A meditation on used bras

a bunch of bras

In 1994 I was at a conference in Philadelphia. Since it was the 90s, I was planning to wear a pastel-floral jacket and a matching ivory skirt for the conference. When I got dressed, though, I discovered to my horror that you could SEE MY BRA THROUGH MY JACKET. (I was 19 and I’d never been to Russia; I was very modest.) Staring in the mirror at the damning outline of my bra, I was near tears. You’re not allowed to wear a t-shirt to a Model UN Conference and I hadn’t packed any other business clothes.

One of my roommates, a red-haired girl named Amy, noticed my situation, and offered to loan me her own beige bra. I had no other options beside sitting out a conference I was looking forward to (and had already paid for). I borrowed her bra. It didn’t fit quite right, and wearing it was icky. But it got me through the day.

I am telling you about my underwear because it’s an example of an appropriate donation (or in this case, micro-loan) of an in-kind good. Amy knew me personally, knew my situation in detail, and I had an expressed need for the item in question. We were from similar cultures, so she knew how to make the offer in a way that was comfortable for me. Her one-time loan sustained me until I could return to using my own resources (underwear drawer in my dorm room).

Those previous three paragraphs were a long way of getting to this point: used underwear is icky and donating it is hard to do in a non-icky way. In-kind donations in general are very hard to do well, and undergarments are a whole new level of challenge.

Maybe this group from Huffington Post has a fantastic plan for distributing used bras in an effective and culturally sensitive manner and the plan just didn’t get mentioned in the blog post. But before you donate anything to them – ask.

That’s my bigger point: if you’re not clear on what a charity wants to do with your donation, ask for details. It’s not rude. It’s being a good donor. If their plan is well-thought-out, it will be easy for them to answer your questions. And if they aren’t ready for questions from donors, they are certainly not ready to run an effective aid project. (If you don’t know what questions to ask, The Charity Rater is one good way to find some.)


Photo credit: Melissa Maples