I didn’t grow up valuing style. My parents and I immigrated to this country when I was five years old; my mother was 25 years old. My family had to learn a new language, secure housing, get a job, and deal with things like trying to obtain an immigration certificate for your daughter when you had to surrender her birth certificate when you defected and her only proof of identity is a bronze coin with Lenin on it. So whether it was mini skirts or maxi dresses which were in style and whether we were doing bell bottom jeans or high waisted jeans were of little concern for my mother.
I didn’t develop any consciousness of fashion until junior high school in Staten Island, where newly formed teenagers excelled at power shopping as a sport. Maybe it was because the Staten Island Mall was the heartbeat of an island otherwise made famous by housing what was once the largest landfill (as well as human-made structure) in the world.
This was 1986 when the fashion style was Madonna meets Molly Ringwald meets Joan Collins. I blended in with my fellow teenagers as we covered ourselves in oversized sweatshirts, rubber bracelets, shoulder pads, teased hair and dark brown lip liner with frosted pink lipstick. Pretty. Camp Beverly Hills, Benetton and Champion sweatshirts with high top Reeboks comprised my standard junior high school wardrobe.
By high school, I was 40 pounds overweight and dressed in corduroy pants and Bill Cosby sweaters. There was nothing fun about needing pants 10 sizes too big to have them fit my thunder thighs. I had to cuff the bottom of my pants roughly eleven times for them to fit my 5’2” stature. These years and pants cemented shopping as an evil, self-loathing experience. I’ve spent twenty years without those pounds, but I never shed the shopping aversion.
I went to college at NYU and rejected the 90s grunge revolution in lieu of the all-flattering style of BLACK. Brands mattered less to me and I replaced too loose with too tight, but the actual acquisition of apparel has never evolved into fun. It remains a torturous, necessary chore I procrastinate as much as scheduling a mammogram.
I fantasize of a personal shopper. I had one happy shopping experience a few months after I started my first professional job at the advertising agency. It was time for the company holiday party and GUESS WHO HAD NOTHING TO WEAR? A friend suggested an after-work jaunt to the Banana Republic, and I accidentally walked in on a special shopping evening. They gave me champagne and helped me put together an outfit while periodically complimenting my smile, my hair, my wallet. I felt like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman” – the second part when Richard Gere was with her and they spent obscene amounts of money. I walked out with a long black crushed velvet skirt, a coordinating “shell” (sleeveless shirt with buttons down the back) with crushed velvet flowers on a mesh background. Finally, the winning purchase: a pair of crushed velvet, platform sandals which I wore until the wedge heels were half gone.
Today, my shopping excursions need to be spearheaded by my husband, Shopping Saint Hammer. He deals with my bitchy attitude, complete with a curved lip, furrowed eyebrow, and loud “ewws.” In addition, he has to enjoy audibles which may sound something like, “That looks like a shmata” or “Only a fucking crack whore would wear that” or else “Sorry I’m not Gisele” and eventually, “I can’t do this anymore, I’m fat, lets go home.”
Yesterday was epic. The stars aligned themselves, allowing me to agree to an afternoon of shopping. My husband turned into one of those devoted maids who dressed Gwyneth Paltrow in “Shakespeare in Love.” He held about 70 items on his arms, which may have sustained permanent hanger imprint damage, and carefully organized them in piles while I diligently tried on shorts, tank tops, blazers, pants, dresses, and even a bathing suit. Throughout the dressing room experience, the salesperson was ogling my man, who has set the bar impossibly high for every other man she will witness shopping with his wife. 7 items at a time, he would pass them to me through the teal velour curtain, separating the winners and the losers, proud of his accomplishments.
Several times, he left to get me another size and I had brief conversations with the salesperson. She was fascinated with his performance; what a husband! I finally explained, “He has a vested interest in seeing me in something other than leggings and the same tank top and a sweatshirt every day for three years.”
She smiled as she reviewed my neatly stacked pile of takers: 4 piles of short shorts, 1 mini dress, a see-through shirt, 4 revealing shorts … and a very tiny string bikini.
We call this a win-win.