On buying intimate apparel in West Africa’s largest open air market
Look, women need bras, okay? It’s normal, and I’m here for the long haul, which means that I can’t depend on care packages and occasional trips home for underclothes anymore (yes, it’s true, I did that for a brief period).
For every man who’s like, “WTF is Theresa talking about bras on her blog for?” there’s a woman nodding her head, saying, “OMG I always wondered how they do it.” Well, I don’t know how they do it, whoever they are, but I do know how I do it, and it’s a doozy.
Step 1: Gather up your courage and go to the market. Wear a thin shirt that is easy to take on and off.
Step 2: If you live in Cotonou, catch a zem to Tokpa and run around until you find the women’s clothes sections. These are new clothes, freshly imported from China. Never worn. This is important. The second hand clothes market is a 100F zem ride away.
Step 3: Find a woman with bras and panties hanging on her stall door. I do not have pictures, but I promise to take some the next time I have to go bra shopping. Ask her if she has bras for fat women. (If you just ask for larger bras, every single woman will say yes. It is absolutely crucial to specify that the bra is for a larger woman. Don’t ask me why.) Rinse and repeat as needed until you find someone who stocks bras in your size.
Step 4: Note that there are many large Beninese women who wear bras. Wonder why the fuck there are so few merchants that sell large bras. Realize that most Beninese women who have large breasts wear poorly fitting bras. No Victoria’s Secret free consultations here, my friends.
Step 5: Now that you’ve found a woman who claims to carry bras in your size, tell her exactly what you want. Be prepared with both American (inches) and French (cm) measurements. The woman will begin tearing through enormous plastic bags of bras (each individually wrapped in clear plastic, of course). She will completely disregard any request you have made, and start handing you bras.
‘Take this one! Good quality.’
‘This one is sexy. Your husband will like it!’
‘It’s not too small! You’ll see.’
Step 6: Start sweating.
Step 7: Once you have a handful of merchandise, you have to try it on. If you’ve found a lady with a stall that only opens on one side, you may be able to convince her to hold up a pagne (wrap) while you try things on. Otherwise, you will find yourself in the middle of the market trying on bras over your shirt in front of a rapidly growing audience.
Step 8: None of the bras the woman handed you fit. Yes, she exclaimed that each and every one of them was perfect. She’s never seen or worn a correctly fitting bra in her life. No big deal. Keep insisting until you get what you want. And don’t forget that labeled cup sizes are wildly inconsistent. What might be a B back home could run the gamut from A to D depending on the mark. For larger sized cups, just pretend you can’t read the label and try it on. No need to get ego involved. The point is to get a bra that fits, not argue about your cup size.
Step 9: Haggle. If you’re a yovo, drop the price to 1/3 of the asking price, then work up to about 1/2. This process may or may not take twice as long as your entire adventure this far. Don’t stop smiling. Wipe the sweat off your brow.
Step 10: Treat yourself to a cold beer and a cigarette. You’ve earned it!