Last week, I bought a somewhat slinky dress to wear to an event * and as I struggled to pull on that marvel of mechanical engineering known as A Foundation Garment, I had to stop and laugh about the first time I was introduced to the modern girdle.
It was January 1999 and Kate was getting married the following month. My bridesmaid dress was an empire-waisted, A-line-skirted number and though I was in no way as gigantic as I later became, the frock was close-fitting enough around the middle to warrant some smoothing assistance. So my mother and I made a trip to the local department stores to find something that would hold all my bits in place.
As I was 28 at the time, my knowledge of Ladies Fittings was limited to cheap bras and cotton underpants. So I was shocked to see that the kind of full length, breasts to knees girdling contraptions that you sniggered about when you were a kid leafing through the Consumers Distributing catalogues still existed. And that they all seemed to be this hideously ugly beige colour. My heart sank at the thought of having to wear something so unbearably ugly, but while I was staring into space trying to figure out if I could just suck in my gut for the whole wedding, my mother found some black, heavily lycra-ed, modern versions for me to try on. Blessed be the Nancy Ganz bodyshaper! And off to the fitting room I went with a selection of styles and sizes to try.
The first piece, a body suit that snapped at the crotch, was very nearly the last. I remember stripping down to my underwear (which, in January, means 10 minutes of clothing and boot removal) and staring at this shriveled yet high-tensile black thing on the hanger. How the hell was I supposed to get this on?
I started with the logic that it looked like a bathing suit, so therefore I’d approach it as a bathing suit, and basically attempted to step into it. All was well until about halfway up, when the thing just refused to stretch large enough to accommodate my hips and butt. Sweating profusely, I shrugged it off and began again, this time pulling it over my head. This was much better – not easy, mind you, but still a lot better than the other route. I managed to get the thing on perfectly from the waist up, and then began the task of once again stretching it over my hips and butt so that I could connect the hooks & eyes together at the crotch.
Another ten minutes passed as I tried and failed and tried and failed to snap that thing together. Which, of course, I was doing essentially sight unseen because I wasn’t flexible enough to bend over and keep a glad eye on the proceedings. In yoga terms, I believe they would call the posture I had to adopt The Humiliated Woman – imagine a deep plié-squat, with one hand stretched around the bum to the nether region, holding the back flap of the recalcitrant garment, while the other hand is also footling around in the ladybits area, holding the front flap of said recalcitrant garment, both hands swiping at each other as they attempt to catch the hooks & eyes together.
Eventually, with much perseverance and perspiration, I got the damn body suit hooked up. Still slightly crouched, I mentally celebrated my victory. It was on! I’d gotten this thing on! I Was Strong! I Was Invincible! I WAS WOMAN-IN-FOUNDATION-GARMENT! I exhaled deeply, turned toward the mirror to assess the suitability of the garment, stood straight and threw my shoulders back.
Which was precisely the moment that the hooks & eyes at the crotch unsnapped and with a force comparable only to a broken cable on the Golden Gate Bridge, my foundation garment flipped, no, unfurled upwards with frighteningly high speed, tearing off one of my beloved silver hoop earrings and sending it flying into the next world, AND nearly taking my eye out.
A year later I took a job with an opera company and so had to dress up all the time. I became a bit of an expert on the foundation garment and owned several of different styles and tensile strengths for all my opera outfits, including a number of bodysuits. But I never found that damn silver hoop earring.
*you know what sucks about being gigantic and going on a strict diet and exercise regime? You lose a significant amount of weight and you want to celebrate with a new dress and you STILL have to shop in the big girl stores. But that’s what you get when your starting weight was in the baby elephant range.
UPDATE: Went to event in slinky new dress this evening. Spanx and strapless bra not option as resulted in unsightly tummy roll so had to bust out the full on breast to knees lycra space-suit (remember the black bustier/capri pants outfit Madonna wore in the dance sequences of her Papa Don't Preach video? Yeah, like that only the fat suit version). Donning said lycra space suit did not result in loss of jewelry or vision, but DID require husband's assistance. And you thought romance was dead.