RIP Favourite Bra

Helen Walmsley-Johnson’s Favourite Bra has only gone and snuffed it. She tells us why the death of her preferred upper-decker flopper-stopper has left her bereft.

bras hanging out from a balcony

Something inconvenient often happens to me around the New Year. Last year for example, my right retina unglued itself and I had to get it fixed in hospital with a laser, which sounds painful but wasn’t.

This year my favourite bra wheezed terminally and then popped the right-hand underwire out into the fresh air. While the retina business threatened my eyesight and made me miss an important deadline, this business with my faithful old bra has levelled me with the neat efficiency of a dodgy kebab.

Not all that long ago, when my body more or less behaved itself and conformed to current aesthetic standards, the demise of a favourite bra was of only minor concern. I don’t remember shedding actual tears when my Mary Quant Booby Trap expired in 1970-something. It went, fairly briskly into the bin – no words were said, there was no period of formal mourning.

Today’s bereavement is surprisingly painful and the bra in question – an old M&S T-shirt bra in faded black with overstretched straps that was always the wrong size – is, at this moment, lying in state on my dressing table until I can bring myself to toss the damn thing into the bin.

We had a kind of love-hate relationship, this bra and me. It was the bra I chose when I wanted to be comfortable and now that I’m 60 and a writer that is, apparently, most days. This was the bra I wore when I drove up to Scotland to speak at my first ever book festival and it was the bra I wore when I was on a panel with Kathy Lette in Cheltenham a week later. Yes, dear reader, I had my hair cut and coloured for the event but chose to wear a saggy old bra.

“I resent my norks having become incontinent about their shape and size. They are not what I see in the media when any discussion arises about bosoms. They are not, in any sense of the word, ‘pert’.”

In my defence, I was full of a horrible cold when I went to Cheltenham so comfort was high on the agenda but shortly before we went on stage in the Spiegeltent (I love that name), I sneezed so violently that the right underwire gave out under the strain and one, now untethered, end started to wave about like a car aerial. At one point I thought I was picking up Radio 4.

That was three months ago and although the bra had undoubtedly entered its final illness it was still operational, nobly presenting itself for bosom duty after every wash. Mind you, I did feel a little embarrassed about putting it on the washing line where the postman might see it and took to hiding it inside a pillowcase.

Now the Favourite Bra has finally shuffled off its mortal coil and I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I suppose I should get properly fitted again – the last time was in Edinburgh five years ago – but the thing about that is that I don’t want to.

It’s not just that I can’t be arsed; it’s that I resent my norks having become incontinent about their shape and size. They are not what I see in the media when any discussion arises about bosoms. They are not, in any sense of the word, ‘pert’.

I fear standing in a fitting cubicle and somehow being judged, as though I’ve failed in my duty of care. Should I perhaps, have taken charge of them when there was still time and popped in some little silicone bags? Should I have anointed them daily with precious lotions? Should I have done more than attend a cursory mammogram every few years and an occasional fingertip search when it occurs to me? Sacrificed a chicken every full moon…?

In loving mammary: Helen's trusty bra lies at rest.

In loving mammary: Helen’s trusty bra lies at rest.

I am in truth, fascinated by the ageing process; by watching my body change, but when something like bra death happens I’m compelled to face it head on and I feel vulnerable. I have to adjust my reality.

It’s interesting that the bestselling bra type in the UK in 2015 was, it turns out, the stretchy crop-top type of sports bra. Perhaps there is a covert movement away from wedging our national average 36DDs into wire cages on a daily basis? If there is then I applaud it. I can’t be the only one who’s looked at those bras in the back of the Radio Times (hookless, wireless, stretchy) and felt a shaming twinge of envy.

In the meantime, while I search for my lost bra-shopping mojo and consider whether a full flaming Viking-type funeral for the defunct favourite would be appropriate, I’m wearing my second favourite bra (like the other one but white, or used to be) if only so that I can still joyfully anticipate that moment in the evening when I can take the damn thing off. It’s all very confusing.

Helen’s book, The Invisible Woman: Taking on the Vintage Years, is out now.


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Written by Helen Walmsley-Johnson

Helen Walmsley-Johnson is a journalist and author who writes as the Invisible Woman. She has a weekly style column for older women which she writes for the Guardian. Her first book, The Invisible Woman: Taking on the Vintage Years, is out now. @TheVintageYear