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The Perfect <em>Mademoiselle</em>, But For Two Little Obstacles

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I have never before written about my breasts. But like cancer and death they are two of the subjects addressed for the first time in my new book, "Outside the Box: A Memoir." They are not, however, related to either of those awful things, at least not mine, at least not yet, thank goodness.

My revelation about my breasts recounts one of the challenges I faced as a young woman trying to make it in the world of journalism. I was still in college, a junior, and I'd won the Mademoiselle Magazine Guest Editor Contest - the same one Sylvia Plath immortalized in her book, "The Bell Jar.". Mlle. (or "Millie," in Mlle.-speak), a now defunct relic of the Condé Nast empire, was a wonderful publication, an "intellectual fashion magazine," in Plath's words, whose competition offered eager young women a chance to learn the magazine biz. You entered by doing what you wanted to do in the mag: fashion if you wanted to design, marketing if you wanted to sell, etc. I wanted to write, so I wrote some articles. And as one of 20 lucky winners that summer of 1962, I was brought to New York (New York!) to work (as a paid intern) on the August issue of the magazine. It was a dazzling month of learning, writing and partying... with one little obstacle. Make that two. My breasts. I realized early on that fashion was not my forte - that while I loved being at Mlle, I hated all the emphasis on the clothing. Today as a confirmed shopaholic, I am amused at my fashion hostility. But keep in mind, it was a long long time ago:

My suspicions were fully realized at the fashion show. We were the stars of the annual college clinic for out-of-town buyers, all twenty of us outfitted in the same red orlon double-knit tube with a hood that rolled down to a giant turtleneck. The dress, a heavily promoted piece of merchandise that was featured throughout our issue of the magazine, was a gift, natch (along with shoes, brooches, and piles of creams, fragrances, and other swag), and while I hesitate to stare any such horse in the mouth, this wasn't exactly a dress I'd have picked out for myself. For one thing, it was ugly: With the hood up and snug around our heads, we each, even the model types, looked like the Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland. But mostly I disliked it because it wasn't designed for a body like mine. That is, a body that wasn't planed flat like the Twiggy look that would later rule the runway. Breasts--natural or implanted--were not big in the early 1960s. So there we stood in the dressing room, preening for our big show. And there stood the fashion editor with a giant Ace bandage in her hand, instructing me to wrap it around my chest, tight. It's a procedure I would repeat much later in life to support a broken rib. But hey, these nice folks had given me the job and the dress, so I wrapped it around, slid into my red tube, and joined the parade. When I looked straight down, there was nothing protruding between my chin and my feet. It was a very weird sensation. Someday, I thought, I'll write about this in my memoir.

20 Coeds Tour Rome as Guest Fashion Editors
—Rome Daily American, June 22, 1962

Never underestimate the power of a major magazine's publicity machine. "Early morning plane watchers were rewarded yesterday when 20 attractive American coeds wearing identical knit travel dresses stepped off Alitalia's New York-Rome flight at Fiumicino for the start of a five-day stay here," wrote the reporter breathlessly. The bandage was back. But as soon as we ditched the knits, we started roaming around Rome, usually on the snappy little Vespa scooters driven by some of the two dozen Italian bachelors—architects, filmmakers, businessmen—they'd lined up for us. Mlle. (and its cosponsors, in this case, DuPont, which made the fiber for the wretched knit dress) did it right. And we took total advantage, showing up at couture houses, parties, a performance of Aida at the Baths of Caracalla, picnicking at a Roman villa, and, God help us, modeling the tubes one more time. (My bandage and I had become inseparable.)

Our month was immortalized in the August issue of Mademoiselle, where, threaded among the pictures of pin curls and plaid skirts, you will find my column about the writers, our interview with Murray Kempton, and a double-page photograph of all twenty of us, standing and waving on the wing of the Alitalia jet that flew us to Rome. Guess what we're wearing?

— from "Outside the Box: A Memoir" by Lynn Sherr (Rodale)

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