Yesterday I reflexively stashed my phone in my bra so I could be hands free and realized what a habit it has become. I started stashing things in my bra in my early teens when I wanted to wear nylons to school, and my mother made me wear knee-socks. Blame Nancy Drew for teaching me to be sneaky. Nylons were a symbol of sophistication, independence, allure. So, I would hide them in my bra and change into them in the girls’ restroom. We called them nylons, but they were pantyhose, two plastic snakeskins joined at the crotch that twisted around my legs and cut up into my crack before later sliding down my hips until I had to excuse myself to the privacy of the restroom to hoist them up again. It was an era of fashion torture when I accepted discomfort as the price of glamour. Long before keeping up with the Kardashians, I tried to keep up with Marlo Thomas and Agent 99.
I also carried lipstick in my bra in the days when I was pre-purse, not yet allowed to wear eye makeup, not old enough to drive, no driver’s license, didn’t carry an ID card, no wallet, no keys because our house was always unlocked. My money, just a few dollars and some coins, was also most likely in my bra because my pants were too tight to keep anything in my pockets. It was a tricky time for parents. Was I a girl or a woman? Old enough to wear a bra, but young enough that my mother wanted to control when I wore lipstick. Yardley Slicker, frosted, in pale seashell colors that she said made me look dead. In my bra for hours, sometimes it melted.
Then the purse. Going to a high school dance, a purse was an inconvenient responsibility, and it could be checked by parents or other adult authorities for taboo items like cigarettes or a book of matches. So, we hid our Winstons and our matches in our bras. That meant taking the cigarettes out of the pack, which was risky because they could break. Smart girls learned to hide their cigarettes vertically in the center between their boobs where the bra didn’t bend them. Of course, keeping cigarettes and paper matches in our bras at a dance was risky because doing the Watusi or the Swim or the Jerk could make a go-go girl sweat. I remember pulling a matchbook out of my bra that was too damp to strike and picking bits of wet tobacco off my skin.
You might think as an adult I would have put aside such childish behavior and be well past the silliness of hiding things in my bra. But I was a waitress for years and keeping an extra pen in my bra was a no-brainer. Then in 2022, I had a tooth pulled from the front of my mouth where the black hole was visible when I smiled. My dentist gave me a prosthetic he called a flipper to fill the hole. The flipper was clear plastic, made like a mouthguard for the shape of my teeth. It fit right over them and had a white plastic block to fill the hole where my missing tooth had been. Mostly invisible, the flipper had one significant draw back. It wasn’t to be worn when chewing food. So, I couldn’t wear it when we went out to eat or dined with friends.
Once during dinner in a restaurant, I gave a little cough, pretended my napkin had fallen off my lap onto the floor, and bent over with my head under the table to pick up the napkin while I slipped the flipper out of my mouth and stuffed it in my bra. Then I sat up again with my napkin in my hand, conspicuously dabbing at my lips just in case anyone suspected. (I may have learned this from James Bond or Lucille Ball, not sure which.) After I ate, I dropped my napkin again, ducked under the table and put the flipper back in my mouth. (Yeah. Definitely, James Bond.)
A couple months later I went to a writer’s conference in a nice hotel where once again my ego couldn’t bear the conspicuousness of a missing tooth. So, I wore the flipper and didn’t eat, just drank black coffee all day. It wasn’t much of a sacrifice. I enjoy sucking on a cold cup of coffee. Then after the last workshop, when I went to the restroom and looked at myself in the mirror, all those hours of black coffee had stained the flipper dark brown and I realized that for most of the day when I smiled, I looked like I’d been eating dirt. (Okay, Lucille Ball.) Fortunately, I had a toothbrush and toothpaste in my bra. Just kidding. I threw the flipper away. Thank you for hearing my confession.