'It's The Pet Rock Of Intimate Apparel'

August 30, 1994|By Mary Corey | Mary Corey,Sun Staff Writer

In the fitting room of Hecht's in Towson yesterday, Nancy Shaffer and Ruth Ann Brindley were comparing notes on the Wonderbra.

"Oh my God," said Ms. Brindley, slipping into a champagne-colored model. "I feel like Glenn Close in that movie . . . 'Dangerous Liaisons.' "

"It's wild."

"And so sexy."

"I'm sold."

Count them among the many sold on the world's most ballyhooed undergarment, the Wonderbra, which arrived in Baltimore yesterday. Since waif supermodel Kate Moss revealed that even she got cleavage with the mega-engineered bra, women have been clamoring to buy what nature didn't give them and surgery no longer safely can.

Virtually every fashion magazine has gone ga-ga over the British export that made its American debut in May, and stores have been swamped by demand for the padded push-up with its 54 components -- or one of the lacy imitators it's inspired.

"There's nothing that compares: not garters, teddies, camisoles," says Nancy Chistolini, regional fashion director for Hecht's, which has received 1,500 calls about the bra in recent months. "It's the pet rock of intimate apparel."

The setting was anything but intimate yesterday when dozens of women and men flocked to Hecht's in Towson and Columbia for the unveiling. While the bras arrived via helicopter in Los Angeles and by armored car in St. Louis, the celebration in Baltimore was more sedate: An elegant box was opened at noon revealing a rack of red, white, beige and black bras with matching panties.

Across from the gingham housecoats, they did look seductive and media crews were capturing them in all their silky glory. But the stillness was broken when a mother with toddlers made a beeline for the A cups.

"Photographers," she said abruptly, "get out of the way."

She couldn't outrace John Blansett of Glen Burnie, though, who drove 40 minutes to accompany his wife, Sue, on her bra-buying expedition.

He already was on one knee, shuffling through the rack and sending his wife into the fitting room with both black and white versions.

"She's tried the clones," said Mr. Blansett, 62, referring to Victoria's Secret Miracle Bra and other styles on the market. "But for those who want to be, you know, in evidence, this is the best."

Minutes later, his wife had forked over $26 for the white. "I'm getting older," said Ms. Blansett, 42. "When everything starts falling, you want to pick it up."

Christine Tavakoly was among the top buyers yesterday. She bought six, one for herself and five others for colleagues at the car phone company where she works. She's tried more than 20 different bras looking for the right support, lift and padding.

"Mom," asked her 9-year-old daughter Danielle, "What's this going to do for you?"

"Put it this way," she replied, "it lifts you up in every way."

As for bra trends, virginal white and champagne were outselling naughtier red and black. More surprisingly, though, C cups were more popular than the smaller sizes. By 12:30, Towson was just about out of 38Cs. (The stores, which wouldn't release sales figures, expect additional shipments by Friday.)

Women were virtually ignoring the plethora of options around: The exotically named "Rendezvous Push-Up," "Full-Figure Secret Hug" and "It Must Be Magic!" bras were barely given a second glance.

A few shoppers got flustered by the excitement in the usually low-key lingerie department. When all the fitting rooms were taken, at least one woman disrobed in the aisle. Another was so eager to try on her Wonderbra she overshot the dressing area and wound up in customer service.

Men like Jerry White were unabashed about hanging around bras, slips and panties. While his wife tried on other sizes, he rested against the rack with his wife's white Wonderbra dangling from his belt loop.

Asked why he was so proudly holding his wife's undergarment, Mr. White, 35, of Dundalk, replied: "It's for the man anyway, isn't it?"

His wife, Brenda, 33, disagreed. "It's for me," she said. "I want to look fuller, uplifted."

But some went away empty-handed. "I'm unconvinced," said Donna Wittman, 29, a physical therapist who lives in Towson. "It didn't look natural to me. Once I put my shirt on, it looked kind of lumpy.

"People know what I look like. If one day I came out with these voluptuous breasts . . . I think people would say, 'Hey, she has a Wonderbra on.' "

College students April Gottsagen and Kristi Avery were far more critical.

"These feel like my grandmother's bras," said Ms. Gottsagen, 18, who scrunched the Wonderbra between her hands.

"I don't even think it's pretty," said Ms. Avery, also 18.

"It would make you look, like, huge," she said. "I thought it was going to be cool -- like a pump-up thing. This is all padding."

Don't try telling that to 50-something shoppers Nancy Shaffer and Ruth Ann Brindley.

They came to the mall with one goal -- to buy Wonderbras -- and between them they walked off with four. What was it the women were hoping to accomplish with these purchases?

Said Ms. Brindley, "We want admiration from men."

"And," added Ms. Shaffer, "envy from other women."

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