Caterina Lewis would write under her birth name if only it were a touch more glam. She lives in the Frozen Northeast with three cats, myriad fickle muses, and the most darling mother a girl could want. She prefers the look of 18th century stays but would be more comfortable in an hourglass underbust corset, as overbusts do her no favours. Find her at Refuge in Audacity (postraphstunner.wordpress.com).
I know I want them the day I open a pair of holdups that won’t.
My aunt has been sending me lingerie from Germany since I was finally old enough to appreciate it. From vintage bras (which never quite fit in the cups) to an entire trousseau’s worth of thongs, I must have a small fortune in smallclothes. I’ve been saving the delicate, lace-topped nude thigh-highs in their packages for special occasions, only since this latest CFIDS flare, I’ve had to wear them more often. Tights are no longer comfortable enough for daily wear, and in a Western New York winter, the wearing of skirts requires hosiery. Now that the weather has turned firmly to autumn, I rummage through my sock drawer for a new pair of sheer stockings, given my last pair is hopelessly laddered.
I suppose if I let my stockings sit in the package for too long, the sticky stuff inside the welt will stop sticking. Or else my poor legs are too dry and flaky. Either way, as soon as I’ve got one stocking up, the other falls down! Maybe my foremothers had it right: suspenders are the way to go.
Since I’m running out of the house to buy a slip, I devise an emergency system comprised of elastic strips, safety pins, and a very solid pair of knickers. (Since I don’t have a slip, I’m making do with a pair of short pantalettes. Why must dresses and skirts be made of lining material these days?) I am careful not to pin where I’ll be sitting; all the same, the whole time I’m out, I’m peeking in mirrors, because none of my pinning feels secure.
I want a better elastic than the hacked-off top of that laddered stocking. I want better fasteners than safety pins. I want a suspender belt.
I mention this to my mother in the car. She laughs. “Straps?” she asks, and it sounds like “stropps” because after eighteen straight years here, she retains her gorgeous, curious Bavarian-German accent, the voice all the South Asians who call her think belongs to the Punjab. “Oh, we hated those growing up. Always a hassle!”
Well, hose are a hassle for me. The firm grip of a belt beats the pinch of a waistband any day. Besides, I’m a little under five feet tall. That waistband, if I don’t roll it, hits me up around my ribs. I could let it sit on my hips, but I haven’t enough behind to fill the spare material. Saggy, baggy, or rolled, it’s all hideous as well as painful. She may not care — she has a lot more padding than I do. Perhaps she prefers her queen-size control tops. I don’t want them, and I certainly don’t need what they do to my body.
I am grateful for my aunt for so many reasons. One of those reasons includes a knack for sewing which has come down from my great-aunt to my aunt to me. Because I sew, I have a measuring tape to hand. I can take my own measurements with a minimum of fuss. (Also, the family knack has let me alter one of my aunt’s old bras down to fit my A-cups. I am nothing if not resourceful.) Once I decide on a model, I discover that it comes in my very waist size, with room for bloating — er, wearing on my hips if I so desire. Cough.
I order a pair of sheer stockings which I have to confirm will indeed be my particular shade of nude; the swatch on the site would lead any consumer to believe the color tends toward mauve, which it absolutely does not. Thank goodness for the enterprising enthusiast who has photographed all sixteen-odd shades of this manufacturer’s sheers. Even “nude” has a tendency to look funny on my sallow-white legs, but nobody makes “fishbelly”. At least the opaques are simple: I want black and black I can have, for $1.99, no less. Shipping’s more expensive, but I don’t dare get more than one of each kind; what if they don’t work out? What if this isn’t my solution after all?
I haven’t got long to worry. My belt and my sheer stockings arrive on the third day after I order. I handle these packages with care. I don’t want my clumsy little hands making mincemeat of my delicates. Ever mindful of where my nails are, I slide one stocking over my leg, unwilling even to risk the other in case I should have to return them. I get the hang of the suspenders quickly enough, though I’ll need time to figure out where to fasten them on the welt and how much to tighten them once they’re fastened. The little tightening doohickey has teeth! Literally! They snag on the elastic. But this is good. It means I won’t suddenly find my stockings down around my knees or some such mischief.
Instead, and for the first time in forever, I feel secure in a pair of nylons. My hosiery fits like it was made for me. I begin to understand the confidence of women doing high kicks in burlesque acts and posing in ruffly bra and panty sets for pinup shots. I begin to believe I belong among them, finally past a long and awkward adolescence where lingerie is concerned. Even in this utilitarian white suspender belt and plain beige sheer stockings, I look polished, so unlike my usual borrowed-her-mother’s-hose chic. I’m comfortable, not frumpy. I could interview in a skirt without wondering if anyone’s staring at my legs.
Well, for the wrong reasons.
That my partner enjoys the look is only a postscript, because I truly believe in buying lingerie for my own enjoyment. I have needed this feeling. I have needed this view of myself in the mirror. So I now spend a little longer getting dressed than before? I’m prepared to take it. I have friends with similar disabilities who turn to makeup and nail polish when they want to indulge. This is how I do it. This is my pampering, my luxury.
Now, if I really want to turn indulgence up a notch, I hear corsets are wonderful for back support . . .