Icons of our time

NAME: The Brown Padded Bra.


CHIEF CHARACTERISTICS: Dull, dull, dull. They bear an uncanny resemblance to those spongy shell cakes hawkers cook in the streets: brown, round, padded and utterly devoid of sex appeal.

NATURAL HABITAT: Street markets, where you find mound after mound, packed one on top of the other like discarded clam shells. The grand irony is they are everywhere, in your face at every market, until purchased when they disappear from sight forever.

BRIEF HISTORY: The BPB evolved along with the curious public emancipation of the Chinese breast. Bras never much entered the traditional wardrobe Chinoise, which instead favoured vests. Then came westernisation, skirts, blouses and the need for an ill-fitting, yet camouflaged undergarment. East is East, West is West and the Chinese have never really been sure what to do with the breast: support it if you must, but don't make a show of it.

WHERE TO FIND THE BPB (1): On the widget*. They hang loosely off concave-chested women, as if providing lead-lined bank vault security to a 50 cent coin. Can occasionally be glimpsed through white blouse.

WHERE TO FIND THE BPB (2): Blasting defiantly through translucent white blouses on podgy middle-aged hawker women. They also lend cheong samed chests a shelf-like appearance. Defying all conventional rules of nature, they thrust artificially for the sky like thirsty bauhinia.

THE OTHER GRAND IRONY: If only the wearer realised, she'd have a permanent wry smile. They're padded (presumably to suggest size), yet they're skin coloured (presumably for camouflage).

CLOSELY RELATED TO: The Hong Kong perm, the teacup with lid, the white canvas 'construction site' plimsoll, the granny pyjama suit and afro perm, the Ikea bracket shelf.

NO RELATION TO: The Gossard Wonderbra, or anything which lifts and separates. or crosses your heart.

FANS SAY: 'Well, I've always been a leg person, myself.' CRITICS SAY: 'You can't make a mountain out of a molehill.' ALTERNATIVE USES: Durian pouch, catapults, pot plant hanger, ear muffs, knee-pads, jelly-mould, sound-proofing for home studios (requires a drawer-full).

* Widget: also known as the 'half-faced' girl. Anonymous young Hong Kong woman, dresses down, hides half of her face behind hair, works as clerk, lives at home, will never change the world.