Thursday, December 30, 2010

Shop Talk

When I am in Boston, I shop. It is not that I am lacking for the exact same stores at home, but I am usually in Boston during holiday sales and there is no sales tax on clothing. So even though I end up purchasing additional luggage to lug the items back across the country, in my mind the thrill of acquiring masses of clothes in a short period makes the new luggage (which rarely seems to be on sale at the same time as the clothing) seem like a savvy investment, rather than an economic anomaly.

Of course, shopping while on vacation is a bad idea for so many reasons, most obviously because time away from my real life means I am not experiencing my real life. Halter tops, sequined headbands, platform wedges, all things I would never be caught dead in back home look charmingly exotic. Yes, I think, looking at the people around me at leisure in their leisure garb, maybe I am a hat person. Why not an embellished top? Look how cute that woman looks with that flower barrette. Maybe I have an inner Rachel Zoe clamoring to express herself.

Another challenge is that my real life is in a completely different culture and climate as my leisure shopping outings. The Boston sale racks in late December boast amazing deals on wool jackets and wool sweaters and wool dresses and wool scarves and wool coats. Not only do I live in a place where it rarely dips below 70 degrees farenheit, but I am exceedingly warm blooded. I don't need much of a prompt to share the story of how I spent an entire New York winter with just a cotton cardigan. Of course, I had a closet full of coats and cashmere sweaters and scarves--I was a sale hoarder back then, too--but buying clothes and wearing clothes are two completely different issues. In fact, one of my few memories of college involves buying a Claude Montana taffeta wrap top at John Wanamaker in Philadelphia because it was marked down more than $1250 dollars! I don't know what business I had as an 18-year-old freshman spending $150 on a couture top that I literally never took the tags off of, but I think many of my thrifty sisters out there might understand the excitement of that score.

This past week, the urge to splurge was back, but in a modified "I have kids and a mortgage" way. I was sifting through the sales racks at Saks and found a Tory Burch dress that was in a decidedly un-Tory-like print (a good thing) and made in my favorite indestructible silk fabric, the type that looks and feels like 1970s double-knit polyester, but really is pure silk. It was a size too small, and, truthfully, I never wear dresses (although I had bought two the day before). But it was more than $200 off and maybe I could wear a Spanx and start rotating silk dresses into my wardrobe for work. In the old days, I would have grabbed it and bought it without even trying it on--what a deal!--but now that I am an adult with an occasional handle on my impulse-control issues, I used a self-talk strategy that I vaguely recall hearing about at a continuing-education seminar, and reminded myself that if I suddenly wore a silk dress to work, rumors would fly that I am job-hunting (which I am not), which would make me anxious and cause me to overeat, resulting in me having even less of a chance of squeezing into the Tory. The dress stayed on the rack. 

Earlier in the day, I was shopping at one of my favorite stores, Anthropologie. My husband recently read me a passage from an hysterically snarky book about my demographic sisters and brothers describing Anthropologie's offerings as looking vintage but being brand-spanking new; looking handmade, but being mass produced; and, best of all, giving the shopper the feeling that has searched through an estate sale, but without the annoyance of not having one's size in stock. People like me apparently love this aesthetic and I have to say the writer totally nailed me on this one.   

Anyway, I was busy pulling all sorts of delicate asymmetrical cardigans and funky patterned A-line skirts off the shelf when a salesperson introduced herself as the personal shopper and began advising me on how to wear a dress I was studying backwards for a chic-er effect. Typically, salespeople avoid me like the plague because, despite having a lovely engagement ring and a relatively significant purse, I also tend to be texting with one hand while attempting to balance a cup of coffee with my other hand. I think salespeople don't want to be responsible for cleaning up the mess they fear I will inevitably make. And I can't say I blame them. I still cringe at the memory of adjusting an enormous Coach purse on my shoulder at a Crate and Barrel and accidentally knocking over a display of wine glasses.  

So, this very thin and effortlessly accessorized woman continued to offer me advice, even after I shuffled into the dressing room. Anthropologie has the annoying practice of writing the shopper's own name on the fitting room door in dry marker. I will admit to giving false names in the past and then not being able to figure out which room was mine. This stunt also backfires for me at Starbucks, and at Radio Shack, when I make up a random zip code when they ask to input one into their system. Now, if the personal shopper had gotten any read at all on my aesthetic by the way I was dressed and groomed that day, she would have known that any suggestion of adding a shrug or belt to a potential outfit would be enough for me to put a kibosh on the purchase. Of course, if I were to imagine myself as a shrug person or someone with belts hanging on the back of my closet door, I very well might have scooped up the cream-colored wool dress that I would never wear because it is not dark, it is wool, and it is a dress. But I can be a contrarian at times, especially if in order to try anything on I have to first peel of various layers of cardigans and jackets and heavy leather boots. My rule is I have to have at least three items to try on to make it worth disrobing. I had at least a half a dozen items, all utterly incompatible with my real life and, even on sale, not exactly free. So I have to thank the personal shopper for her words of wisdom; she saved me from myself.  


  1. I know exactly what you mean Karen being caught up in the moment of things. Here in Melbourne black is a can't go wrong staple. Occasionally i have been up in sunny Qld and bought fabulously loud and gorgeously coloured things that seem fine when in the tropics but get back home to Melbourne and you just feel dumb wearing them!
    I did like the sound on Anthropologie until you go to the sales assistant. And why haven't I thought to give false names? Oh, probably because of the trouble that ensues afterwards when you forget what name you've given. Still, this year I vow to give it a go. I think I'll be . . . Georgie.
    Happy New Year
    Josie x

  2. Hi, Josie-One of the dresses I did end up buying at Anthropologie looked black (one of the reasons I liked it), but my new-best-friend-the-personal-shopper kept insisting it was "charcoal"... Argh! I still have another 36 hours to nab a new pair of boots that will undoubtedly look just like my current ones. Have a wonderful new year! Best, Karen