Shanghai, CHINA -- Gilroy, California, for the few who have heard of it, is known for two things: its yearly garlic festival and its discount outlet stores. It’s also where I pulled off largest undergarment coup of my life.
My hour-long sojourn in Gilroy serendipitously coincided with the closing of a Calvin Klein outlet, which was practically giving away bras for USD 8 each (about RMB 65). I walked out with seven pairs, exulting, “I’ll never need to buy another bra again!”
Sadly, years of indiscriminate washing machine usage and the resulting warped underwire meant that last week, I trudged dejectedly to Parkson to buy myself some new coverage. Not knowing the location of the underwear department or the word for ‘bra’ in Chinese meant that I had to reveal my bra strap to several store employees, asking, “Where can I buy more of these?” Had I done my research beforehand, I would have learned that China has a rich bra vocabulary, including the straightforward xiong zhao (breast cover), the polite, almost literary wen xiong (cultural breast), the self explanatory xiao ke ai (little cute – used for all manner of lingerie and undergarments), and my favourite, yan jing (eye glasses, a term used almost exclusively by men, as in, “Why don’t you remove your eyeglasses?”).
But while I found the selection of Chinese bra vocabulary tremendous, its selection of products was not. In fact, it is all but impossible to find an un-engineered bra in China. Were there padded bras? Check. Push-up bras with pillowy inserts? Absolutely. Huge, hi-tech foam cups that created round, rock-hard mounds that sat up like well-trained lapdogs? A resounding yes. Lili, a Triumph salesperson, offered no insight. “Asian women are smaller than Western women and often want more cleavage.”
Here’s the thing: I don’t want my breasts to look like they were imported from the West, or to resemble grapefruit halves. Real breasts don’t look like that. Real breasts nestle gently against the chest in a southernly direction, not up and away from it, straining aggressively towards the chin. I appreciate my breasts, and want a bra that appreciate them too, not a bra that tries to make them what they’re not. When will Asian bra makers get the picture?