Thursday, February 08, 2007

Can I Get You a Larger Size in That?

I used to love shopping. In fact, the day after Christmas we had a tradition—Stephanie and her mother would join my mother and I for a day in some ritzy part of Los Angeles (Beverly Hills, the Wilshire District, Newport Beach) and we’d get bonafide good bargains and a memorable lunch at some chi-chi place like The Egg and The Eye restaurant across from the La Brea Tar Pits. Neither of our families had much money (my mother sewed many of our clothes), but after Christmas one could procure nice things at a reasonable price. I usually got a dress from Saks Fifth Avenue, slashed down half price or more, or a pair of slacks. These trips were rituals, with attentive saleswomen treating us as if we mattered. Shopping was an event, and the few things we could afford to buy were carefully considered, later cherished. The memory of shopping back then still elicits a series of pleasurable images.

But these days shopping is a real drag. Underpaid, overworked salespeople seem to hate their jobs. They talk loudly about their rotten schedules or how much they hate sorting the shoe section, or complaining that they haven’t had a break yet--
with you clearly in their sphere of being. They make it clear that they don't much like what they are doing. At Sephora they pass right by me hovering indecisively over expensive anti-aging product for which I crave some information, settling instead on the 18-year old who rarely ends up buying anything, or leaves with a pot of lip gloss. When demonstrating Bare Minerals (although I twice explained that I already used them and just had a simple question) to me and a lovely young woman of 20ish, the Sephora salesgirl assured the young woman that the minerals behave differently on “young skin” than they do on older skins like mine which require more moisturizer for the minerals to adhere. Ahem. Entering a dressing room at Nordstrom Rack or Marshalls, the women handing out garment numbers don't make eye contact with me, or interrupt their personal conversation with a co-worker, reaching the garment number plaque toward me from extendor arms indifferently.

I’m a music enthusiast, and I listen to a lot of edgy stuff such as Blue October, or Nine Inch Nails or old Faith No More, in addition to mainstream fare, but when I’m shopping, I’d rather not have music blasted at me at concert-level volumes. Walking into Banana Republic recently, I literally felt the music permeating my chest wall—incessant house music decidedly kills my desire to buy, and many of my friends second that notion. Note to apparel store CEOs: The demography of women with dollars to spend would prefer not to be assaulted by second rate pop or full-volume hip hop when trying to determine whether or not a pair of pants makes their butt look big or not. I’ve taken to walking out if a store’s music caters to a demographic to which I don’t belong—I figure if they’re making a suggestion (you don’t belong here), I should respect that!

But it’s not just the act of buying and selling that has lost its gloss. It’s my general feeling about me versus the attire that no longer looks good on me. Take for instance trying on bathing suits last summer. It was the first year that I could clearly tell that my body had changed from the one I blissfully counted on to fit seamlessly into things during my youth. I never understood why women complained about bikini shopping until this shopping incident. It had been my habit to buy a bathing suit to cheer myself up, so when I began to pull suits on in anticipation of lying beside an Italian pool last spring, I was horrified to realize that my hips had expanded exponentially, my skin lacked that glorious smooth tautness of youth (sagging and puckering in previously unimagined ways), and that the general condition of my upper thighs was something akin to Jell-O. We take our young bodies for granted. I must have tried on a dozen bathing suits, one pieces being no more flattering than bikinis. At a loss, I settled for one for which I could buy a matching sarong.

But it gets wors--this shopping humiliation. That little, formerly flat belly that I simply counted on, has taken to folding right over the waist of all those low-slung jeans that are so in style. Then the rice-paper thin, body-hugging tops that are currently in vogue, not only reveal aforementioned, disgusting belly flap, but also the distinct waistband of the jeans digging into said fat. Jeans shopping is right up there with finding a bathing suit that doesn’t look like a collection of tight rubber bands wrapping around my mushy body. My happiest day this year was hearing that high-rise trousers are making a comeback.

I’m not a large woman. I’m about 5’4” and around 120 pounds. This seems relatively average to me after a lifetime of being too skinny. Yet young salesgirls are robbing me of my confidence. Yesterday I ventured into Victoria’s Secret—a horrible, overpriced, poor quality store, which bangs out that incessant house music at an offending volume, and which I only entered because I had a gift certificate. The indifferent salesgirl, who I had to flag down and drag away from a personal conversation (arms folded, giggling and leaning against a wall), displayed unabashed dubiousness at my bra size, eyes searching up and down the front of my raincoat. She then announced that they only carry one bra style in that size. This is 32-C people, NOT some custom EE or FFF!?!?! The singular bra they carried, by the way, was black satin, heavily padded, underwired with what felt like industrial grade steel, and featured a rhinestone decal that was completely unnecessary and showed through any cotton top (something I abhor). The salesgirl handed it off to me without glancing at me while chatting with the friend I’d previously pulled her away from.

The bra was like a torture device, ridiculously designed presumably for costume purposes during sex. I guess if you’re a 32-C, you only wear bras as an accoutrement? The miniscule underwear scattered around the store was ON SALE for $25/3 pair, all tiny laser-cut scraps (without any seams) which together added up to the equivalent amount of fabric in a tank top. All around me teens were being happily assisted in selecting thongs or body lotion, but I couldn’t get someone to help me find a serviceable bra, the salesgirl now avoiding me like the plague. Eventually I settled on the underwear and a bra that came in sizes 1,2, 3, etc. I had a coupon for a free thong that had come in the mail. When I asked the cashier about it, she told me that the mediums were all gone, but they still had some larges!!! She acted as if having size large left was a coup for me! I was floored. I just recently moved up from XS to S. What the hell!?!?!

I’ve decided it’s a conspiracy. Young women with the intellects of Paris Hilton, and style sensibilities that translate to a worship of bling and “Baby Phat," are scheming to rob me of my happily confident sense of self--a self committed to a compassionate, reasonably ethical, intellectually curious core. I care about world peace and hunger over a need to spend $225 on blue jeans or $60 on a demi-bra.

It’s rough, being a woman of 40-something in this new millennium culture of youth. It’s rough recalling what a pleasurable experience shopping was in the days when many salespeople sold garments as a profession and stores paid them (and treated the) as professionals rather than expendable robots. I grow nostalgic remembering lining in suits, clothes cut to fit specific sizes not just an elongated Giselle-like ideal, substantial fabrics and threads that didn’t disintegrate upon first washing. I miss walking into a store and being able to focus on the clothes rather than the need to purchase ear plugs.

So I make this call to apparel vendors everywhere, “where’s the beef?” Remember, the commercial where the woman buys a bargain hamburger but it contains no substance … make the shopping experience more pleasurable for everyone, not just teenagers, OK? They don’t have to be convinced to part with their money nearly as much as more mature women do, yet we tend to have more to spend! The cat is out of the bag vendors, WE ALL AGE. We can’t all wear one style of clothing--pay attention to designing and manufacturing for all of us. And salespeople out there, I implore you, remember that you, too, will one day be past your sweet bloom of youth—be kind to us. Even if it seems that anything above a size 2 is large, humor us and bring us the medium, OK?


At 6:42 PM, Blogger Sarie said...

My poor Pam! I'm sorry that shopping has turned into such drudgery :( In Japan, it's even worse. You're lucky if you happen to find a "medium" which is the "large" here. At the Kyoto Gap, I browsed through racks of xx-small, x-small, and small and silently cursed all of the tiny women around me. I've lost weight here, so luckily I can fit into their sizes, but still! Having to hunt for clothes that fit a Western body can be obnoxious. Despite the amazing fashion here, I rarely go clothes shopping.


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