Dammit, it’s happened twice. I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore.
I’m talking about going to a department store, asking a wisp of a 20-something salesgirl for help finding (insert clothing item here), and being shown the most godawful, matronly, downright HIDEOUS (insert clothing item here) in the entire store.
What gives? Do I really look like I could have such abominable taste in clothing? Or worse, do I really look that…old?
The first time it happened was early in the summer, and I was searching for a one-piece bathing suit. I know, I know. I haven’t actively looked for a one-piece since age 29 when I joined a new gym and wanted something practical to be able to wear while swimming laps in the pool. Okay, so I never actually swam laps, but the swimsuit was darned cute and it had built-in underwire bra cups that made my girls look swimmingly perky.
But I digress. Early this summer I was feeling dumpy and doughy, pasty and pudgy. This after two and a half years of less-than-frequent special guest appearances at said gym. The Hot Hot Husband and I were headed for a little weekend R&R in Palm Springs, and I was ashamed to appear poolside in a bikini, so I dragged my low self-esteem to A Big-Name Department Store that Started in the Pacific Northwest and hoped for the best.
Instead, I got a well-intentioned salesgirl who ushered me into a cavernous fitting room with Saw III-caliber lighting, and who reappeared a couple of minutes later hauling 10 one-piece swimsuits so AARP that I’m sure even Margaret Thatcher would have been offended.
But putting on my Pollyanna hat, every cloud has a silver lining, and this cloud sent me storming to the gym to sign up for personal training.
Three months later, at the same Unnamed Department Store, I’m searching for a Cute Top à la Audrey Hepburn in Two For the Road. A ballet-neck, three-quarter sleeve navy blue t-shirt that’s form-fitting, timeless and totally Euro. This time, a thirty-something sales clerk intercepts me on the sales floor and asks if I need help.
Same routine, different cavernous fitting room, same scary slasher-movie lighting. I wait with anticipation, my back to the circus funhouse of a mirror. In walks Helpful Sales Clerk Girl, with an armful of the most geriatric selection of tops this side of the senior center canasta club. I give her some points for getting the color right (I mean, how can you fuck up navy blue?). But the fabrics, Hazel, the fabrics! Polyester, jersey (and not the Diane Von Furstenberg kind), and for Pete’s sake, fleece! And the styles? Four words: Golden Girls, circa 1981.
With all due respect to Betty, Rue, Maud and Estelle, I look NOTHING like a Golden Girl. I mean, c’mon. I’m only 45! So fast forward to this past Labor Day weekend at the flagship store of the aforementioned Temple of Retail Therapy. Thanks to my sadistic personal trainer, I am now the proud bearer of a smaller waistline, a tighter ass, and a still-shrinking PeriMenoPooch. I’m in the store looking for a pair of dark-wash jeans, preferably tight-fitting, to replace the tired, fading Seven for All Mankind jeans that I’ve been sporting for the last 10 years.
Straight from the airport and wearing my time-worn Seven jeans, I’m on a quest. This time, I get a tag team of two sales clerks, one a trainee. As chipper and darn-glad-to-be-of-service as ever (this is, after all, the flagship store), they ask if they can help me find something. I tell them dark wash jeans. They sized me up and said, “We have some higher-waist jeans over here…”
Before she/they could finish her/their sentence, I mustered a stern look, held a finger up and said, “Do NOT show me granny jeans.” This triggered a relaxation response in the two girls. They shed the finishing school posture, let out a simultaneous breath and erupted into conspiratorial giggles. Back to the Cavernous-Fitting-Room-with-the-Hostel V-Mood-Lighting I went.
Trying not to get my hopes up, I waited patiently for the girls to bring me a plethora of jeans to try. They showed up with six different pairs, and the fitting frenzy began.
Like my wedding dress, the first pair I tried on was a winner. Nervously standing in front of the communal mirror, the Hot Hot Husband had given his approval but quickly got the Don’t-Make-Me-Bitch-Slap-You look in his eyes when I asked him if the pants made my thighs look like sausages. Before he could react, Team Salesgirl walked in and I asked if I should go a size up. Immediately, they let out a simultaneous “Nooooo!” and looked at me the same way you’d look at a three-year-old about to light a plush toy on fire.
So the moral of the story is simply this: Age does not dictate what we should and should not wear, as long as it fits well and we feel damned hot in it. Not Personal Summer hot. I’m talkin’ Smoking Hot hot.
I’d love to hear about your retail experiences and what you do to dress with confidence. You never know – your story could help a sister out there who’s waging her own war against the Geriatric Fashion Pushers!