Saturday, August 20, 2005

Wolves in Chic Clothing

I was standing in the dressing room at J. Crew and feeling a mild disappointment, which is my typical emotion in a dressing room. Illogically, I am still convinced there is a pair of pants somewhere that will make me appear 5’10” and of Swedish ancestry. There was a knock at the dressing room door.

“How are those pants working out?”

“Right size but the wrong color. Could you possibly get me these pants in the khaki?”

There was a puzzled silence.

“They don’t come in khaki.”

“I saw them on the same table, in khaki.”

“I’m sorry, but they don’t come in khaki. We have shorts in khaki, would you like to see those?”

“Just clarifying here. The front table, right as you walk in, has three pairs of pants.”


“One was grey, one was olive, and one was khaki. I am currently wearing the olive, and I would like the khaki, please.”

I could hear her frown unfurrowing through the door.

“Oh, those! Sure, I’ll get them. But those aren’t khaki, they’re birch.”

I feel so foolish.

I waited in the dressing room, refolding sweaters I had tried on and listening to the exchange in the outer waiting room. Someone in the next dressing room had tried something on, and was now modeling it for her friend.

GIRL 1: That’s so cute on you!

GIRL 2: You don’t think it’s too tight across the stomach?

GIRL 1: No!

GIRL 1: Doesn’t it seem to be bagging in the chest a…lot?

GIRL 2: No! And the pants are adorable!

GIRL 1: I think they might be a too tight. Look, they’re pulling across the hips and the butt, and I can’t really button them.

GIRL 2: Are you kidding? You look great!

I was hooked. Apparently, these two people were looking into different mirrors. I slid out of my dressing room, under the pretense of finding out whether my pants were heading back to me.

The woman trying on the clothes was nearly flat-chested, had a bit of a tummy and a rear end which was large without being shapely. The camisole top drooped lifelessly over her chest, but clung to her abdomen like a lovesick boa constrictor. The fitted pants weren’t just pulling across the hips and butt, they were pulling everywhere but the cuffs. In short, this woman was not well-served by this outfit, and this outfit was not well-served by her.

Her friend cooed “You know what would go great with that? A fitted jacket. And an ankle bracelet.”

This was such a preposterous statement that I took a careful look at her friend. Her friend was a marvel of female design, curvy and skinny, lush and toned. She was also wearing a camisole top and fitted pants, their perfect fit making a mockery of the outfit on the other woman. The woman in the dressing room plucked dubiously at the camisole straps.

“Maybe,” she said slowly, “if I got them shortened, it would fit better. And got the bra cups taken in. And had the bottom loosened a little bit.”

I couldn’t stop myself.

“Uh,” I began “camisole tops like that are cut on the bias. It might take more work and money to fix it than it’s worth.” Which allowed my mouth to move without letting out what I was really thinking, which was “You are a big, beautiful woman who needs to stick your fingers in your ears and hum when this woman tells you what to wear.”

They both glanced at me. My face went bright red. Mercifully, my khakis…I mean, my birches arrived, and I had a reason to slide back into the dressing room. Once I closed the door, there was a conspiratorial giggle in the next room.

Glad I could entertain them.

But, I thought as I frowned at myself in the new pants, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this particular behavior, this giving of bad fashion advice to women who need all the help they can get. There are two possibilities as to why this happens:

1) The woman giving the advice is so in love with a particular look that she fails to notice how it doesn’t flatter her friend,

2) There is a percentage of the female population who, consciously or unconsciously, enjoys having a less-attractive friend, because they believe this makes them look better. Let’s call this “Ugly Bridesmaid Syndrome”.

Full disclosure-I have been guilty of the first one. In high school, I encouraged a friend to wear pink mascara (Of course, I was wearing it as well, and did it for another day or so, until a male friend told me I looked like a tropical fish). I am proud to say I have not dragged anyone into an awful look I wasn’t already sporting. It doesn’t say much, but at least if anyone was getting laughed at, there was a 50% chance it was me.

But the second group is out there, giving bad advice to the unconfident and the easily led: encouraging big girls to buy fake-fur chubbies; telling their short friends how an ankle-length skirt makes them look like Uma Thurman, when it actually makes them look as if they were shoved in a manhole; goosing the awkward into buying platform shoes. Having done their damage and permanently established their title of The Hot One in the Immediate Vicinity they swan off looking wonderful while their friends (hereafter known as Nice One or Great Sense of Humor) gaze after them in dismay.

It’s funny, Great Sense of Humor thinks, but shopping with her always make me feel so awful. She then bites in to one of the Krispy Kremes Pretty One brought for dessert but now doesn’t seem to want.


Blogger Melodee said...

I love your blog. That's all. Carry on.

10:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

True story. I recently decided I would succomb to cultural pressure and get a pair of expensive jeans. I went to the expensive jeans store with a friend who is about ten years younger, several inches taller, and a dismaying number of pounds lighter. In short, someone who looks excellent in jeans that barely rise above one's crotch. I know, but she knew where the store was and I did not. Now, I discovered that jeans these days are made of a delightful fabric that has a girdle-like action upon one's flesh, which is excellent if one doesn't think about the brave women who tossed out their girdles, but is also bad in that every single pair I tried on had the effect of pushing all the flesh starting from around my knees up and over the waistband of the too-low jeans. You can imagine the effect. I am not a fat girl, but I am not a thin girl, either. The shopgirl, and my friend, reassured me that the jeans looked great, that I was needlessly ashamed of my body. My angular friend even showed her own slight belly pooch by way of showing sisterly solidarity. While she may have been sincere, that all women do have such a pooch, and it is nothing to be ashamed of, the truth is this; those jeans were not flattering on me. In any way. To buy and wear them would be a hideous mistake. I was kerflummoxed; could the two of them really not see this, have they been so brainwashed by a culture that insists we can wear whatever we want whether it is, in fact, appropriate for one's shape, or were they guilty of either #1 or #2 above? While I ponder this, I also send out a plea to the fashion world; those of us past a certain age (30) beg you; make available again jeans with a higher waist that also have a line more interesting than Levis. Thank you.

12:17 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Testify, Mary.


9:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am the big friend.

And I certainly remember shopping with tall skinny friends as a teen, and making all sorts of horrendous clothing decisions. I especially remember being a teen in the 80s, and the era of vintage fashions. I had brought home this vintage pleated black dress with embroidery all over it. My Mom (who is usually fairly closed mouthed about such things) actually said it made me look like someone's grandmother. I was appalled, especially after she took a photo of me inthe dress and showed it to me. She was totally right.

Then I discovered the joys of shopping with friends who have a physique like mine. We go to stores like Talbots, which has a great plus-size petites department with lots of terrific clothes. (and great jeans with a crotch not at my knees...) Of course I wait for the sales, but then the clothes are quite reasonably priced for their quality. We both try things on, and are honest with each other about whether something is right or just all wrong.

And I save the shopping for baby clothes, housewares, etc. for the lankier friends. :-)

10:34 AM  

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