ESSAY- Undies-cover story: Ban leers from the bra aisle

Men should be banished from lingerie departments and intimate apparel stores everywhere. Well, no, not completely banished, just limited to shopping on a specified day of the week. Mondays perhaps.

Men Only Mondays. It has a nice ring.

A strict Men Only Mondays policy might pose a problem for giant department store chains Target, Dillards, and Saks Fifth Avenue, but they could work around it. Each could build a wall enclosing the department and allow men admittance only on their permitted day of the week.

Here's why my knickers are in such a twist over the state of co-ed lingerie shopping today:

How are women expected to analyze the seams and cup sizes of the latest Hot Off the Runway pink and black satin bra when lecherous Lenny over there is leering in our direction?

Men behave badly at lingerie stores all the time. Recently I was shopping at Sears and waiting for my mother to finish with a purchase. I found myself in the lingerie department, so like a good consumer I started to check out some bras.

As I started to stretch a shoulder strap to test its durability, I noticed an old man– who was probably waiting for his wife­ leaning against a well and staring at me. Staring hard. He didn't look away when our eyes met. I was horrified to think that this old man was somehow enjoying watching me shop for underwear.

Another question: How are women supposed to seriously size up stitching on panties when two 14-year-old boys on a field trip from prep school are looking at a $20 pair of black mesh underwear for one of their girlfriends?

This is a true story. I stopped at the Victoria's Secret at the Tower City Centre Mall in Cleveland, Ohio during lunch hour and was shocked to meet Michael and Alex, both freshman at University School in Shaker Heights.

They were having a fun time, giggling and avoiding eye contact with other shoppers as they checked out the merchandise. I was shocked at their hubris and couldn't resist questioning them.

"What are you guys shopping for?" I ask.

"We're looking for a gift for his girlfriend," Michael, the one who does all the talking, tells me. Jennifer­ Alex's girlfriend of one year– is a freshman in high school at Hathaway Brown (another exclusive prep school) in Shaker Heights.

By now the boys are embarrassed and slink out of the store, and I still don't have any new underwear.

There's something wrong with men­ and boys– flouncing around the tiny aisles, brushing against lacy undergarments and fingering the merchandise.

I'm trying to make a serious purchase here. According to the bra industry, I'm one of the 70 percent of American women who are perpetually buying the wrong bra size. I need some support, and all this male energy is making me lose my concentration.

Lingerie in general and bras in particular need close inspection and fitting. It's not like we can successfully buy this stuff off the Internet or from a catalog. Women are forced to go out in public.

It didn't used to be this way. There was a time not so long ago when men wouldn't be caught dead anywhere near the ladies foundation department.

No offense to the nice cross-dressers who only want to do some serious shopping, too. We might make an exception for them– poor souls who must hide their passion for all things frilly and delicate.

As any serious shopper will tell you, getting value for your money is serious business, and there's no room for distractions of any kind. Let's turn the tables for a moment.

Imagine a world where Victoria's Secret sells jock straps. Every style, size and color, pinned up like ribbons on racks. How would men like it if they were forced to make such an intimate purchase in public?

Apparently, the men surveyed wouldn't mind at all.

Patrick, a 40-year-old businessman says, "Bring it on, I'll make sure I ask for an extra large in a loud voice."

Tommy, 36, a builder from Cleveland, says, "I might get turned on by it if women were there watching me."

Maybe that's why they don't sell jock straps at Victoria's Secret.