The same week that I was inducted onto the itty-bitty titty committee, I somehow found myself on the road with my dad in route to procure my first bra. Most of the girls in my 6th grade class had started to bloom. I was at the smaller end of the spectrum and had no clue that braless life would end so abruptly. After days of my dad threatening to buy me a “brassiere”, the morning had come to make the purchase. My mom wanted no parts in this conspiracy, she thought my chest was just fine.
Past trips to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for Rogers’ department store visits were like magical bonding experiences between my father and I. The agenda typically included the 45-minute drive, 2-3 hours of shopping, and a stop at McDonald’s for a chicken nugget Happy Meal before heading home. But on this humid September Saturday, the radio was off and my dad seemed to be intently focused on the highway ahead. I wanted to cry but instead I fell asleep, on the passenger’s side, to the soft hum of the air conditioner. I was not excited about the imminent shopping experience or the thought of wearing an unnecessary brace around my body.
When I woke up we were cruising store's parking lot in search of a space to accommodate my father’s silver 87’ Buick. After circling the lot we parked. My dad rolled up his window and we began our venture. Weekends were always hectic at Rogers. On our walk to the door, I observed people as they entered and exited the store. Some were empty handed while others carried white shopping bags with the Rogers’ logo proudly emobosed on both sides. As we walked through the revolving doors, a waif of perfume hit me and I started to feel nauseous. I followed my dad's footsteps as he led the way cutting though the bustling cosmetics department, the display of delightful chocolates, and the mannequins who stood in the Misses’ department, styled in what seemed to be too warm for the season.
We stepped on to the escalator and I knew that our destination was near. As the moving staircase inched us closer, I began to panic. "Who is going to help me pick out a bra!?” I quirkly blurted. "We'll ask one of the ladies who works here", he explained in a firm yet gentle tone. “O.k.”, I responded relieved but still extremely uncomfortable. On our way to the undies we stopped to price a pair of navy blue corduroy pants that would be suitable for Michigan winter weather. The summer had ended too soon.
As we approached the undergarments, a familiar face emerged. It was the young woman that had assisted with my selection of an Easter dress earlier that year. After swapping pleasantries, my dad announced, "It's time for Lesley to have her first bra." I felt like a chocolate bunny that had been abandoned in the heat; I could have easily melted onto freshly waxed tiles beneath us.
Eventually disappearing down the ales, my dad found himself a haven in the pod of chairs adjacent the shoe department on the other side of the floor. Now it was just the sales associate, let’s call her Rachel, and me surrounded by racks and end caps stocked with socks, tights, slips, panties, and an impressive assortment of mostly pastel training bras. She asked me which ones I liked the most--prints or the solids? I opted for the solids because the prints were all cartoon characters, like Tweedy Bird and the Road Runner, which made zero sense. The bras I choose had little bows carefully stitched in the center with a pinch of lacy elastic neatly along the edge. Rachel pulled a few from the rack and grabbed a yellow measuring tape. Seven minutes later we emerged from the dressing room-- my first bra fitting was complete! The process was quick, painless, and pointless.
Rachel and I found my dad flipping through catalog pages to melodic-soft rock from overhead. The three of us then shifted towards the register to check out. Rachel removed the bras from the white plastic hangers, neatly wrapped the stretchy items in tissue paper, and then swiped my dad’s card. While he signed the receipt, she proudly stepped from behind the counter to hand me my bag containing four trainers for my itty-bittys.
We walked out of the hues of yellow, pink, and purple, in the Girls’ department, through a sea of blue, green, and gray, in Boys’. On this jaunt to the escalator, I swung the embossed bag back and forth. It was the 1st time I realized that we can’t always control what’s in the bag but we do have power over how we handle it. As we made our decent back to the 1st floor, I noticed a difference in me.
*This story is from a collection of personal essays that I'm working on, entitled 'My Father, My Fashion'.