Article originally appeared on The Chronicle of Social Change on March 18, 2014.
By Georgette Todd
Prom season is now underway, and one Los Angeles business is making sure that foster girls will be properly supported in this teenage rite of passage. Since 2010, bra proprietress and Hollywood actress Jenette Goldstein (Aliens, Terminator 2, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, et. al) has fitted foster girls going to prom at the annual Los Angeles Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Glamour Gowns event.
Through generous donations, hard-working volunteers and a special partnership, Goldstein has been able to help foster teen girls stand up taller in more ways than one. Here she talks about her work and how anyone can help.
Q. What is Glamour Gowns and how did you become involved with them?
A. In partnership with CASA, Glamour Gowns provides every high school girl in the Los Angeles foster care system a new formal dress, shoes, accessories and foundation garments. This amazing event serves about 500 girls each year at the L.A. Convention Center.
After a local morning news station did a feature on Jenette Bras, the news anchor Michaela Pereira (who’s now at CNN) came in for a fitting. We got to talking about the miracle of a good bra, as you do, and she mentioned that Glamour Gowns had no strapless bras to go with the gowns, shoes, make-up and accessories they were giving away. [This was] unacceptable!
Q. What can you tell us about your newly formed non-profit Hourglass Underground? What is its mission statement, purpose and how did it come to be?
A. The Hourglass Underground arose from my involvement with Glamour Gowns. For the past three years, I’ve bought, begged or stolen (not really) hundreds of strapless bras and basques and brought a team of volunteer fitters drawn from my Jenette Bras customers to Glamour Gowns to provide support (really) for girls in foster care at their Prom.
And every year we run out! I started the Hourglass Underground in order to make use of my vast network of busty power brokers and generally up our game. Our mission is simply to give one good bra and the experience of being fitted to young women in trying circumstances.
Q. Why are you helping foster girls? What is your connection to this cause?
A. My family has a history of fostering and adopting. Two of my three children are adopted, and many of my aunts, uncles and cousins were adopted or fostered (which amounted to the same thing – they were just family).
Q. What feedback have you received from the foster girls you and your team have fitted?
A. We get lovely thank-you notes afterwards, but the real feedback is instantaneous. When these girls see and feel themselves well-dressed, maybe for the first time, the psychological effect is tangible. It’s mind-expanding. They see possibilities for themselves that were not on their horizon the day before. They glow, their eyes moisten, and they start to shine. This is why I always have a waiting list for volunteers.
One girl came in, dressed in baggy, sexless clothes asking just to be minimized – strapped down. We gave her advice on doing that and we also gave her the space to explore other possibilities. She hesitantly tried on a basque we had and it fit her perfectly. Her jaw dropped when she saw herself. She seemed to gain two inches in height and she said, “it feels like I’m being held.”
Q. What goes through your mind when you’re fitting these girls, aside from sizing them up to be properly fitted?
A. The girls rush in, all giddy at the thought of free shopping, just shrieking and grabbing stuff. It’s a spree for these girls who haven’t been given much in their lives. But then something happens. Their personal dresser takes them through and shows them how adult women dress themselves. “This cut will flatter your figure.” “This looks good with your eyes.” Small acts of kindness from a stranger, an older woman, that’s all that happens here.
The bra fitting is a positive experience of intimacy. The lives of these girls are written on their bodies. They’re overweight, underweight, tattooed… We tell them the band needs to fit snugly around the ribcage. “The support comes from the center of your body.” “This bra comes with straps, you will be able to use it after the prom, it will make your clothes look better.” We are demonstrating the possibility of self-creation.
Q. How long have you been involved with helping foster girls and how has this prom bra-fitting event changed over the years?
A. This will be our fourth year involved with Glamour Gowns. Before I organized the bras and bra-fitters, there was no foundation wear for the girls.
Q. What challenges, if any, have you faced in Hourglass Underground?
A. Some girls who need bras the most are the most resistant to being fitted. It can be a burden to develop early and become the object of the wrong sort of attention. Many of these girls don’t even own a bra. Maybe an old sports bra. We have to treat them very gently.
Q. What is your ultimate goal or vision for your organization? What are you hoping for?
A. We are starting with this one simple project for Glamour Gowns but the basic model of women helping girls dress is more profound than one might think. I hope the underground will spread wherever the need exists.
Q. How can someone reading this interview help your cause?
A. The easy way is to donate a little money to us on our website, www.hourglassunderground.org. The hard way is by volunteering your skill set to do some work that would benefit a young non-profit. We’re so raw, we probably don’t even know that we need you for yet.