THE word "deceit" comes to mind when I think of the ne inflatable bikini top brought to us by Cole of California.
So does "dishonesty." And "false advertising."
This new, high-tech piece of clothing, called Top Secret, is just another case of what you see is not always what you get.
The device, available with an old-fashioned, low-tech bottom for $74, comes with a tiny red pill bottle-shaped soft plastic air pump hidden under material in the cleavage.
It works pretty much like the athletic shoe known as The Pump, except those shoes don't make your feet look bigger when you pump them up.
To operate Top Secret, simply remove the cap from the air pump. Then, with thumb and forefinger, squeeze the pump repeatedly and the little air compartments installed in the cups inflate.
They say it adds at least a cup size to your physique.
I tried this thing -- not on, of course, but operationally -- when I visited the shopping center Saturday to check it out.
Here I was, a gray-headed middle-aged man in a clothing store, squeezing a bikini. It's a wonder alarms didn't go off and mall security guards didn't rush in with guns drawn.
As I squeezed, the two tiny air bags did grow larger, but it wasn't nearly as spectacular as when an auto air bag inflates in a three-car pileup.
How many times do you have to squeeze this thing before it's ready for the beach? "It depends on what you want," said Karen ZTC Fix, manager of Gadzooks, a store that carries the inflatable top. It comes with a tag that says "Live Large," "Fill The Void" and "Pump it Up." Ms. Fix said they've sold more than 100 Top Secret bikinis since they reached the store in January.
Who's buying them? "Everybody from like teen-agers up to like moms," she said. "And a lot of students." As in college students. Spring break did wonders for the sale of Top Secret.
Actually, the instructions on the tag says it takes "30 to 40 pumps to fully inflate the bra." But what if somebody gets greedy and isn't satisfied with the results after 30-40 pumps? Have there been complaints of blowouts?
"No, not yet, and we don't really anticipate any either," said Andy Beattie, Cole of California's vice president/national sales manager. "Each of the bras is tested before it's assembled. The plastic membrane goes through a couple of tests before it's assembled to be sure it doesn't leak and that it pumps properly."
The company recommends you inflate this while not wearing it.
"It pumps easier off the body," Ms. Beattie explained. "The pump actually rests in the cleavage, and you can get a better grip on it if you're not wearing it when you're working on the pump."
Also, if you pump it up while you're wearing it, people can see what you're doing, which destroys the purpose. My suggestion would be to go into a phone booth like Superman when he was changing into his S suit.
The air-enhanced bikini top does have advantages. If you fall out of a canoe you could use it as a flotation device. You could hang monofilament line from it, set it adrift and use it as a trotline for catfish. You could blow it up on trips and use it as a handy car pillow. Kids getting bored on that same ride? Let them take turns blowing it up. You can also inflate it by blowing into the pump, instead of squeezing it.
"It's really been a hit for us," Ms. Beattie said. "The young junior customer likes it because it's a novelty piece. Certainly it is a conversation starter. And it's been of interest to a number of people who are using it as an alternative to breast augmentation or traditional padding or what have you."
Top Secret has its drawbacks. You shouldn't wear it while scuba diving, or on an airplane. "In a pressurized environment it could lose its air," Ms. Beattie explained. This is not good. In an airplane, it would probably go pssssssss, or worse still, blow the toupee off the gentleman sitting in front of you.
I also wonder if wearing it makes it difficult to dive to the bottom of the pool. Seems like all that air would make you pop to the surface like a rubber duck.
John Kelso writes for the Austin American-Statesman.