Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

When it comes to shopping for bras, I'm no boob

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There's a perfectly logical explanation for why I was hanging around a lingerie store the other afternoon.

I just don't know what it is. No, wait, now I remember -- I was talking to my wife.

Technically, my wife wasn't in the lingerie store at the time. She was at work. But she thought it would be a good idea for me to call and give her an update on how my visit was going.

It was her fault I was there in the first place. I can explain. What happened was a friend of my wife's wanted to buy some lingerie to surprise her husband and my wife helpfully pointed out that, despite being the size of a convenience store and looking like an unmade bed, I actually have reasonably good taste when it comes to women's apparel, so the two of them decided, hey, maybe I could tag along and be my wife's friend's wing-man, so to speak, and offer some manly advice on what typical guys of my gender prefer in the vital area of frilly undergarments.

It's tough to say no to an offer like that, so I didn't. It felt a little odd when we wandered into the store, because the saleswomen immediately assumed I was my wife's friend's husband, which forced me to tell them what I just told you, which forced the saleswomen to gather around in a clump, stare at me like I was from a distant planet and giggle in a bemused manner.

I tried to act casual to convey the fact I'm the sort of self-confident, devil-may-care modern man for whom strolling around lingerie stores in the afternoon is no big deal.

But the truth is, under federal law, men are only allowed in lingerie stores the day before Christmas or the day before their wife's birthday, because shopping for women's underthings is like wandering through a minefield in the sense that one false step -- buying your wife underwear that is way too big or too small would be an excellent example -- can result in tragedy.

Eventually, a nice saleswoman kindly asked my opinion on a typical guy's lingerie preferences.

I screwed up my face to indicate I was giving the matter serious thought. "I'd recommend something red," I told her. "Also, black is good."

This prompted more warm chuckling from the sales staff. "Ha ha ha," they said, "That's what every guy who comes into the store says."

What happened next was the sales crew ushered my wife's friend away to a secret part of the store, whereas I had to sit in the "man chair," which is a solitary chair they keep in front of the cash register so they can keep a close eye on stray men who are easily flustered.

Along with the cash register, I had an excellent view of (a) a velvet curtain, behind which female customers were doing whatever it is they do behind velvet curtains in lingerie stores; and (b) miles and miles of bras in all the colours of the rainbow, along with other assorted unmentionables, some of which I recognized, others whose fashion function remains as mysterious to me as the rituals of Shriners.

As I sat there waiting, the saleswomen tried to keep me entertained by, every few minutes, fetching random pieces of lingerie for me to examine.

"This is our most popular brassiere," one woman gushed, dangling it in front of me like a trophy fish. "If this bra were a car, it would be a Porsche or a Maserati!"

I glanced at the price tag and was tempted to agree it was just like a sports car, only more expensive. But I didn't say that. What I did say was: "Wow!"

Then, a few minutes later, they'd bring another item, such as a pair of leopard-spotted underpants.

"Jungle prints are VERY big this year," they would say, holding them up proudly for me to ogle.

I would make another frowny face and, not sure how to react, gasp: "Wow!"

The only awkward moment came when one of the helpful clerks wondered if I were going to buy a gift for my own wife and, if so, what size she happened to be.

After a painful moment, I slowly lifted both hands in the air and spread them a shoulder's-width apart, which is how guys indicate that, to the best of their knowledge, their wives are roughly the size of a mature brook trout.

Fortunately, a few minutes later, my wife's friend emerged with her selections (something red AND something black, if I remember correctly) and it was time to leave.

My wife hasn't told me what her friend's husband said when he saw her new ensemble, but if he knows what's good for him, it was probably something along the lines of: "Wow!"

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 21, 2010 A2

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