I dreamed I blogged in my Maidenform bra
Lately I’ve had bras on the brain. Having recently weaned my twins (and here I’m referring to actual babies, not euphemistically to my breasts themselves), I’m gearing up for one of the milestone moments in a mother’s life: buying new, regular, non-nursing bras. So I’ve been thinking about what bras mean in the life of a Jewish woman.
This week I’m commemorating the birth of Ida Cohen Rosenthal, co-founder of Maidenform. Yesterday would have been her 122 birthday. In the late 1910s, Ida, her husband, and their partner in a dressmaking business, challenged the popular flat-chested flapper style that required women to bind their breasts, developing instead a device that accentuated women’s natural shape. At first they gave the bras away with their dresses; later they stopped making dresses and focused on their popular bra designs. Ida was the marketing powerhouse behind the company, creating the first advertising campaign for “intimate apparel.”
Somehow, it doesn’t surprise me that a Jewish woman was behind Maidenform. Bras (or maybe it’s just underwear in general) seem Jewish to me. I’m not sure why. Is it because Jewish women are stereotypically large-breasted? Are we possibly more comfortable with our bodies than women of other religious/cultural backgrounds? I think of all the Jewish ladies standing around a Loehman’s dressing room in their bras and slips. I think of Selma Koch, the late owner of the Town Shop, a four-generation lingerie business and fixture on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, helping me find a “good fit” when she was in her 90s.
The only non-Jew who comes to mind when I think of bras is Madonna (famous, of course, for turning underwear into outerwear), but I recently came across an anecdote about Bella Abzug that has even turned that association around: Bella’s daughter Liz reports that when she took her mom to a Madonna concert in the 1980s, Bella said to her afterwards, “Liz, I want you to know something. I wore a black bra under a see-through white blouse way before Madonna did.”
So there you have it, folks. Bella Abzug pre-empted Madonna in the visible bra fashion. But seriously, what is it about Jews and bras? Does anyone else have this association other than me?