Why bras is no longer a 4-letter word


Eons ago, when I began my career in the newsroom and the bustle was in high fashion, certain words, phrases and pictures were taboo in the print media. Married women didn’t have first names but were identified by their husbands’ with a Mrs. in front of it. Pregnant women didn’t exist, at least in photos or by description, nor did women’s undergarments.

So what happened? It’s obvious the world has passed me by, for all that was taboo in the media then is acceptable now.

When I was in junior high, I dreaded the day my mother was going to make me wear this undergarment that signified I was taking on womanly attributes. As I reread that sentence, I realized society allows me to say bra. Sort of tingles my fingers to type it, much like using a forbidden four-letter word and knowing I could get my mouth washed out with soap.

At first, wearing a bra was pure embarrassment. Male classmates pointed and giggled. There was this terrible possibility that the straps might peek out accidentally from under a sleeveless top, and I’d either die of mortification or have to join a convent.

Along came the ’60s, and what previously was unmentionable became news. Women started their bras on fire as part of the feminist movement and newspapers began using the three-letter word. “Women Burn Undergarments” wasn’t nearly as scintillating as “Bra Burners to Bare Bosoms.”

It should be noted I was raising babies during that time period and never set fire to anything other than a pot roast that I forgot about while changing a diaper. Years later, I still have this sense that undergarments really need to be under something. I continue to check the strap of my unmentionable, I mean bra, every time I pass a mirror. When I see a strap showing on someone else, I have this need to reach out and tuck it in.

Then I read the latest Mindset List just released by Beloit (Wis.) College. This yearly list provides a “snapshot of how the incoming freshmen class views the world,” and one of the things commonly viewed on young women nearly everywhere is the exposed bra straps, which is not a wardrobe malfunction, as I thought, but a fashion statement.

I think I will stick with the bustle.


Joyce Ore

Joyce Ore writes delightful stories about life with a dose of humor and sprinkle of nostalgia. Her column appears Saturday in the Tribune.

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