-shirt) during our 9th grade class hike, exciting much comment. Then my family had to scramble to get hold of some bras somehow. In India in those days, all bras were made the same way, of heavy cotton, with the cups sewn in a spiral to maximize pointiness – not what a blushing adolescent wants for her first bra, even if there had been any small enough to fit. We had to get my stepmother’s parents to mail me some “training” bras from Pittsburgh. (My dad’s running joke was that training bras are to train the boys how to undo them.)

Re. fitting bras in more modern times and places, Mike Looijmans suggests:

“Bring your (boy)friend and have him run up and down the aisle with bras. That saves you from having to undress and dress multiple times. He’ll have a chance to peek at half-dressed women (if all’s right, he’ll mostly be looking at you) in need of bras. Also, at the end of the afternoon, he’ll have a good idea of what size you are, so that if he wants to give you something naughty to wear, it’ll at least be somewhere near the right size.”

He adds: “I don’t think I’d take two women shopping for bras together seriously… While the two of you were doing that girlish giggling in the dressing room I’d probably be holding out a cupped hand and asking the kind lady in the shop for “about this size…” 😉 ”

In regards to my rant about today’s “anything shows” attitude, Mike and a few others pointed out that a décolleté lined with lace can look very classy instead of slutty. For the older generations (which doesn’t include Mike), back in the day when there was less flesh in general view, a mere glimpse of lingerie could be very exciting. Mike points out a solution for the straps problem: “My girlfriend has a bra that ends in two spaghetti straps on either side. If worn under something with a spaghetti strap, there’ll be a total of three straps on each shoulder, and that looks like it’s meant to be so. (strapless isn’t an option for her either).” My daughter has now found some bras like this, and they do look great. However, Benetton doesn’t have sizes to fit me!

Yesterday in the supermarket we saw another non-solution: a woman was wearing a low-backed sundress, so that the back of her bra was completely in view (and the front wasn’t entirely covered, either). I am not offended by total nudity (though I might find it surprising at the supermarket), but that, to me, just looked completely trashy. (She must have been a tourist. The ladies of Lecco often dress even more elegantly than the Milanese.)

Mike gets the final word on this one: “Now we’re on that topic anyway, am I the only guy who thinks a [full] bathing suit looks much sexier than a bikini?”

Just Wild About Harry? The Fan Fiction Phenomenon

I’ve long been an avid reader of fantasy, and even at the tender age of 39 I don’t hesitate to read books classified as for children or “young adults” (I’ll recommend a few at the end of this article). But I didn’t rush to read the Harry Potter books when they came out, and don’t consider myself a rabid Potter fan. Still, the books were fun, and I figured the movie would be, too.

Then I heard that Alan Rickman was in the film, and seeing it suddenly became imperative. In case you don’t remember, Rickman, as the evil Sheriff, upstaged Kevin Costner in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, and later upstaged the cute younger guy in Sense & Sensibility (if the younger sister had had any sense, she’d have preferred Rickman from the start; but the story was mostly about her lack of sense).

Rickman has a luscious baritone voice that it’s a crime to dub over, so I didn’t want to see “Harry Potter” until I could see it in English. To my delight, one cinema in Milan decided to show it in English for the first week of its run. (They were hardly committing commercial suicide: it’s a multiplex cinema, and the Italian version was showing on its deluxe big screen, while we English-speakers were relegated to a 126-seat hall in the basement.)

Rickman, as Harry Potter’s nemesis of a teacher, Severus Snape, didn’t get much screentime, but he made every second count… and I think I’ll stop there lest I begin to gush. Suffice to say that the critics – and Rickman’s legions of female fans – seem to agree with me.

The great thing about the Internet is that, no matter what you’re obsessed with, you can easily find thousands of other people similarly obsessed (well, sometimes that’s a bad thing). So, when I decided that a picture or two of Alan Rickman would be a fine addition to my Windows desktop, it wasn’t hard to find several very nice ones, both in and out of his Snape guise (er, waitaminute… nope, sorry, didn’t find any naked pictures).

While I was hunting for Snape pictures, I was surprised to also find a lot of fan fiction dedicated to this particular character. “Fanfic,” a phenomenon familiar from my exposure to Star Trek and Star Wars fandom, is what you get when fans make up their own stories set in the fictional universes they love, involving at least some of the original characters, often in situations that their original creators might find surprising. Fanfic runs the gamut from well to appallingly written, from humorous to depressing, and from G-rated to XXX.

Of course it’s the X stuff that gets people, ahem, exercised, especially “slash” fiction, so-called because it’s about relationships, “somebody / [slash] somebody”. Specifically, both somebodies are male. The classic example is “Kirk/Spock” fiction, which postulated that the heroes of the original Star Trek series were a good deal closer than Starfleet duties demanded.

Years ago, Richard Pini (of the husband-and-wife team that create and publish Elfquest) said in an editorial that he was aware of such stories circulating about their own two main male characters and, while not at all offended by homosexuality, he felt that it simply wasn’t appropriate for those two characters (and he felt the same about Kirk/Spock).

I wrote to him that I felt the stories were a compliment, proving the richness of what the Pinis had created: their universe had enough depth that people could picture themselves within it, and use their imaginations to help work out their own feelings and lives. This was over 15 years ago, when there weren’t many positive homosexual role models available in popular culture, so I thought it might be a psychological survival strategy for young gays: create your own gay role models, based on heroes you already love and admire.

At the time I had not actually read any slash fanfic, and was only guessing as to who was writing it. But a quote I just found online seems to bear out my thesis: “As a gay man, I don’t get to see any characters representing my experiences or viewpoint, so I co-opt one of the existing ones… and fill in their background. [The show doesn’t] seem to think my kind exist, so I have to make the themes relevant to myself.”

It appears, however, that most of the Snape fanfic, even the slash, is written by women. On one of the sites I found a link to an amusing article (“Severus Snape, Love God“), which linked to a further article (“The Trouble with Harry,” by Christopher Noxon, San Francisco Chronicle), about Harry Potter fanfic, and the predictable reaction of AOL Time Warner, guardians of the multi-billion dollar licensing property that Harry has become.

Says Noxon: “According to Henry Jenkins, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology scholar who has tracked it since its appearance in photocopied ‘zines circulated at fan conventions, slash porn appeals to young women because it lets them experience romantic bonds in a mythological universe far removed from the more familiar (and far scarier) world of boyfriends, dating and sex.”

Given the real risks sometimes associated with boyfriends, dating, and sex (such as date rape drugs), I don’t blame these young women for preferring to work out their feelings about sex in imaginary situations as far as possible from their own reality.

Jenkins’ theory also agrees with something I read years ago, in a book about Japanese comics (manga): In Japan there are entire genres of comics aimed at adolescent girls and young women, about – you guessed it – romantic relationships between androgynous young men. That author similarly believed that these fantasies were a way for girls to indulge romantic feelings, at a comfortable remove from their own realities.

Judging from some other quotes I found online, Jenkins has very interesting things to say in his 1992 book on fanfic, Textual Poachers : Television Fans & Participatory Culture (Studies in Culture and Communication). (Amazon  UK | US) I have a few more thoughts on the phenomenon myself, but I’ll read the book before I carry on with this topic.

Oh, and the movie? It was fun.

More on Fanfic

Good article

In case you are wondering: Yes, I’m tempted to write fanfic. No, I’m not going to tell you when/if I do. <grin>

Recommended Reading

If you do like the Harry Potter books, and even if you don’t, have a look at these as well:

His Dark Materials trilogy) by Philip PullmanSearch for Philip Pullman’s books at Amazon UK | US

The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinleySearch for Robin McKinley’s books at Amazon UK | US
Anything by Diana Wynne Jones – Her Chrestomanci stories are quite Potter-esque (very English, and very, very funny), but they pre-date Harry Potter by years.Search for Diana Wynne Jones’ books at Amazon UK | US

The End of an Era

Yesterday I said goodbye to the subscribers of the Roxio newsletters. And the email came pouring in. Sure, I’ve heard from people about the newsletters before. I always knew I was doing something right there. But (in spite of my considerable ego) I didn’t expect the warmth and kindness of some of the messages I received. Nor had I realized the extent to which I seem to have touched some people personally. Would I do this again? Yes, absolutely!

I don’t really know you, but I have the impression to know you from this tiny link. You’ve been a valued, *trusted* voice on many fronts.

I have found your writing to be “my kind of style”, very informal, sounding like it’s coming from a real living, breathing human instead of some corporate stuffed shirt in some cube somewhere.

In the short time I’ve been reading your Roxio newsletters, I’ve seen that you usually put some personal [HUMAN] touch in your work. So folks feel like there’s someone there, not just machines and programs. I like that.

Now you’re leaving Roxio and you’ve done something I’ve never seen anyone in the business sector do. You said goodbye. You didn’t just disappear. You’ve bid farewell. Lady, I appreciate that level of consideration you have extended to others. In today’s full-streaming online world, that is truly a nice little gift to receive! And I thank you for your gift.

You don’t know me, but you really has been a mentor in my World. I always thought you were some sort of gimmick to the company and that you were not real!

Like many others who have written you, I feel that your Adaptec/Roxio newsletters were much more than the typical “corporate communication”. I felt very strongly that there was a person who cared about the people on the mailing list — someone who wanted to empower them through Toast (and related technologies) to be the best that they could be. While sometimes the content was largely written by someone else, it was always useful, relevant, and clear — the hallmarks of a good editor. They were always a pleasure to receive… Not just for the information content, but because of the human face that accompanied them.

It was always good to find your newsletter in the intray – just like hearing from a old friend, who had some helpful tips to pass on. I will miss your warm and personal newsletters.

You have a very good writing style and it is this style that has kept me subscribed to the newsletters. Sorry to see you go.

Thanks for being a great support person who answered my questions perhaps before I even thought of them.

Your Adaptec/Roxio articles are among the MOST INFORMATIVE and accessible stuff I’ve read on CD-R Topics. …wonderfully chatty and friendly newsletters…

A really innovative, imaginative and charming person came through every time. I always enjoyed your e-mails and they made me a loyal customer of Adaptec/Roxio.

Your column was innovative, helpful and unique. I’ll miss your enjoyable, informative, and gracious reports. “You’re a Hard Habit to Break”

I’ve also appreciated the caring tone of your newsletters. I will miss not only your expert advice, but your clear, witty and superb writing style.

I have come to depend on your newsletters for hints, tips and a lot of humor. It’s been delightful having you as our hostess at Roxio.

Thanks to you, I went from a babbling idiot to master of all things CDR / CDRW. It was always a pleasure to read your newsletters, your personal touch made them so much more enjoyable. It made them standout and made the corporation seem a more friendly one even if it had an identity problem.

I feel as if you are a personal friend who always took time to help us discover new things with our computer-related hobby.

…it’s like losing a sister …feel obliged to you for much excellent advice, a great sense of forthright humour and a very human face, indeed.

You did something few can do on the net – you came through as a person, and friendly too.

We have enjoyed your help and friendliness. [Our workplace] won’t be the same after you are gone, it’s as though you were right here with us. We just want to say thanks for all the help and tech support. I know you don’t know us, but we all feel as though we know you.

Though we have never met, I looked forward to you regular e-mail as much as those from friends and family. I will personally miss the one on one feeling that I felt from you. You had the knack of putting a human and articulate side to the inanimate and often faceless e-mail.

I’ve enjoyed your e-mails … have had a sense of you as a ‘friend’ … Keep up your style and tone … it works.

How could you do such a thing I have only just got used to receiving e-mails from you being a new customer.

thanks for your wisdom – perky sense of humour – unflappability – and ever sincere honesty.

Thanks for being a human person that listens to the people.

Somehow Deirdre, you made friends whom you very seldom heard from. This newsletter of yours became so much part of my regular post, that maybe I’ll unsubscribe now.

I always looked forward to your news letters. I never really viewed them as Adaptec/Roxios letters but called them “Deirdre Grams”.

Just a note of applause for the info, energy you expend, and the tone or flow of the Roxio newsletter. I find it extremely informative . . . and user-friendly.

Probably what I enjoy most is your tender and gentle and loving approach. Makes me want to read and re-read it. …a warm, friendly writing style


{D: …and ‘the experts’ say that email is a poor medium for communicating emotion!]

Some comments that were less emotional but nonetheless very sweet (and flattering!):
Your emails are kind of like the National Geographic magazine, you never throw them away.

You’re such a clear writer; you remind me of J.K. Rowling.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – My Favorite Obsession

Already a Buffy Fan?

Here are a few other vampires you might enjoy.

Convention Report, June 2001

By now “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is an international phenomenon. The show has completed its 5th season in the United States, and has generated a spin-off show, “Angel” which has been running for two years. My family have been fans for about a year and a half, thanks to my friend and former employee, Adrian Miller.


George Hertzberg (Adam) with Ross

It’s also thanks to Adrian that we got tickets to the big Buffy convention held near London in June. If you’ve ever been to a Star Trek convention, or seen the movie Galaxy Quest, you’ll have an idea what these conventions are like (in fact, a lot of the same people go to conventions for Star Trek, Star Wars, Xena, and other sci-fi/fantasy shows as well as Buffy). I wouldn’t do this every year, but it was definitely a cultural experience.

The main activity at a convention like this is standing in line: You stand in line to get tickets to have your picture taken with one of the star guests, then you stand in line to have the actual picture taken, then you stand in line to have the picture (and other items) autographed.

In between lines, you can attend talks by the star guests, watch episodes of the show you have missed or want to see again, and – most importantly! – buy show-related merchandise from the sales booths.

There were quite a few star guests at this year’s convention, although Buffy and Angel themselves were not present. The guests included J. August Richards (Gunn on Angel), Andy Hallett (Lorne on Angel), Robin Atkin Downes (various monsters), George Hertzberg (big bad Adam on season four of Buffy), James Marsters (Spike on Buffy), Nicholas Brendon (Xander on Buffy), the three main make-up artists from both shows (Todd McIntosh, Dayne Johnson, and David DeLeon), Chris Golden (author of several fiction and non-fiction books about Buffy), and, best of all, Joss Whedon, creator of both shows.

What impressed me most was how hard all the star guests worked throughout the weekend. While we fans were standing in line, they, too, were on their feet: having their pictures taken with hundreds of fans, giving their talks, and spending hours at the autograph tables signing everything from photographs to books to toothbrushes.

Listening to and observing the guests, it was clear that these people work extremely hard, on average 14 hours a day throughout the shooting season (which seems to be nine or 10 months a year). Because the title character is a vampire, “Angel” is shot mostly at night, so the Angel cast and crew have the added stress of always being on the night shift. All the people involved with the shows clearly take enormous pride in the quality of their work, quality which can be seen on the screen – and they’re all having tremendous fun as well.

James Marsters in particular doesn’t seem to mind all the female attention he gets. One might accuse him of a slightly swelled head, but it’s also easy to forgive him, because he is clearly having so much fun being famous – no moans about the downside of fame here! And even idols have their own idols. James raved about how he had just spent several days with Roger Daltrey, who had even given him a guitar. During a Q&A session a fan asked him why he didn’t demand more lines in a movie. “First,” he said, “you don’t walk onto a set and demand more lines. Second, if there’s any opportunity to be in a film – even for a few seconds – with Geoffrey Rush, I’m going to take it!”

There is quality in the details of Buffy as well. The three make-up artists gave a demonstration: it took two hours each to reproduce two of the demon faces from the shows, plus one simple vampire make-up and one “glamourous” make-up. They mentioned that the soft foam rubber monster masks are each used only once. This a quality choice: in order to blend the edges of the mask invisibly into the actor’s skin, those edges must be very thin. It is impossible to remove the masks without tearing the edges at least a little, so if the same mask were re-used, its edges would be more visible when reapplied. Instead, a fresh mask is made every time, and the make-up is therefore as convincing as it can be – every time.

Most of the guests who came for the convention had taken advantage of their tickets to London to do some sightseeing, several bringing relatives or “significant others” with them. But they took time out from tourism to get together and celebrate a cast member’s birthday. I felt wistfully envious of the Buffy and Angel gangs: they work long and hard together most of the year to create some of the greatest shows on television, and they all seem to like each other. It must be fun.

rear L-R: George Hertzberg, Robin Atkin Downes, Andy Hallett, J. August Richards, David deLeon, Dayne Johnson
front L-R: James Marsters, Rossella, Amber Benson, Joss Whedon, Todd McIntosh – photos (c) David Sumner


TV or Not TV?

Even conservatives like Buffy: Buffy Is Here to Stay, National Review

What Women Want : Buffy, the pope & the new feminists

Worlds of Whedon

Strange Wars: Evangelical Counter-Cultists vs “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” – by Massimo Introvigne

God, New Religious Movements and Buffy the Vampire Slayer – by Massimo Introvigne

A teenager to get your teeth into: Bryan Appleyard on Buffy