There are some places in the city I simply cannot penetrate. One of these places is the back room of the Orchard Corset Center. Featured in yesterday's Times, complete with an audio slideshow and the good news that the shop is thriving and under no threat of vanishing anytime soon in the shark-infested waters of the endangered Lower East Side, Orchard Corset has hidden depths that I will never see.
For that reason, when I visited the place earlier this year, I brought a somewhat reluctant female partner in crime. I made her try on brassieres while I waited in the plastic "man chair" by the door. Since she boldly went where no man (except proprietor Ralph Bergstein) has gone before, I will let her tell the rest of the story:
The shop was stacked floor to ceiling with faded, battered boxes of brands you never heard of before. The proprietor was a yarmulked man with hair that stood out perpendicular to his head, like a curly shelf, on one side. There were several buxom black ladies shopping. I decided to try on a couple of brassieres. To do this, I went behind a curtain into the back where there were more buxom ladies trying on brassieres. There was no room for me, so I had to go through another curtain, into the storeroom, where I was surrounded by more boxes.
I tried on the bras and the proprietess came to help. She showed me how the nipple should align with the shoulder, placing her fingers on said parts, marking point A and point B. Then she tried to make me a deal, like buy both for some cheap amount you could hardly refuse, except I didn't really like the bras. They made me feel like an alta kocker. They definitely looked like bras for an older lady--but without a fun, 1950s fetish feel.
Even though I myself would never buy these bras, I loved the boxes and the odd brand names and the fact that the saleslady knew more about breasts and bras, and how they fit together, than anyone at Victoria's Secret. The shop seems to cater more to buxom ladies--of which I am not--because the bigger-busted women in the store seemed very relieved and enthusiastic about what they were finding there. It was as if they'd discovered the mother lode of bras.