Los Angeles, CA
I walk past the Panty Lab at least once a week, and I almost always stop on the sidewalk to admire the displays. The place is classy and inviting, selling beautiful lingerie on a little cobbled street dense with chic boutiques and Europe-suggestive cafés.
This past Sunday, I got my weekend croissant and coffee and paused outside the Panty Lab with hot cup and paper bag in hand, to look at a lacy green bra. It was gorgeous and impractical, and I approached the window to look for a price tag. I was concentrating hard, trying to make out the number of digits, when I heard someone say, “That would look great on you.”
I whipped my head around to make sure he wasn’t talking to me, because it seemed so crazy that anyone would say something like that to a woman walking alone looking at lingerie in broad daylight. My eyes snapped to the exact source of the voice—a man on the cafe patio with a placid, disgusting smile on his face. He nodded when I caught his eye and made an obscene hand gesture.
I’d always fantasized about how I’d fight back if any lewd stranger gave me enough of a reason. In the moment, I knew I’d do nothing. I felt powerless, and I ran into the store like a wounded cat seeking the underside of a house.
It was my first time in the store, and I went straight to the back, out of view of the street. I looked at underwear with an evident lack of shopping spirit, and the store owner came over to greet me.
She introduced herself as Vicky and asked if I was feeling okay. I blurted out what had happened outside the store, and she gave me water and we talked about awful men.
At some point she said she had an idea, and when I assented to her scheme, she directed me into the changing room. I waited on a velvety tuffet until she came in with an armful of lingerie.
She adorned me with bras, panties, stockings, and garters, like I was a lingerie Christmas tree. She strung my limbs with thongs, made me a scarf of meshy hose. A G-string crossed one of my eyes like a patch. When she was finished, I’d been mummified in underwear—I looked insane.
I looked so insane that when I exited onto the sidewalk, I felt like I was somebody else. I became the Pantystein’s Monster you might have seen on YouTube, cursing at a man eating breakfast on a cafe patio, a man with an expression of fear, confusion, and smallness on his face that I carry in my mind like a trophy.
Vicky took that video, and it became a sort of viral ad for the Panty Lab. When I was done putting the garbage street harasser in the trash, she approached him and thanked him for putting her store on the map. We went back inside feeling high, and after she plucked all the lingerie off me, I bought that lacy green bra. It does look great on me, and every time I wear it I feel like a goddamn warrior.
Steph Cha is the author of Follow Her Home, a feminist hardboiled detective novel. She lives in Los Angeles and mothers a basset hound.