I feel I ought to publicly praise the staff at Bhs in Birmingham; they provide a fantastic service and are always friendly and helpful. Even when they’re being traumatised by long-haired, leather-clad bloggers.
I’d only intended to buy underpants when I went in. This isn’t a source of trauma in itself; we all have to buy things to keep our bits in from time-to-time. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the ubiquity of underwear in clothes shops is a measure of the popularity of such items. Anyway, there I was, wandering through the ground floor when my eyes alighted on a frill-fronted shirt. After doing a double-take, I realised that I was in the women’s wear department and Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who costume hadn’t reached high-street stores again: I was looking at a blouse. And this piqued my curiosity.
It has to be noted that, unlike many men, I am actually fairly familiar with the women’s wear sections of department stores. Back when I was a sixth-former, I used to haunt the accessories end of women’s wear in the Cambridge branch of Debenhams on a hunt for random items of the pretty belt and scarf variety. Listening to too much eighties metal does that to you. So my this frill-fronted blouse got me thinking about my old dress sense and tipped a cascade of thoughts through my head as I descended the escalators into the obscure basement that houses men’s wear. Three packets of underpants were found. And, as I walked casually up to the tills, I decided that I may as well ask the question that was preying on my mind:
Is there a way of working out your dress size, or is it just trial and error?
The girl who had just run my underpants through the lasers started telling me about measurements from write to wrist across the chest and suggested that I ask one of the men’s wear specialists. After a second of thinking, I realised why I’d got that answer.
“Oh, no,” I said. “I know my chest size. I was wondering how I could go about working out my dress size.”
A surprised (and puzzled) smile lit up her face. Foolishly, I tried to explain.
“I occasionally cross-dress,” I began.
Not the best start. The grin seemed to get more nervous. Hell, I was blushing by now.
“Not full-on,” I continued hastily. “I just occasionally buy scarves and blouses and was wondering how to work out my top-half dress size.”
She didn’t seem sure. Fortunately, her colleague at the next till rescued her. She asked me what my chest size was and asked me to take my jacket off and turn around. I obliged.
“Sixteen, maybe eighteen, but it will vary from shop to shop,” she concluded.
So now I know. As it happens, that blouse I was admiring was shaped, so it wouldn’t have looked right on me without some strategic padding…