“I seen smallah”


‘Alice’s Adventures in Underwear’

You just gotta love the Seventies. Well, at least I did. One reason was because in the Seventies, even in the Midwest where I was living at the time, underwear — at least of the brassiere type — was optional.

Me. In the Seventies. When I didn’t wear, um, glasses

See, I hate wearing a bra. Which is kind of funny because when I was 12 or 13 or thereabouts I could hardly wait to wear one. I remember feeling all embarrassed in PE (what you may have called “Phys Ed”) when we girls were changing into our bloomers (honest injun, we wore bloomers in PE) and I was the only one sporting an undershirt.

Do little girls still wear undershirts? Well, I’m sure as heck wearing one in the school photo at the top of this post. You can see its telltale outlines under that big “A”. (My Mom made that dress, and no, that letter “A” was not scarlet.)

Modeling (hah) my first bra. This was Confirmation Day, and that’s my Gramma and Grampa P

I begged my Mom to get me a bra — they called them “training bras” back then; what we were “training” for, I’ll never know — though I honestly didn’t need one. I’d stuff Kleenex into its Triple A cups so it wouldn’t moosh flat under my blouse, but when I  raised my hand in class the whole contraption would ride up practically to my shoulder.

That’s High-School Me — the one with the long hair — back when wearing a bra — and a pair of “nylons” too — was de rigueur

Speaking of contraptions, we’d also wear “nylons” and “garter belts”. (Look ’em up, O Lucky Ladies Who Don’t Know What Those Are.) And slips. Remember slips? They used to rustle and/or ride up, those being the days of Static Cling Before Static Guard. Instead we sprayed our slips with hair spray, like Aqua Net, which you probably don’t know about either. And no purse was complete without a little bottle of clear nail polish, a dab of which was used to halt the runs in our stockings. (That’s “ladders” to you UK readers; a much more descriptive term, in my opinion.)

This slip, along with that watch and those shades, was a gift. Yes, I still have all three, though do I wear any of them?

But back to Bra Trouble. I didn’t grow up near an ocean, but the public swimming pool was the center of summer social life. And owning a “cute” bathing suit was Very Important. Back then all bathing suits (which we called “swimming suits”) came with a bra built right in. This was a firm foam structure with a life of its own. If you were “frontally-challenged” like me, you learned to sort of squeeze your shoulders together to let some air in when exiting the water. Otherwise the cups would collapse and you’d look like you had little volcanoes strapped to your chest.

That’s foam-rubber-enhanced Me at Jantzen’s Resort. I’m thinking that’s my uber-glam Mom in black

Anyway. I was super-glad when the Seventies rolled around and bra-wearing, at least among My Set, was optional. Except for formal occasions, like my (first) wedding. (Yes, I was Married Once Before. You can read about it in “My Polio-Shot Marriage”.)

Time goes by, as is its wont. The Starter Marriage stopped, I moved to New York, met The Dude, had The Child. Huge “Etc.” goes here. But suffice it to say my topside stayed pretty much its same small self. Once I was with a friend (Hi Sande!) in the old Loehmann’s, the one with the communal dressing room. We were trying stuff on when she said “My goodness, you really are flat-chested!” Another time, while getting a mammogram, I was apologizing to the technician for making her job harder (there not being much to grab onto for positioning and all) when she — holding her clipboard and cracking her strawberry gum — looked me up and down and said, “Eh. I seen smallah.”

The dress I got at Loehmann’s that day. Which, yes, I still have. And still wear

And now, even though it’s no longer fashionable to go braless, I’m nevertheless able to get away with doing so pretty much most of the time. Though, you’ll no doubt be relieved to hear, I do draw the line, these days at least, at “topless”.

That’s me, the not topless person, next to my totally non-inhibited Dad

New York City. January 2019

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20 thoughts on ““I seen smallah”

  1. Colleen Bentley

    Laughing too hard because this so relates! Still hate a bra (and take it off when I get home), although I buy really pretty ones, because if I have to wear one (meetings, etc), they have to be pretty! Hate nylons, love tights; garter belts (plus those “other kind of belts” we had to wear were the worst! Too many memories, some very fun with my gal pals!

    • Oh yes, Colleen. Those “other kind of belts”! How nice to have forgotten all about them — as well as the reason for wearing them (!) So glad you could relate — and get a good laugh xoxo

  2. Hilarious post again, Alice! I am old enough to remember wearing slips and nylons. And that trick with the clear nail polish always worked! I am so grateful these two clothing items are no longer deemed necessary!

    • Yes, if it’s one thing I don’t miss about the Good Old Days, it’s slips and nylons. (Actually, make that TWO things) Though I did have an amazing nylon confection I called my “stand-out slip” when I was, oh, seven or so. It even had bells on it. I loved that thing. Sigh.

  3. Deborah

    I’m smallah. When I get a mammogram I come back bruised from all of the pinching and pulling they do to try to get a bit flesh between the clamps. Ouch.

  4. CNN has a series on the history of fashion running right now, and this is exactly the type of pop culture coverage they needed to add – how the fashion of the time impacted real people!

  5. josypheen

    It’s funny, I was teeny too, but sooo keen to get a bra when I was at school. I mean, just having a small bit of material there made me think I was more grown up(!)

    I do my best to avoid them now too

  6. I wish I didn’t understand every single word of this piece, but I do. Back when I was a ballet dancing girl, it was fine. I was supposed to be tiny. After, once I gained a few pounds, because I was eating like a normal person, I went for a bra fitting and the fitter said, “I don’t know why you even want to worry about wearing a bra.” Ugh. The challenges of the pear-shaped! The bright spot was when I was nursing twins. Let’s just say, I didn’t give it up for 2 years, mostly for the girls! (My twins are boys.)

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