The Shape of Fashion

Sharing Stories

"The Girls" last day 7th grade, 1958, Morgan Jr Hi, Ellensburg, WA April is in the center, legs crossed.


   Independence is a lifetime of finding personal styles and discovering discomfort while trying to become a fashion plate.

   Friendships gather, evolving self-images emerge…looking alike. “What are you going to wear?” mutates into a tribal battle cry. The truly chic, smart, and snazzy know the power of secret undergarments sculpting a perfect body silhouette.

   I used to be broomstick thin when Twiggy was popular. Even then, I wore a girdle with elasticized garter straps to hold up thigh high nylon stockings. Agony: pulling on a tight rubber Playtex girdle. Ecstasy: peeling it off later like a sausage skin. Torturous underwear, pretty much a chastity belt…without a lock and key. I’m sure I heard a choir singing “hallelujah” when panty hose became popular and inexpensive. A clear bottle of fingernail polish to paint on an annoying nylon run was a purse essential.

   Unlike Twiggy, I wanted a shape with bumps and curves in the right places, not like the poem my best friend Marolynn wrote in my ninth-grade autograph book: “What a face–what a figure–two more legs–you’d look like Trigger!” I laughed when I was thirteen.

   I wasn’t laughing at twenty-one when I went to a doctor to discuss breast implants to escape my bean-pole nickname. He explained the surgery and the cost, then asked why I wanted implants. My mind went blank after hearing implants weren’t as simple as a padded bra. I mumbled, “I want to look better in clothes.” There. I’d said it, leaving out expectations of an alluring curvy fantasy.

   The good doctor suggested I try birth control pills for six months because the hormones could stimulate increased breast size. Those hormones did stimulate something. After three months I went from a size five panty to size seven. Instead of growing a voluptuous pair, I was beginning to look like a pear, with hips swaying in uncontrolled rhythm. The need for the pill vanished with the purchase of new bloomers.

   I had read an article in Cosmopolitan Magazine. According to them, if you put a pencil under your breast and it fell to the floor, you didn’t need to wear a bra… except, of course, at work or to special “proper” events. I tried the pencil test, it dropped to the floor with a yellow graphite lead thud. On my days off, I expressed myself with this ultimate unleashed freedom. That is, until one day when I almost knocked myself out as I ran across a street with liberated enthusiasm bouncing and swinging in every direction. All I needed was a pair of tassels, a drumbeat, and clicking castanets to give the neighbors a sassy show. It was crystal clear; gravity drops more than an apple on Isaac Newton’s head. I no longer needed a new hormone prescription from the doctor to fill me out.

   Styles change with the times, and fashion isn’t always easy—from lean teen to well-supplied senior. Either way, pretty underwear can produce a sly rebellious smile. Fortunately, for now, there are no Panty Police.

April Ryan is a retired Seattle bus driver turned Seattle writer/poet. It’s our good fortune that she’s now sharing more of her fun stories with us.

SHARING STORIES is a weekly column for and about the 50 plus crowd living in the Puget Sound region. Send your stories and photos to ariele@comcast.net. Tell local or personal stories; discuss concerns around aging and other issues; share solutions, good luck, and reasons to celebrate; poems are fine too. Pieces may be edited or excerpted. We reserve the right to select among pieces. Photos are always a plus and a one-sentence bio is requested (where you live, maybe age or career, retired status, etc.).
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