Boobs and Texas go together like barbecue and Dr Pepper. Texas has been home to innovations in breast science, medicine, art, and display. But when it comes to the everyday support of the bosom, innovation is pretty flat. It’s possible that technology peaked with the brassiere. For those of us with big naturals or big enhancements, finding the right one once you’re out of a narrow cup-size range is a big hassle.

When I was fifteen, my personal destiny manifested, prompting my grandmother to note that I was “really developing.” The assistant principal at Westlake High called me into the office for not just some offending band T-shirts (that Jane’s Addiction one with the naked puppets, for example) but for the “inappropriateness” of a spaghetti-strap dress that didn’t, in her eyes, appropriately cover said developments. My argument that a more athletically proportioned fellow student was at that very moment wearing the exact same dress got me sent home to change. My drama teacher told me, “You just can’t play an ingenue, with this hair, those lips, and all this [waves hands to make the hourglass-bod gesture].” There was also that time while I was taking the PSAT that a proctor came over to tell me to pull up my shirt in the front. Obviously, this all made me more committed than ever to wearing tank tops. We were in Texas, what was I supposed to do, put on turtlenecks?

My understanding and loving mother didn’t try to make me cover up, but she did want me to be properly supported so I wouldn’t experience back pain or discomfort. Her fellow sympathetic moms did what they’ve been doing in Austin for decades: told her about the legendary bra shop Petticoat Fair. On our first visit, an older woman with a warm, no-nonsense approach pulled a measuring tape from around her neck, took my dimensions, and brought me bra after bra after bra to try on. When my even more rapidly developing younger sister had her own first trip there a year or two later, a woman our grandmother’s age told her she had “big old pretties,” a compliment she remembers nearly thirty years later. Where the mall department stores offered me flesh-toned minimizers, Petticoat Fair had endless drawers of bras in my size in colors, in lace and satin, that were comfortable and cute. When we checked out, the saleswoman wrote my purchases down on a little index card that, when I visited next, would get pulled out of a file box and added to until the store switched over to a computer system in the late 1990s.

The store is now celebrating 60 years in business, and it’s still in the same family. Original owners Bob and Betty Andrews, 97 and 93 years old respectively, look on with pride at the store’s current incarnation. Their son Kirk and his daughters Kali and Kristi run it now, with Kristi running customer service and Kali in charge of buying. Since my high school shopping days, the store has changed locations, gotten bigger, and, in 2022, added a second location in Plano. These days you can find a lot of very nice loungewear, lingerie, and cup-sized swimwear on the racks, but it remains first and foremost the best place in Texas, and in my mind, the world, to shop for bras. 

Kali Andrews, who started working at the store in 2012, told me my old purchases from that index card in 1992 wouldn’t still be in the database; they keep customer purchases going back only five years because anything more and the sheer volume of transactions would slow their system down too much. But they’re still providing the exact same service to first-time shoppers.

“It’s really special for us when customers come in and bring their daughters, and I’ve helped their moms, and then my mom helped their moms and my grandma helped their grandmas, and they’ve been shopping here as long as multiple generations of us have been working there,” Kali says. 

The Petticoat Fair experience just can’t be replaced by online shopping, she says. “People always go online but they always come back because sizes change, styles change, and that back-and-forth process of shopping online can be really frustrating, especially in the size ranges we work with, because they aren’t as common.” That range includes band sizes 28 to 56, cup sizes AA to O—pretty much everything that’s made, she says. 

Some things have changed: post-mastectomy fittings, once a core part of the store’s business, aren’t as in demand now. Kali Andrews says there are two parts to that—the increasing early diagnosis of breast cancer leads more women toward reconstructive surgery rather than long-term prosthesis fittings, and rapid changes in insurance mean that it’s at best a break-even proposition. But should a customer dealing with cancer come in to the store, Kristi is still specially trained in those fittings.

Not every fitting in the store’s history has gone well. In 2014, a trans customer posted about a bad experience with a salesperson, and the store responded by adding sensitivity training. Kali credits their customers with helping them better serve the trans community. “Our trans customers are really good about communicating, and communication from both ends is how anything’s going to get done really well,” she says. “My grandma, back in the sixties, helped the trans community when they were a little bit more under the radar. She would open before or after hours and they always knew they could come to us for whatever they needed.”

I’ve shopped for bras in New York and London and on the whole entire internet, and I have never found an equal to Petticoat Fair. That we can still go there in Austin is something all three of us girls have been grateful for for decades, especially when bra production took its dismaying mid-aughts turn to the molded T-shirt bra cup. What a useless garment! It sits on top of the breasts, makes the notorious bisected-boob silhouette, and isn’t worth a damn for anything over a C-cup. The good kind of bra—to me, a three-part cup with solid construction and without padding or thick linings, with substantial straps and three or more hooks on the band—got harder and harder to find and increasingly expensive. Away from Austin, I resort to buying online, but on visits home, Petticoat Fair always supplies me with what I need. It is like magic to me, how this frustrating endeavor somehow is still fun at the same place I’d first gone to back when John Mackovic was coaching the Longhorns and Whole Foods was on Ninth and Lamar across from the 7-Eleven. Last time I went, my updated fitting revealed a size change, thanks to middle age and/or the pandemic. I got two perfect sheer bras in black and emerald green and a perfect convertible-strap balconette for wearing under narrow-shouldered tops, and I left perkier than I’d been when I walked in.