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[whitespace] True Confessions: Biter needs to get something off our chest.

Undercover Bra

By Loren Stein

LIKE MOST breast-bearers, Biter has spent most of our adult life trying, in vain, to find the perfect bra. A bra that doesn't grab like a high school boy, pinch like a perverted uncle, ride up like an inappropriate sidekick or fall down like a drunk. A bra that does the job God intended, yet feels like it isn't there. From the moment Biter sprouted breasts, bras were a form of bondage, an exquisite and baffling torture that came with the territory of being female.

According to a standard industry quote that's been used for a zillion years, seven out of 10 women are wearing the wrong size bra. If this is to be believed, how can so many women be in the dark about something so essential to their sense of well-being? Is it that they don't know how to find the right bra or that the right bras aren't out there? "It just enrages me," says a frustrated consumer. "I go into Victoria's Secret, and there's nothing there for me, and the whole place is bras. How can that be?"

Biter went undercover to get to the nub of the problem. We buried our pride, deep-sixed our modesty and made an appointment for a professional bra fitting at Macy's. Soon we were facing the dreaded three-way mirror, stripped from the waist up, getting scrutinized by a mercifully kind rep from the Warnaco Group, a leading manufacturer of bras in the United States that owns both the Olga and Warner's brands.

"I see women all the time who are wearing the same bra they had in college or even high school," sighs the rep. Most women need to have their hands held on the quest to find good bras, she says. They don't know where to start, and they don't want to invest the time and effort it takes to narrow down their choices. In her experience, some women resist because they don't want to find out they need a larger size bra. This puzzles Biter, as the culture is besotted with big breasts. "I had my breasts enlarged," she volunteers. "It was the best thing I ever did. I had little flea bites."

"Bras are all about women's attitudes," says Joyce Baran, a 38-year veteran bra designer ("Bras are my life," she jokes) and vice president of creative design for Warnaco in New York. "I've seen it go in every direction: from burning bras in the '60s to pushing them up in the '90s. It's all about your outward appearance and the way you present yourself to the world."

Persona issues aside, the only way to find the right size bra, says Baran, is to do it the old-fashioned way: get measured and fitted and then try a ton on. "To fit a bra correctly is a complicated and precise task," she says, "and because it's so personal and intimate, it's a painful, even traumatic thing for many women."

It certainly has been for Biter. Just walking into a department store and confronting racks upon racks of every conceivable style of bra--seamless, seamed, padded, natural, full figure, demi, soft cup, foam lined, inside underwire, outside underwire, strapless, racer-back, customizable, front close, back close, minimizer, push-up, sports bras and more, in assorted colors and varied fabrics--is enough to send us into apoplexy.

About $4.5 billion worth of bras were sold in the United States last year alone. That's a whole lot of bras. Yet nearly every woman we know has a deeply uneasy or at least unsettled relationship with this particular lingerie item. "I'm so disillusioned by the whole bra scene," says a 32-year-old San Jose working bra- wearer. "As soon as I solve one problem there's another one."

While having more choices is daunting, at least women these days have the luxury of making their own way, however confusedly, through the bra thicket and not having the decision imposed upon them by some rigid code of femaleness. In the '50s and early '60s, there were strict rules about how women could look (like no pants, like girdles), says bra-maker Baran, and bombshell bras reigned. In the '70s and '80s, as women entered the workforce in greater numbers, women camouflaged their femininity and bras were simple and minimized. "Now women are using fashion as their personality statement," she says. "We design back into all those different attitudes."

But what Biter really wants to know is this: Can't they come up with a more elegant, comfortable solution to sheltering breasts? Is this back-bruising, metal-against-skin, shoulder-gouging device really the best we can do? "I wish I could find a better way," says Baran. "In the immediate future, I just don't see it."

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From the October 10-16, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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