Courage and Croissants

Chapter 23. Peek-a-Boo

excerpt from book: Courage and Croissants
By Suzanne Saxe-Roux and Jean Roux

Sex appeal is fifty percent what you've got and fifty percent what people think you've got.
Sophia Loren, Award winning Italian film actress (1934-)

Every day, along with millions of other women, I put on a bra, usually beige but sometimes black. It’s sensible, satisfactory, and comfortable. Soon after moving to France, I became more and more tantalized by all the French women with assorted colored bra straps that were peeking out of their sundresses and T-shirts. Every day, I would survey bra straps: clear ones that the young girls were wearing with tank tops, the gingham check with lace bra strap worn by the grocer’s wife, the green ivory bra strap the neighbor wore, the purple with roses bra strap on a friend, the elegant black at night, and the silky pink under a rose-colored dress. Rarely, if ever, did I see a plain white bra strap.

The insurance agent was wearing a red sleeveless dress with a matching fire-engine red bra strap slipping down her arm, as if to say, “Aren’t I beautiful?”

Wow, I thought, that bra strap really does have something to say.

I was used to buying my staple Wacoal beige bras at Nordstrom’s once a year. It is a comfortable bra to wear under white T-shirts or suits at work--no imagination, and definitely no mystery. Intrigued to find out more about French women and their lingerie, especially the bra, I began my own personal investigation.

Frenchwomen spend nearly twenty percent of their annual clothing budget on lingerie. In the U.S., the average clothing budget is $1,759 a year. Twenty percent of that means that an average American woman should be spending $345 a year on lingerie. I personally am falling way below the average. Why is that, I wonder? I was a product of the 1970s, when we were burning our bras. But it was now thirty years later, and I wanted something more from my lingerie, something these French women secretly knew and loved.

My various interviews with French women proved my instincts right. Every French woman believed with her heart and soul that wearing a beautiful lace or satin bra with matching underwear was the essence of looking and feeling good. It isn’t about the man (although some say it is), but about how the women feel wearing cool silk on their warm skin, and a demi-cup, where their cleavage glistens in the summer heat. After all in one report, the bra was invented in 1889 by a Frenchwoman, Herminie Cadolle, who cut the midriff off her corset to allow for more waist movement. The French should know about bras!

My personal research continued at the local mini-department store in Uzès. As I tried on selected bras in the mid-price range, in black and white lace, pink satin, and purple and blue flowers, I decided upon all three. After all, I have a lingerie budget of $345.

For the next week, I wore each bra under a T-shirt, tank, and summer dress, taking time to match the bra with the color top. I felt different somehow, more put together, more elegant, more French. Next, I decided to pick up a few of the colored bras in the local marché (open market) for a mere five euros apiece. Soon I found out you do get what you pay for; the marché bras were fun, but vexatious and ill-fitting. A ten-euro experiment, I told myself.

Passing the two French lingerie stores in town, I stared in the windows, drooling over the beautifully designed Chantall and Aubade bras displayed in the window with the book L’Art d’Aimer (Lessons in Seduction), tucked close by. A white lace bra with green leaves, plum cherries, an orange-and-white gingham bow, and straps edged in black jumped out at me. I loved that bra! It made me feel jubilant and impish, and I was only looking in the window!

Opening the door, I boldly walked in and asked to try on the bra in the window. I slipped into the dressing room and wiggled into the bra, then realized it was a demi-cup, something I don’t usually wear. But wow, did it look flirtatious and whimsical! It held me firm while showing off my upper half, and oh, how soft it felt against my skin. I turned and twisted in the mirror, seeing if I could run to the bus (not that I ever run to the bus), dance, and jump without falling out, daring it to say, “You shouldn’t buy me.” Do I dare? At 75 euro ($100 with the exchange rate), it was going to put a big dent in the lingerie budget I just created.

The woman shopkeeper was kind, and politely asked if I would like to have matching underwear. Personally I’d wondered about all the matching underwear I saw, but had been too thrifty to buy. My Victoria Secret three-underwear-for-$10 had done just fine up to now. For now, I’d pass.

For the next six months, I pranced around in my economical, moderate, and expensive bras and loved every minute. Jean loved it too, and admitted that the tres cher bra was the most beautiful on me. So money does pay, I thought, keeping that in mind for the next shopping spree.

Underwear, however, was another thing. So my investigation took me further. I tried a string bikini but could never get the hang of it, even though I read recently that it is not the breast that is getting the most attention these days but the fessé, otherwise known as the buttock.

I soon came to find out that the French would no longer wear underwear that didn’t match the bra than wear two different-color shoes. It was unheard of. Did it really make a difference if you wore matching underwear? Was it more important to feel elegant and sexy than to be sensible? Evidently, the British think so, ever since Bridget Jones. One report stated that the British are now spending more than the French, Germans, Italians, and Spanish on lingerie, and definitely more than the Americans.

Returning to my favorite lingerie store during their January winter sale, when the coveted 75-euro bras were on sale for 50% off, I wondered if now was the time to indulge in matching underwear as well. A leopard silk bra trimmed with beige lace was just waiting for me in my size. The saleswoman smiled as she proudly brought me a matching pair of underwear on sale.

C’est bon marché (It is a good price).” Yes, I thought, I have to have it. Instead of wrapping up the package, I told the saleswoman I wanted to wear it. “Bien sur (Of course),” she said with a smile that insinuated, “You must be meeting a man.”

Walking out of the store and down the street in my leopard lingerie, I was concentrating on how it felt--soft, silky, playful, and sexy. I swayed to miss a dog and danced around a tree, whistling a song I had heard on the radio. I then realized I was smiling at everyone I met. Bonjour, Monsieur, Bonjour, Madame. They smiled back, and I wondered if just possibly they knew my secret, the matching leopard bra and underwear.