Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Our "Unmentionables"

Have you ever bought a bra in a small town in India while you were a teenager? If not, you might not be interested in reading on. I realize of course that the segment of my handful of readers that have not bought a bra ever at all will most likely be the ones who will read on. But that's okay.

So it was always a male salesperson at the store. He would be in this little shower stall kind of cube with everything hidden away in little cardboard boxes either over his head or below in some secret compartments. Only a couple of bras would be on display. These would usually be in locked glass cases and they almost always had little pink roses placed at strategic positions. The matching undies would be there too; hoisted at all sorts of angles. "Feelings", “New Look”, "Peter Pan" and names like that would be splattered all over the walls with close-up shots of women's faces and eyes. Well, the general set-up would be such that you could not try out anything you wanted, you could not walk up and pick up something you wanted, and no, you could not even point it out. So you had to tell this cheesy looking guy what you wanted and horror-of-horrors in what size you wanted it!!!! Luckily you almost always went with your Mom and she would start off the conversation with "Andar ka dekhao bhayya" (Loosely translates to - Show us the inside stuff brother) and then move on to make and size. So you almost always were spared the agony of topping your existing adolescent pains by size specifications. There was always the chance that the guy disagreed with what you said. Yes, you read that right - they have suggestions for you too. My friend (we'll call her Arima) was built small in general. She stood 4'9" in her stockinged feet and was always considered the kid, which meant she could get away with a whole lot of things by acting the baby. The disadvantage was, as she was petite and almost always in a loose tee and jeans; people thought she was err...small; while in reality, she wasn't. So imagine her plight when cheesy-guy-behind-counter refused to give her the chosen size. He giggled while telling her so too; which just got her even angrier. He should have just given her what she asked for...I will consent to the fact that as a salesman he might be allowed to give advise and maybe he had built some expertise in this area with years of disappearing behind counters fishing out hundreds of samples for women of all sizes and shapes.... but he couldn't really have passed a sound judgment here, the counter was just not the right height to allow for such a sound judgment. O well, Arima took to getting her Mom to buy her stuff for her too. Cheesy guy thought the Mom was shopping for her own needs and never argued the case again.

So welcome to the United States and its wonderful mall culture. Stroll around, figure it all out, take your time...nobody is watching or waiting. Try it out, try it all out, buy it and you still have some time to change your mind. Relief, joy and sheer thankfulness....I remember muttering “I love you America” the first time I strolled around between those rows of hundreds of hangers. Of course, things have changed dramatically in India now and even the small town malls are pretty nice, while the bigger cities have amazing places to shop at - as I find out with each visit back home. The situation has it’s own set of problems though as most salespeople work on commission at these shopping centers, so once the escalator hits the bra-floor there will be 6 women walking as fast as possible towards you and you still have some announcements to make and some watching and waiting you are subjected to; but hey, we have come a long way so I reckon we’ll end up in a good place, it'll just take some time. I love doing my shopping in India for most things but you have to understand why the unmentionables are still bought only here in the US; the small-town girl hasn’t quite recovered from the pre-feminist-bra-salesman-burning-revolution times when buying a bra wasn’t an eagerly awaited experience...unlike trying on the new Ipex now (2 years of research and development, 10 designers and 1 patent pending!!! LOL!).


Blogger AmitL said...

LOL.Gratisgrab,u were sooo right,when u said"I realize of course that the segment of my handful of readers that have not bought a bra ever at all will most likely be the ones who will read on. But that's okay."Unquote...There's nothing like the mention of err,unmentionables to get a guy's attention,err,up?:)But,u're soo right...such shops exist,even today,in places like Baroda.And,not just for women,for men,too.I've seen some small townies, going red in the face,but,still trying to stretch the elastic of a red jockey undies for strength..:)

8:47 AM  
Blogger alpha said...

lol...seriously. I had written about this too.

8:57 AM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Amit - Checking the strength of a red jockey elastic! O MY GOD! Brave people is all I can say..LOLOLOL!

Alpha - Gosh, so you have! So your village had only an all-in-one garment shop huh? We small-towners had it so much better..hmmmph! :-D (pot-kettle-black i know i know)

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



10:17 AM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Thanks small-towner!

11:06 AM  
Anonymous Arjun said...

I hail from the segment who perks up at the mention of the unmentionables and reads on immediately regardless of time place or mood :)

I was hoping for a rib-tickling anecdote...and was treated instead to a comparitive evaluation of "the ease of garnering certain things".

At the risk of being labelled, I must say Tchah! that all ;) and ponder over the fortunes of certain lucky salesmen.

Btw, why not consider them as a specimen of the doctor species? It seems to me that women suddenly become quite uninhibited and "bare all" when it comes to doctors....dont ya think that a learned salesrep could potentially do wonders for your comfort?

12:56 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Ah Arjun, sorry your ribs didn't get tickled...but then I did not title my story with a promise to have you in splits was my spin on something observed by are free to title it differently in your brain :)...or go looking elsewhere!

What makes you think women are all a-OKAY when it comes to doctors? Are you one? (Even if you are, you're only ONE..) ..and even so, comparing a Doc with the cheesy-salesman in my story is stretching it a BIT!! Finally I would be OK with a Doc checking my fingers for arthritis but I can tell if the glove fits, you know!!

1:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you ever bought a bra in a small town in India while you were a teenager?

NO !! Funny that you asked ....... Please dont tell anyone else ...


1:53 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Zoheb, nobody knows about your cross-dressing days...relax..

1:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still have to shop in those hole-in-the-wall places once a while! :)))

2:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I once bought some 'unmentionables' at an outdoor market in Italy - my friend who was with me (and Italian) didn't seem perturbed by the guy showing me stuff, but, uh, I was uncomfortable.....



3:45 PM  
Blogger Patrix said...

funny you should mention Feelings . In the days of VHS tapes, we always had this ad between movies - Feelings. Cotton Panties from VIP.

The memory is so deeply entrenched that I do a double take whenever someone says, "I have feelings for you". Eeeeks.

5:35 PM  
Anonymous Ash said...

Gabbie, lol@ Ipex dig...what is that all about anyway ?? Exactly how is all that research gonna help us ??

Yeah, shopping for lingerie with mom n sis was terribly embarassing. There used to be days all 3 of us would troop into our fave shop n mum would ask the middle aged salesman for bras of 3 diff sizes for us 3 women. Sheesh. *blushing at memory*

Still havent shopped for lingerie here in the US. Hmmm, should be fun. Gotta admit Im a lil intimidated by all those fancy-schmancy lacy-waysy semi-tansparent thongs and what-not on display :P !
Btw, any advice on how to select size and shades of stockings/pantyhose ??!

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man !! This is getting too much :D Ek taraf ppl are embarrassed by one guy behind a counter and then publish all discussions on the world wide web for a few billion eyes to follow. Please to be continuing discussion of fancy bras-stockings-pantyhose. I am all ears :D I am also twisting my head around to follow the psychology ... but beats me !!

I have never discussed bras etc. ever in public. I consider it my private matter.


6:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have never discussed bras etc. ever in public. I consider it my private matter.

Please do not misconstrue this as a confirmation of Gabby's statement that I cross dress. Lies, all Lies I tell you !!


6:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey girl! Creating headlines or shouls I say strap marks! Guess what, Vicky Secret is giving out a free IPEX to you after reading this post. Check their story here !!

-correspondent for VS

6:30 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

MD - Precisely!

Patrix - How about that "Zapata underwear aur banyan" ad? Half the screen was full of these ads going on and the upper half was what you had left to watch the movie in!

Ash - A separate message for you will follow this.

Zoheb - I am anonymous here...Well almost...and it's not like I'm discussing the *real* stuff here. Notice no mention of sizes/preferences of yours truly have been made? But it was a different story with the sales guy. And btw, I don't have a billion readers....happy that you're happy with the discussions tho :)...!
And about the cross-dressing, you have me confused..then how do you explain all those pictures Zoheb? *batting eyelashes rapidly in confusion*

7:30 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Ash - The height/weight chart will be behind any hose/stocking/tights pack. So just pick any one of those up and look up your size at the back. Also look for a bunch of the color/material samples that are kinda stapled together and hung at one corner of each stand (each stand usually houses one brand). That will give you an idea of the opaqueness/sheerness/color choices. I love the silver (called silver but more gray like) and the nude ones in silk. Enjoy! And let me know if you have further questions...happy to help!

7:35 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Oye Alpha dear - that message had you written all over it. :)

7:36 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

And by the way Ash, the technology promises more where it's needed...;)

7:39 PM  
Anonymous Harish said...


11:41 AM  
Anonymous Neon Tetra said...

Seriously, I love buying 'intimate apparel' in the US. Back home, we used to go to this shop called 'Saheli' where there were all ladij folk behind the counter.. As we grew up, we realised that that sneak was fleecing us , taking advantage of our then we decided to go to the guy seller who atleast didnt fleece..

11:52 AM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Harish - Thanks for visiting...

Neon Tetra - Yes, it takes time to get over the embarrasment-phase and realize we're being fleeced and's the worst initially and we get used to it later... but that portion of shopping was never fun there...:(...

2:51 PM  
Blogger phatichar said...

Yeh andar ki baat bahut achchi tarah se bataaya aapne..:)

2:05 AM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Shukriya Phatichar!

7:22 AM  
Blogger anumita said...

Hehehe! Those were the days. It's not so bad here anymore, Gratis. Try buying them next time you are here.

12:59 AM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

anumita - so i hear! will be there this june and plan to scope the there will be a sequel to this you can be sure :)

7:00 AM  
Anonymous ashi said...

remember that scene from Bend it Like Beckham? lol..embarassment can happen ANYWHERE!

8:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Came here from Carol's blog. I haven't been to India (though I hope to go someday) but my sisters and I had an experience just like this in Mexico once. It was very unplesant indeed. You had me laughing about it all.

2:27 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Ashi - So true! :D

xoxo - Nice to know we have company! So Mexico, Italy and India have this, time to notofy the UN ! :)
Thanks for visiting xoxo..

8:00 AM  
Blogger Shobha said...

Oh well...*Sigh* Even though nowadays lingerie shopping is confined to Malls as such, the small shops very much do exist. Oh dear, I remember the first time I went bra-shopping with my mom...both of us started arguing on which of the bras would be *GOOD* for me in front of the shopkeepers i.e. MEN. That was the first and last time I went out with mom then. Holy crap, this post was funny! heheheee

10:56 AM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Shobha - Arguing right there!! LOL! I know how Moms (seasoned as they are in this field) will not think twice about it! :D Poor you!! & thanks for visiting!

1:21 PM  
Blogger Hrishi said...

Stumbled onto your blog from a comment you'd left on a friends blog...

Nice refreshing point of view.

Am amused the fact that the post getting the most comments (on the front page) was the one about unmentionables! :)

9:33 AM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

hrishi...tell me about it! it does reveal a lot about myself and my readers (not all of it flattering huh?)

thanks for visiting ! :)

10:58 AM  
Blogger Twilight Fairy said...

ah.. ask me .. trying to buy lingerie in desh is not described.. that's why I stick to the one shop where *my* mom took me years ago, similarly and even though the shop owner is a guy, he doesnt make me uncomfy..

Malls and all *are* getting female salesgirls now.. but that's not always the case in many of them even now..

11:45 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

T.Fairy - I agree...I guess that is the one place familiarity does not breed contempt!

1:00 PM  
Blogger Peeyush said...

He he, I hope Arima never came across, ek 28A bra ke saath ek phode-phunsi mitane wali dawa muft.

11:46 PM  
Blogger Sudipta Chatterjee said...


I chanced upon this blog from some other long and complicated chain... never mind how.

In this context, I'll want to share with you an experience I had while I went to one of your 'unmentionable' shops with my sister. To set the record straight, I am a boy and my sister is younger. Now, all the time I stood there just behind her while the guy in the counter was ordered and got precisely what was ordered.. no stiff feelings, so to say!

And then she told me that that was acceptable, at least compared to her experience going there with our dad, who apparently argued and advised her about colour and bargained about money right then and there! :D Guess we need to keep things civilised as far as we perceive.


6:29 AM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Peeyush - LOOOOL!!! Or "herbs that promise" ;)

8:29 AM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Sudipta - Thanks for dropping by and leaving a note...

OMG with your Dad..!!! heart goes out for your sis..! And your dad started bargaining LOL...conversations in the store should be kept to an all-time minimum if you ask me, strictly on a need-basis :)

Will check out your haven now..

8:32 AM  
Blogger anantha said...

LOL... I am reminded of this line from one of those Tamil movie tracks that advised one to never miss a chance to be a salesman at Naidu Hall. Btw, Naidu Hall is this chain of stores in Chennai famous for their selection (and in house brand) of unmentionables...

But I think I'd be lynched if I were to continue in the same thread. So i will just adopt a baby face and keep my mouth shut.

And I shall be back on here (and on Alpha's, from where I came on here)!

(*looks down and back up again and thanks god for making him the way He made him!)

7:20 PM  
Blogger tilotamma said...

Hilarious! You should write about this in a US mag - how it is in the third world!

2:34 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Thanks Tilotamma :)...Ah, they'll start feeling sorry for us or what..

11:42 AM  
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