It’s embarrassing when your office manager asks you to please wear a bra to work. It’s even worse when that message is delivered to you via telephone — as in, the game “telephone,” where the manager tells your cubicle-mate who tells the receptionist, who gives the message to your best friend.
I know most women wear bras without complaint, but they have been brainwashed — forced to wear “training” bras before they even had bosoms. When I was in grade school, my mom tried to get me to wear those useless triangles of fabric, so I took them off at the bus stop and stuffed them deep into my book bag. Eventually, a male classmate discovered that dense clot of bras and hoisted them in the air like a prizewinning trout in front of a very appreciative pre-algebra class. My secret was out. I was the girl who didn’t wear bras.
This reputation followed me through high school, where boys regularly ran their fingers down my spine to confirm the rumors. (Sometimes to my secret enjoyment.) Then, I went to a women’s college where bra wearing was strictly optional, as was leg shaving and regular showering. We were serious scholars; we couldn’t be bothered with such trifles. Plus, there were no guys around to impress.
After graduating, I got a job at a feminist organization and I hoped the dress code would be similarly lax. It’s not that I felt oppressed by bras, depilation, makeup and the other trappings of femininity. They just took up far too much of my morning, time that, I felt, was better spent sleeping. When I did remember to shave before work, I did a bad job, usually missing the back of my leg opposite my knees. My knee-pits sprouted a healthy, glossy patch of hair — but I couldn’t see it, so I didn’t care.
I also didn’t notice that my new work shirts were a tad too tight, providing regular glimpses of side-boob between buttons. The office manager tried to intervene. But by the time I got the communique from my best friend, it was years later and we had both moved on to new jobs. She didn’t want to stress me out by passing along the message earlier, and I appreciated her sensitivity. Back then, in my twenties, I might have been shamed into strapping down my bosoms. But now that I’m safely into my thirties, I have discovered that you don’t have to choose between torturing yourself with uncomfortable brassieres or torturing your coworkers with side boob. There is a third option: sweaters.