A Breast of the Times

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By Herb Graffis
As appeared in The Beside Esquire, 1940

Gentlemen who flip through the pages of trade papers in the male-trapping industry, such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, are deterred in this casual practice by the shockingly frank advertising illustrations of intimate items of feminine merchandise. A true gentleman would no more tarry in deliberate inspection of such gems of commercial art than he would pause after blundering accidentally upon an alarmed female stranger partially immersed in a bathtub off the guest room.

This Victorian modesty has preserved a chivalry costly to gentlemen. It has allowed a development of male gullibility to a pathetic degree. Today, even though children are educated in the facts of life & have no longer a prurient curiosity in the lascivious bumble bee on the pollenizing prowl for a trusting virgin rose, millions of males grow into adulthood in the bashful, blind belief that female form is both female & divine. There eventually comes a time when the penalty of this male ignorance must be paid.

Bewildered, disillusioned young men in the darkness sob convulsively, “Why didn’t Daddy tell me?” This black sadness has fallen on men before & will fall again. What is Havelock Ellis doing about it; Ellis who has dealt himself a hand in almost everything that used to be strictly the stork’s business?

Let us then fend for ourselves. Let us boldly seize this menace of the most virulent boob-bait of modernity, the arch brassieres &/or companion harnesses, the sinister, sinuous girdles & corsets of the predatory female. There is more than a hunch that these masquerade costumes for the female meat are doing more than any other factors in civilization to destroy man’s faith in the finer things in life.

Consider thoughtfully these camouflages from the viewpoints of the anthropologist & sociologist. Be on your guard as you bravely go after a study of the brazen but insidious advertisements you hitherto have blushingly skipped. The subject has the alluring danger of a “wet paint” sign. It’s difficult to keep your hands off despite all warnings.

The far reaching effect of importance now attached to ladies’ lungs one quickly realizes as he ponders on Bali. Bali, where the chests of maiden & matron stick out nakedly like a team of firm generous chunks of chocolate ice-cream cones, has absolutely reversed the old idea of economics. Bali has become prosperous by going bust. Quite obviously there have been drivelling tourists who have returned to suggest Bali’s economic policy for our own national adoption, notwithstanding the possibility that the United States may lack Bali’s natural resources.

CorsetTo remedy the deficiency one corps of our native brain-trusters have gone thoroughly into the business of busting not from the economic but from the aesthetic aspect. There are at least two interesting & apparently opulent scientific journals devoted to this subject; one, Corsets & Brassieres, The Foundation Garment Review, and the other Corset & Underwear Review. It will be noted that both publications employ meticulously correct use of the word review. The material in these magazines is such that it is certain to be not only viewed, but reviewed by the forlorn philosopher who wonders what chance he’ll ever have to keep from being fooled.

About both of these publications there is somewhat the same atmosphere of the professional military publications dealing calmly with the heartless problem of most efficiently destroying men.

One advertisement points out, “Summer temperatures send up the sales of white foundation garments.” This cannot be denied by the susceptible male who feels his temperature mounting to 112 degrees F. because unfair advantage is taken of his credulity by diabolically engineered creations of net, lace, broadcloth, rayon, voile, mesh, elastic, non-elastic, Lastex, & divers other materials. Not for nix is the leading article in one of these authoritative journals entitled “Suggestive Selling.” No poetic license is employed when another advertisement is the same publication is headed “You Completely Eliminate Sales Resistance.”

Now, honestly, what chance has a guy got when he is snatched almost from innocent boyhood to come face to fact with the Mephistophelian ingenuity of those who plot his downfall with the wily brassiere, bandeaux or whatever trick names happen to be applied to these artful devices? There is little use in the male trying to fight the seductive she-devil with firehouse as is being done by valiant cavaliers who swath themselves with bellybands of elastic mesh. Even a careless female with a naturally lackadaisical contour can don a brassier and bat over .500 visually, but often the dapper & adipose male encased in a navel-crusher suffers from tallow being squirted in such ridges above the bellyband gunwale that he appears to have been ringed three or four times in a horseshoe game before he put on his shirt & coat.

CorsetThe utter helplessness of the male, under the circumstances, becomes poignant when one recalls what a fast one was put over on the American male by the eminent Mr. Conde Naste, high priest of the women’s fashion journalists.

The Great Conde outdid the Great Ziegfeld as a glorifier by an almost unbelievably great margin. Nast, with his genius in selecting artists & writers & his bravado in turning them loose to do their damnedest, achieved the remarkable success of glorifying the ugly-panned woman.

Women with faces like gargoyles were smarted up in pictures made under Nast management so even keen-eyed & discriminating men got used to them. These women ultimately shared the destiny of vice according to the lines of Mr. Pope:

“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As, to be hated, needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

Now, at the embracing stage of this fantastic development, let us note from the bust-, belly- and behind-casing advertisements what the man gets:

Corset“That graceful uplift, that enchanting silhouette.”
“lines of uninterrupted beauty.”
“The ultimate in abbreviation.”
“Smooth, slender line of unbroken grace.”
“High youthful contour.”
“Figure-molding magic.”
“Gay bits of witchery.”

Those are but a few of the thousands of wily descriptive phrases from the advertisements of the false-front merchants. Is mere man proof against this order of guile? Certainly not! He is soft prey of such phonies.

There is an infernal retribution in the way in which the deceitful business engulfs some of those less cynical males who engage in it. Their progress into the whirlpool is perhaps unwittingly described in the words of an advertising man who murmurs in the first stages of his sweet delirium about a set of dainty bucket that “demurely coaxes the breast into charming young curves.” Reveals the bard of his business: “...the miracle it performs, coaxing a little, yielding a little, persuading a little...” The melancholy layman who is aware of what the hapless victim was up against realizes how irresistibly ruin presented itself to the fellow who should have known better. There are thousands of tabloid newspaper stories compacted in the preceding quotation from a typical brassier advertisement. “Coaxing... yielding...persuading,” need only “tells all” & “then everything went black” to bind all of life, frustration & stark tragedy, inseparably to the bittersweet story of bust faking.

One who delves into the mysteries of the spurious chests of females begins by suspecting this deceit has become big business only during comparatively recent times. However, one can’t be too sure. “The Laws of Solon,” quoting a woman’s magazine, the Delineator “forbade Greek women to wear more than three garments at a time.” This edict, according to current investigation in the form sheets of the bust industry, still allowed leeway for a lively trade in brassieres for such is the ingenuity of the brassier mechanic that the devices are ofttimes effectively employed with bathing suits & evening dresses of such stunning decolletage a lady can carry a spare packed in the same cartridge as her lipstick. As further period evidence, there are paintings of La Pompadour, exposing in semi-formal attire a resplendently pink team of McCoy honeydews, the budding 90-watt Mazda type lungs of Titians’s young Amazons & the pineapple breasts of Pascin & other French artists of that time when la vie Boheme justified its art by making figurative improvements on the current dirty postcards.

CorsetHowever, the scientist can’t accept such pictorial evidence as entirely conclusive for after all the artists might have given the models plenty of break, and a break is literally the genesis of a bust. One of the business magazines in chronicling activities of that commerce which gilds the lily lung & adorns the rosy behind with “beauty molded svelte lines,” prints a report of a style show put on by B. Altman & Co., during which “controversy through the ages” was the theme of a pageant.

The journalist writes: “the blacksmith was the corsetiere in the 16th century,” but she (or he) also refers to “the magnificent invention & suavity” as being presented. That tribute to the “magnificent new creations” somehow seems to have the same sort of hollow ring to it that technical articles have when they make quick references to the engineering work of the early Chinese, Mayans & other ancients whose unfathomable genius must be dismissed with an “ain’t it wonderful?” phrase.

However, it is difficult for the scientist to be quite sure of himself when dealing with the lexicon of the lung & torso traffic. There is what strikes one who is an acolyte in the laboratory, a very careless use of phrases in the bust, belly & behind business ads but maybe it is all right.

A puzzling instance lauds, as well it may, the merits of detachable brassieres that “let you eat your cake & have it, too!” What leaves the scientist in a fog is who is the “you” of the advertisement & what kind of cake is it? Angel food seems quite a pretty idea in this connection. “Let them eat cake” was the loosely used line that accelerated one revolution. Maybe another revolution is on its way & this “eat your cake” advertisement is a specimen of the skilled & heinous manner in which the propagandists steam up things to get us agreeable to their plans. Well, a fellow can’t live forever, and choking to death on cake is 10,000 to one over stopping a hurtling, jagged hunk of shrapnel.

Other advertisements in the magazines for general female public, as well as for the inner circles of the foundation garment trade, are of a character that must be considered entirely blameless, although somewhat disturbing & unique as social documents. No blame attaches to the advertisements because the nature of the business, of the mask of nature in it, permits blanket coverage by that grand old alibi, honi soit qui mal y pense.

You bump into an advertisement showing a lady - and there is no mistake about their being ladies in these pictures - attired scantily in a lacy outerhide with more curves than a six-day bike race. This lady is drawing back a curtain & peeking in at a mixed party of people in formal evening wear. Such is one of the popular scenes in the printed annuals of the foundation garment business. It has the pleasant, companionable spirit of “company in the parlor, girls.”

Corset on CanvasShould some artist drag a drawing like that around to Esquire, the staff, as dizzy as it is from the painful occupation malady of bust myopia, probably would jump out from ornate padded cells all over & scream, “Scram, you bum, or you’ll have the place pinched.” But in the underworld of women’s apparel advertising such views are very common pictures of practices followed by all the very best figures in this naive sphere.

Only on rare occasions, however, are the bust, belly & behind business advertisements guilty of rank effrontery & contempt for the man in the street. One such instance is that of a brassier advertisement headed, “Seeing is Believing” when as a matter of fact, in this affair seeing isn’t believing at all. But feeling probably wouldn’t be believing either, & as the ad writer evidently wanted to be coldly professional rather than sensual about the affair, he just picked one of the five senses offhand, making the deadline & took a long chance on some fellow finding out that seeing wasn’t believing & carrying the case to the Better Business Bureau because of his tragic disappointment.

There is a grave warning to the hitherto unsuspecting male in the very names of the garments in obviously good favor with those who participate as pitchers or catchers in the business of deftly remoulding the female nearer to the heart’s desire. There is plenty in a name, when it’s applied to a brassier, girdle or other item of lure harness. Beware, but listen: Popular Thrill, Maiden Form, Her Secret, Myth, Goss-Amour, Fig Leaf, Sho-Form, Sensation, Helen of Troy & Form-O-Uth. These are some of the tags that tip you off the folks in this trade are playing with 52 spade aces against the normal male, unless biology textbooks have been revised lately.

Although the major factor in the business is that of concealment, the foundation garment makers basic sales appeal doesn’t go any stronger for protective coloration than do the designers of six-foot stop signs. They are frankly on the make all the time.

The bust barons, in their own devious ways, do a great job of assisting nature in smoothing the way, so to speak, toward nature’s ultimate objective. With some cloth, thread & gutta percha, the brassier & corset mechanics undoubtedly score better for women every ten minutes of the selling day & romantic evenings than Ponce de Leon was able to do plodding many weary months in his futile search for the fountain of youth.

It is due, probably, to the artifice of the bust, belly & behind synthetizers that there are definite, frequent evidences of a complete reversal of form in the employment of the cynical slogan of seduction: “fool ‘em & forget ‘em.” In departed periods that policy was the itinerary of the rake’s progress with the pathetic denouement being that of the maiden sad & alone as the villain resumed his post outside the transfer corner saloon, smirked & roped another female sap by a twirl of his fascinating, sleek black moustachios.

CorsetNow it it the female who fools & forgets them. Not with Victorian languor of “that long slanting cascade of bosom-without any apparent relation to the naked body beneath,” as Aldous Huxley supplies the description of the “take your time” curves now antiquated. No, the provocative, free-wheeling & impertinent bosoms of contemporaneous models have no delay or indecision about them. They are busts that bust you right in the eye, as the phrase goes. But although the saucy chests of today, terminating in but faintly masked collar-button design papillae may be in only one case in fifty the work of nature, perhaps it is all for the best. Anyway, it can’t be helped. Even when the male is beyond the trade territory of the foundation garment business he seems often to be bust-blind, as it is attested by such evidence as that of Mahmoud Djelladine Pacha, to wit:

“How beautiful are your breasts with their two russet berries.
At the sight of them, stricken, drunked, I cannot make a distinction
Between them & white roses beated in white snow.”

A hundred years later enthusiastic students have the same difficulty making a distinction between Allah’s handiwork & the Princess Patticakes, the Nymph Nuggets, the Beautibulbs, or similarly named fabrications of busts, so false & so fair.

So, it all probably ends with the philosophical male concluding that the thoughtful thing for him to do is to keep his mouth shut, as the argot pertinently goes in this case, and be reconciled to the male minding his own business while the female minds hers, part of which plainly is in seeing her contour is such that the discriminating gentleman is kept ignorantly but aesthetically content with a breast of the times.


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