THE MIRROR AND HOLIDAY SHOPPING
What is happening? I pass by a mirror these days and who looks back is not the person who is looking at. I mean this lightly. I am happy with my reflection, understanding that as time passes or rather accelerates these days changes are to be assumed. This is all part of the natural aging process. I can see why women (and probably men too) start contemplating all those injections with the hope that the image reflecting back will be smoother, tighter, firmer, less lined and whatever other bill of goods these quick fixes offer. Not for me, though I don’t judge when someone decides to go that route. We are all in this together and whatever makes us feel good as we go through our short days on this planet in this life, well, let it be.
I found myself with a free day this past Saturday so I chose to go old school by walking around Newport to participate in their holiday stroll. There were carolers out singing their Merry Christmas tunes, the stores were decorated with sparkles and each store had a little spread out of good cheer, wine, treats etc. I decided to walk into a store I have been meaning to go into to try on a pair of jeans. I am not a big jean wearer. I like comfort and this is one of the pleasures of aging, the need for comfort and the fact that I don’t have to be fashionista. I am comfortable in my lululemon yoga pants and I know that there is a collection of women out there who judge this. Aging=I don’t give a fuck. I LOVE THAT. But that being said, I do get bored with my go to yoga pants and a good pair of jeans is always a friend in the closet. I can never find them though. I like pants that I can wear and don’t have that itching desire to remove them in the middle of the day. Remember- comfort? So I walk into the store and barely get a hello, a basic greeting, but I am determined so I ask the very nice saleswoman to assist.
“What kind of jeans do you like?” she asks. “Comfortable ones. Boot leg cut usually, but I am open as long as they are comfortable.” I think this is a pretty reasonable answer for a place that is known for jeans. I see some velvet type jeans sitting on a table and they grab my attention as the way I see myself in the mirror of the future is sporting them with a hip pair of shoes strutting along comfortably in my day. “These are my favorites,” she says with a sparkle in her eye. “They are cigarette legs though, but try them, they look fabulous on.” I chose a maroon, completely out of my comfort zone and a pair of navy. She moved to a pair of “leatherette” style that I have seen recently in some posts somewhere on six foot models with eight foot legs the size of my forearm. I saw myself in them with that as my guiding vision until the price tag of $258 flashed in my face. After just receiving an email from Norwegian Airlines for a round trip airfare for almost the same price to London, I quickly told the lovely saleswoman that there would be no way I would be spending $258 on a pair of leatherette jeans. Likely if I took that flight to London, I would find that those same jeans are not even in style anymore.
I really didn’t want “in style” jeans anyway. I was looking for a good basic pair of daily jeans. So she shipped me into the dressing room with four pairs of velvet jeans with the price tag of $188. I should have my head examined, but here is the thing- as I took off my very comfortable lulus, that $188 tag made sliding on those velvets have a completely different expectation. I mean they should be going on like a glove. No hoisting, no squeezing, no sucking it in. Smooth and happy, right? Well the word cigarette should have made me run for the hills especially because the jeans only come in European sizes. This in itself translates into whatever size you think you are, go up two sizes, because European sizes don’t take American hips into consideration.
I have a steadfast rule in the dressing room that has always worked for me. If the first piece I try on is an epic fail, the rest of the pile is not going to go well. So I am usually careful with my first choice. Trying on a European size 30-cigarette velvet jean was probably not a good idea out of the gate, but I loved the illusion that they could be fabulous. I took off my go to yoga pants and decided to start with the 30s. As I unfolded them and held them up to take a look before I attempted the soon to be fateful try on, I thought they looked ridiculously tiny. Couple this with the worst lighting in a dressing room I have ever seen. I couldn’t believe that the super fit body I know I have was the one staring back at me in the mirror. Florescent glaring light is not the light I would have chosen to get women to love the skin they’re in so that spending $200 on a pair of jeans would not even be a question.
So as I began to place my foot in the right leg and seeing that my ankle already felt the squeeze, I immediately stopped. Fuck this. I want a bootleg; I am not even going to torture myself. “How’s it going?” the woman asked. “I think I want a bootleg cut and I would also like some sweaters that are a little longer to try on with them.”
This is where the fun begins. As I stood naked in the dressing room, the saleswoman and the other woman who seemed to be the one in charge who by the way I had no contact with upon entering proceeded to have a conversation about me like I wasn’t there. It was bizarre. “Does she want a ankle length? How are her calves? What size should she be trying on? Does she want dark denim, washed?” Hello? I’m standing here. Why don’t you just ask me? Even though I HAVE ALREADY SAID ABOUT FIVE TIMES THAT I WANT A BOOT CUT. “Hold on, I am coming out. I think it would be better if I just looked around myself as I find it odd that there is lots of conversations going on about my size in the store.” My saleswoman took this as I was embarrassed or uncomfortable with my size and she apologized by saying “I am sorry we were discussing your size as we are all women here and it is no problem,” or something to that effect. It wasn’t about the size, I don’t care about that. It was the notion that I wasn’t being spoken to but spoken about. And I am at a store that is trying to get me to spend $188 on a pair of jeans, a store that specializes in fitting women for the perfect jean. Odd indeed. I got dressed and came out of that awfully lit dressing room and the two women proceeded to pull down every pair of jeans in there, ripped on purpose, frayed on the hemline on purpose, cropped, straightleg. Everything but bootleg. I realized that not only were the jeans not the fit I was looking for, the store wasn’t either. The mirror itself should have been a reason to run (and the $258 price tag on the first pair I almost tried on).
I realized that the mirror is not what it is about at all. I feel great about myself. I don’t need a pair of jeans, I don’t need a less than great, though very kind saleswoman, to try to fit me. I am comfortable in my skin. My mirror is inside. Instead of my usual ‘needing to teach them a lesson about client service,’ I was kind, I didn’t flip out, I just calmly said that I would come back when they had more inventory for me to choose from and thanked them for their time. As I walked out with no package in hand, I understood better than ever why online shopping will eventually replace these stores. Service is the only point of difference and if they can’t satisfy this on my first entry, why bother to leave my house and my own damn mirror? Brick and mortar stores as we fifty something and older were brought up on to spend not only our money, but our time on an unseasonably warm Saturday on the first holiday weekend of December will likely be a thing of the past five years from now. It is sad.
I was brought up on shopping old school. Taking the bus from Jamestown to Newport or the T from Brookline to Newbury St. in Boston to peruse the stores buying little trinkets for my friends and family. The smells and the cheer, the corny Christmas music and the over wrapping of things, the decorations and the happy smiley salespeople who seem like they enjoy their jobs. The salespeople who actually loved customer service will soon be a combination of traits we will fondly look back on as a thing of the past. Our kids today and surely their kids will not know about the store experience of yesterday. All because there is now less time in a day as we all move through our disconnected lives thinking we are connected and that finite amount of time we allow ourselves to have gives us smaller windows of choice on how we spend it. Shopping in real stores is energizing and can be such a fun experience, but the future seems bleak these days. Instead of trying a different store with a different mirror down the street, our kids will not. They will simply go online and choose ten pairs of jeans to try on in the comfort of their own home in their own lovely lighting with free shipping and this will become their holiday shopping experience.
I am glad I am part of the generation who remembers the saleswomen of Cherry and Webb on Bellevue Ave and shopping in the specialty stores when Brick Market was glamorous and specialty. I remember shopping in downtown Wellesley with my aunt and my grandmother at Marco Polo and driving into Boston’s Filenes to get fitted by the shoe salesman my grandmother was find of. I was unknowingly being schooled by these shopping experiences that taught me how to spend my money, yes, but more importantly customer service so someone like me would come back often. I hope I am wrong in all of this. Maybe shopping in real stores with real people will be considered a vintage experience like the way I love my vintage kitchen items and Tupperware. What I do know is that in my quest to find great jeans, I will likely go back to my favorite stores with the mirrors I do like and keep trying. I am not ready to give up on what I love yet.