Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I Still Loathe Clothes Shopping

Some of you may recall that I'm not a big fan of clothes shopping. Well, I think I’m beginning to discover yet another reason I so hate it. I’ve always blamed it on the mall. The mall is really the best bet if you’re looking for a wide selection from which to choose, but I get exhausted just saying the word. I can’t imagine thinking of it as a great place to waste a Sunday afternoon, as so many Americans seem to do (and as I once did when I was a teenager and a twenty-something). You might as well suggest to me that for fun, let’s go sit in a hospital bed, hooked up to an IV (actually, I prefer the hospital bed. I could read all afternoon and have someone bring me food). Top that with the fact I can never find anything that looks as good on me as it does on that size 0 mannequin.

Speaking of sizes, there’s that whole size factor that really irks me, too. I wish I could just go somewhere and know exactly what size I am. I used to sort of have an idea, but then everything switched on me. When I started wearing women’s sizes, around age fourteen or so, I was a size six, at least in regular stores. If (for some very strange reason, because I paid for all my own clothes when I was a teenager and didn’t have that kind of money. Maybe my grandmother took me to one or something) I went to some upscale boutique, where they want to make their customers feel good about themselves (read “skinnier than they are”), or something, I might be a size four. No one had anything smaller than a size four. Four was it, and fours in most places were way too small for me. My biggest problem when it came to size in those days was finding a pair of pants that didn’t need hemming (nearly impossible. Still nearly impossible, because I’m this odd height in which “petite” is too short, and everything else needs to be hemmed so much a whole new pair of pants can be made from the cut-off material).

At this point in my life, I weigh about fifteen pounds more than I did back then. I’ve never been what anyone would call fat (although like all female teenagers, at the time, I thought my butt was too big. How anyone who doesn’t even weigh 110 pounds can think her butt is too big, is beyond me, but teenaged girls are not known for being the most practical and rational people). Let’s take a look at what size I wear today: your guess is as good as mine. First of all, we’ve introduced the aforementioned size “zero.” Size zero: the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard. You mean you’re no size whatsoever? Do you even exist? And the only person I’ve ever seen who could possibly wear a size zero is maybe Keith Richards. No one with hip bones could squeeze into something like that; yet they don’t appear to be made for eight-year-old girls, unless ten-inch-heels or maybe stilts are now all the rage for eight-year-old girls. Size two, another size I never saw when I was a teenager, maybe makes a little more sense, although I can’t tell the difference between a size two and a size zero when I see them side-by-side. I weigh fifteen pounds more than I once did, and yet size four, which never used to fit me, seems to be the size that most often fits me these days. I used to be a “small” t-shirt. Now, having gained weight, I’m an “extra small.” That is, depending on what store I’m in. In some places, I’ve become a “medium,” just like in some places I might be a six or even an eight, and that “upscale boutique” theory doesn’t work anymore. I can find myself wearing a four at K-Mart and a six at Saks Fifth Avenue. I can even find myself buying one K-Mart skirt in size four and one in size six. But I’m truly digressing here (obviously, this size thing is extremely annoying, if I can waste two paragraphs on it), because what I want to do is talk about my newest discovery.

Last year, on a shopping trip with my mother and sisters (the only time I like to go shopping is with my mother and sisters, because my mother has a knack for finding clothes that look great on me, and because it’s fun and often turns into a hilarious adventure), I was trying on a few things that just looked plain horrible on me (chosen by me, not my mother), and she explained to me that I look best in “classic” clothes. Translate that as “boring, preppy, tweedy.” I joked that, “yes, I look fabulous in a schoolgirl uniform,” but I wasn’t really joking.

The problem is, this isn’t what I want to look fabulous in. I want to look fabulous in “funky.” I want to look fabulous in “cool chic.” I want to look fabulous in “artsy.” I want to wear Indian skirts and crocheted tops and long flowing tunics and short black velvet jackets, and turn heads rather than watching them bounce all over the place, having been laughed off by those catching a glimpse of me in the ridiculous get-ups I’m sporting. And don’t tell me women over the age of thirty can’t dress like that. I’ve known plenty of women in their sixties and seventies who can pull off cool and funky and look stunning (my grandmother was like that), and even when I was eighteen, I couldn’t dress that way and look stunning. Both my sisters can pull off these different looks. It’s not fair. We’re related. Why can’t I? Why did I have to be the one who in order to look good has to look like she walked out of the pages of an L.L. Bean catalog or out of a banker's convention? No wonder I hate shopping! It’s like loving chocolate and suddenly discovering you’re allergic to it. You wouldn’t go hang out with Willy Wonka, then, would you?

So, I’ve spent a whole year in denial. I’ve ignored what my mother said and kept on wearing some of the things I’ve bought over the years that aren’t the least bit classic. I’ve been drawn to street shows in New York and done a tiny bit of shopping there (so much less painful than going to the mall when you know you can get some great, authentic ethnic food nearly every step of the way), but then I found myself in Atlanta, at a hotel that conveniently has some shops attached to it, and I needed some new dress slacks for all this business travel I have to do these days. Better to look for some there than to have to tackle the mall back home. I walked into Brooks Brothers, where I decided I might as well try on a few other things. I didn’t try on a single thing that – well, with the exception of the inevitable hemming – didn’t fit me perfectly (in case you're interested, at Brooks Brothers, I'm a size 4 for tops, 6 for bottoms) and that didn’t look like it was made with me in mind. But then I realized the other reason I don’t like “classic:” I don’t like forking over $200 and walking out of a store with nothing but a shoelace to show for it.

Oh well, though, why fight it? I might as well accept the fact, at age 43, that these are the sorts of clothes I ought to be wearing. “Classics” last forever, right? Anyone have any blue pinstripe pants you’re terribly sick of, having bought them twenty years ago, you’d like to send my way? If they’re that old, I’m probably a size eight. While you’re at it, you can send me your suits and coats and sweaters that are twenty-years-old as well. I just might have a few funky things to give you in return.


Rebecca H. said...

Oh my God this made me laugh!! I'm glad you've made that discovery about classic clothing -- I'll be struggling my whole life with not knowing what to where, or rather, not struggling with it, as my usual method of dealing with clothes is to wear the same things over and over and over rather than buying anything new. I'm sure my students laugh at me because I wear the same things to class every week. I despise clothes shopping too! It's all the Hobgoblin can do to drag me to the mall now and then to get me to stop complaining about needing new things -- on my own, I'll complain for ages and never do anything about it. Oh, for a personal clothes shopper! And I always have to get the hem of my new pants taken up too. I'm 5'4", which I thought was fairly average and I think I'm a fairly average weight too -- shouldn't clothes be made to fit ME, the perfectly average person??

Anne Camille said...

This made me laugh. I'm the same with wanting funky style, doomed to look best in boring, tailored things. Now firmly middle-aged (okay, well, effects of gravity are impacting firmness, but let's forget that & move on) I feel like I have finally grown into my clothes. A few weeks ago a co-worker said, 'You're one of those people who could be 35 ...or 50.' I'm sure he was thinking: "No grey & few wrinkles = 35; Those clothes? Damn if you're 50 if you're a day!"

The no gray is an expensive, self-indulgent, charade. The hair would be wacked out & funky too...but it doesn't go with the clothes.

As for excessively long hems, it's my excuse for having so many shoes with different height heels.

charlotte said...

Emily, I sympathise. I have overdone the classic look in my time and it does get a little boring. Now, without wanting to come over all Trinny and Susannah on you, I have one word to say to you: accessories! This is the best way to make a classic look - which obviously works for you, because your mother says so - a bit funkier.

I'm having a good clothes day today (not always the case), so I can share with you how I'm working the classic look. Today, Charlotte is modelling (ahem) a white T-shirt, khaki chinos and light green cardigan. Very classic. My navy-wearing aunts would approve. But I am also wearing a green perspex necklace, a brown belt with studs and silver ballet pumps. I am! I really am!

Once this accessories thing hit me, a couple of years ago, I have not looked back. It's worth trying.

Anonymous said...

(1.) With the mall - go Saturday morning, first thing, RIGHT WHEN IT OPENS. Leave no later than 11:30. Never hit the two hour mark at the mall, never, ever ever.

(2.) Does it surprise you at all that I look best in conservative clothes as well? right now I'm wearing pin striped pants and a black sweater and jacket. I have way too many curves to pull of chic or anything near it, but I'm hoping as I age I can play around more.

(3.) Dude. Don't blow my bubble on the whole size situation. As someone who has been losing weight, I'm going to go cry in the bathroom again if I find out my new 10/12 figure is a hoax.

(4.) I laughed myself silly with this post. I am with you on most points, although I'm afraid our soul-sisterness must end since I do like clothes shopping and am excited I can finally afford a decent wardrobe.

Heather said...

I'm laughing so hard!!! I enjoy shopping and so I suspect Ying (you) and Yang (me) in a mall, together would be HILARIOUS! This was such an excellent ranty post!

Anonymous said...

You are a woman after my own heart! I've got the too tall for petite too short for everything else problem too. And I would so love to be able to pull off funky and artsy, even classic, how I long to be elegant, but somehow cute and perky is what looks good on me. I hate shopping but will go with my sister because she loves it and all I have to do is stand there while she scours the racks easily finding outfits that look good on me. Since she lives in California that means I only do proper shopping once every year or two and continue to wear the same things over and over until a friend or family member takes the opportunity to gift me with something new for a birthday or Christmas.

Emily Barton said...

Dorr, I do that too: wear things forever and then complain when they start to fall apart, but never think, "Time to go shopping to buy some new clothes."

Cam, isn't it nice to finally reach an age at which you feel you've grown into yourself? I remembe wondering if it would ever happen to me when friends of mine would talk about it, but it seems to be happening? And keep them guessing where you fall between 35 and 50!

Charlotte, hmmm...I seem to do well with scarves. Maybe I should branch out a little.

Court, never thought about tackling the mall first thing, and then, 11:30 is the perfect time to reward myself with a cup of coffee and a book at Border's afterwards, right? Oh, and I'm sure if I went with you, I'd love clothes shopping, too.

Ms. Blossom, ditto shopping with you. I'm sure it would be fun!

Stef, all my favorite people in the world are those who buy/send me clothes. Oh, and isn't cute and perky so annoying when you want to be sultry and sexy (but it keeps us younger-looking, I supppose)?

kate said...

What is with the change in sizes anyway? I remember wearing size 8 and weighing less than I do now and here I am currently at size 6 (although this is by far not very accurate and definitely depends on how much gardening and walking the dog I am doing.)

I used to love clothes shopping, but have grown to despise it. Mostly I live in jeans, t-shirts and the odd skirt if absolutely forced.

I am enjoying your blog...

Froshty said...

I used to love shopping--when I was a size 8. Now that I'm a 12-14, I don't like it as much. Also, only one of your sisters can pull off the funky, cool clothing, and it's not me. I usually shop for things that don't advertise the fact that my stomach sticks out farther than my breasts--which ends up being severly tailored, miiitary style dresses with boxy jackets or flaired jeans with a huge sweater.

I stil like malls--the same way I still like to stop at McDonald's on a road trip and sleep in motels. Doing any of those things was the ultimate in disobeying the values we were raised with as children and so they come with a fantastic thrill of wrongdoing still.

Emily Barton said...

Kate, well I'm glad to see someone else has noticed that size change thing. Also glad you've been enjoying my odd little blog (hope you didn't come to it thinking you might actually find out a thing or two about telecommuting).

Froshty, I beg to differ. You can pull off those cool Indian-type skirts, and I can't wear big sweaters, which I'd love to be able to do, without looking like a Dr. Seuss character.

Rebecca said...

This is very funny! Emily, you are not alone. I buy a variety of sizes, even from all three of the stores that I shop in. The size varies depending on style, cut, direction the wind is blowing... I find the thing to do is to start with the size you think you are, then take one each side of that into the depressing time.
I too am in the realm of classic clothes because they are all that suit me, and worse, I have 1001 shades of neutral. Hence my bag and shoe fetish, I have to do something to brighten it all up.

Emily Barton said...

Becky, yes, I think that's why I'm such a shoe fanatic.

Anonymous said...

Oh it's so nice to be back and in a vintage Emily post. I did laugh and laugh at this. Yup, I agree, nothing fits, and a size 10 varies wildly from shop to shop over here. I was always a 10 and now I'm an 8, not that I've changed, but everyone's sizing policy seems to have, and don't get me started on trouser length. My brother, however, takes this all too far - he was thrilled with himself on his last shopping trip (once a decade will do him) when he returned with EXACTLY the same clothes as he'd been wearing for the past ten years. My sister-in-law's face was a picture.

Emily Barton said...

Litlove, so glad to have welcomed you home with a laugh, and I'm also glad to hear this mysterious size-changing phenomenon is not local to the U.S.A. Your brother sounds like the, um, very practical shopper?