Shopping trips are not anything special you might say. But what was uncanny about the two events that I relate below are the similarity of the experiences and the proximity in time. The second of which was definitely déjà vu. I could have swapped the protagonists and the story would have been the same.
I had the exasperating experience of going clothes shopping with two young women – my daughter, 23 years old, and my niece, 19 years old, who came to visit us in Geneva. Unfortunately for me it was two distinct shopping trips, a few weeks apart, in two different cities, in two different stores. I would have rather lessened my suffering by shopping with them both at the same time and in the same store. Unity of time and place would have been much better for me.
In order to set the stage and to appreciate the pain and agony that I was suffering you must understand that I hate shopping for clothes. I still have some clothes that I bought in 1979. Sometimes I am surprised that they still fit reasonably well, and periodically they seem to come back into fashion – sort of. When I need something to wear, which is rare, it is usually to replace an existing garment which has run its useful life. I pluck up my courage and I drag myself to the stores to have a look.
When I finally make a clothes shopping trip, it is executed in the most organized and expedient manner. I limit my options and I choose quickly. No dawdling. No lingering over the clothes rack in hopes that the color and size that I want somehow mysteriously appear before my eyes. If the store doesn’t have what I am looking for, it doesn’t have it. It’s that simple.
So I think you may now be able to more clearly appreciate my two “near-death” experiences.
I reluctantly concede to the fact that given the advertising and marketing environment surrounding our youngsters, I can actually understand this incessant urge to buy, buy, buy. And I want to be clear that I live in Geneva, Switzerland – not in the US. So this got-to-have-it frenzy is definitely worldwide.
The first shopping trip took place in Paris, on a Saturday afternoon. Admittedly, not the best time to go shopping. My husband and I were visiting my daughter who was spending a year in Paris – six months on an exchange program from her university, and six months on an internship with a fashion house.
My daughter looked up from her Iphone and stared incredulously at me, “You really want to go shopping with me?”
What could I say then? I mumbled a faint and unconvincing, “Yes.” Her father was coming with us. He loves shopping.
“I know you really don’t like it,” she so kindly reminded me. “But I’d love to have you come with me.”
What could I say to such a warm invitation? Not much. “I’m sure I will suffer, but maybe I might find something, too.” I consoled myself with the idea that we would be walking around in Paris and that after the pain there would be the pleasure of having a drink on the terrace of a café.
Now we’re standing in the store – a trendy shopping place for young women. My daughter was not looking for anything specific, but she wanted to see what was out there. She also wanted to compare retail prices with the wholesale price she could get through her employer. My husband had deserted me. He had gone to a men’s store next door.
Actually, this is the fifth store we’d been in that afternoon, and my patience was running thin. I resignedly accompanied my daughter on the first lap around the store. A marathon would have been preferable. Unfortunately there were three floors in this store, lots of young girls and women rummaging through the racks and the tables, and not a single item that I could or would wear unless I wanted to look like a middle-aged woman trying to recapture her youth. God forbid!
“Mom, I’m going to go look at the dresses again,” my daughter said as she was absent-mindedly looking at one dress which had struck her fancy. We were about twenty minutes into the ordeal.
“Okay,” I responded, “I’m going to stand outside for a while.” Well that was not such a good idea because it was raining. I did manage to find a spot in the entrance out of the way of the raindrops and the incessant traffic of shoppers. The guard at the door looked my way every once in a while with that ‘madam-don’t-you-think-you-should-move’ look. But I did my best to ignore him.
I kept looking at my watch in expectation that my daughter would appear any minute. No such luck. After fifteen minutes, which for me was an eternity, I went back into the store to the rack where I had left my daughter. Of course she was not there. So I scanned the area looking for her curly mass of long black hair. Not seeing her anywhere, I decided to go check in the dressing rooms at the back of the store.
There was a long line of young girls, laughing, talking to each other, or to their smart phones, holding one or more items waiting for their turn to try on that special item which would make them irresistible to the whole world. My daughter was fourth in line.
“Surely, you’re not going to buy all of those? You really don’t….,” I started to say, but was quickly interrupted.
“Oh Mom. Look at this dress! It’s really nice. Plus I can wear it to work.” Thus she proceeded to provide me with a rational for every one of the five items she had chosen. What could I say? Nothing. So I waited patiently. Finally it was her turn. The eternity passed, and she came out of the dressing room empty-handed.
I looked at her expectantly, “Well?”
“No. Nothing fit right.”
I start to head for the entrance. Perhaps my sense of relief was much too evident because my daughter began to plead, “No Mom, wait! I’m going to take one more look.”
“You know that whatever it is you’re looking for, if you don’t see it,” I said putting the emphasis on ‘whatever’. “means it doesn’t exist in this store. So why bother? It’s not going to suddenly appear before your eyes.” She had heard this line before but I could not resist saying it.
She smiled so sweetly at me, “You never know, Mom. Maybe someone else was trying it on and now it’s back on the rack.” What could I say? Nothing. And to answer your question, she didn’t buy anything in that store. Oh yes, it was not the last store we went into that Saturday. But we did finally get to have our drink on the terrace of a café once the rain had stopped.
Now, the scene changes to Geneva. A few weeks later. It was summer and the weather was beautiful. A niece who lives in the US was on a six-week exchange program in Montpelier. Her father, my brother, being a good parent made sure his daughter came to visit us while she was in Europe.
What was her response when I asked what she would like to do during her visit? “Shopping.” What else? Fortunately for me, Geneva is not Paris. This translates into a limited number of stores and a limited amount of shopping pain.
So, here we were standing in the trendy store on a Tuesday afternoon around three p.m. This store also sells men’s, women’s and children’s apparel thus limiting the young women’s section to one floor. Being a good host I took the first lap around with my niece. With a possessive gleam in her eyes, she examined every piece of clothing hanging on the racks and exhibited on the tables. I know she was secretly hoping to find something that her friends in the States wouldn’t have. Every few minutes she asked me about the European sizes, and each time I patiently repeated the equivalent sizing.
Then without warning the vision of shopping with my daughter in Paris popped into my head. Proportionately there was the same number of shoppers in this store as there were in the Paris store. They were all eyeing the clothes as if it was a sumptuous buffet at a cocktail party and they’d had nothing to eat for days. The young girls only turned their attention away from the clothing articles to make a comment to a friend or answer the ringtone coming from their smart phone.
“You know you have the same store in the US,” I said in hopes of speeding up the selection process.
“Yeah, I know. But you all have different clothes here in Europe,” she responds not taking her eyes off the merchandise. What can I say? She’s probably right. So I say nothing.
Even though there was only a single floor of young girl’s apparel my niece managed to end up in the line for the dressing rooms with what seemed like twenty items to try on. Unlike me, she waited patiently for her turn for to try on her treasures. Out of the corner of my eye I peeked at what she had chosen. I thought about holding my tongue, but my impatience got the best of me.
“Do you really need any more clothes? Really! What will your father say when he sees the bill?”
She looks at me sheepishly and murmurs softly, “I’m not going to buy everything. I just want to see how it looks on me. Anyway, Daddy told me I could buy something.”
“Something, as in one thing,” I retort. “Not the whole store. And I’m sure you have a closet full of clothes.”
“Yeah, maybe. But a young girl always needs something new to remain stylish.”
“Umph.” That was all I could manage to say. Who was I to question the need to remain stylish?
Finally eternity moved on, but not fast enough for me, and my niece walked into the dressing room. While she was trying on her items I scanned the other girls standing in line. Just like in Paris – laughing, talking to their friends or on their phones, all hoping that the fashion treasure they held in their arms would transform their lives.
Eventually I saw my niece emerge from the dressing room. Over one arm was draped a green-colored scarf with the dangling price tag flapping in the air currents she made as she walked toward me. The other nineteen items seemed to have evaporated. I surmised that they were not to her liking and that she had left them with the dressing room attendant.
“Well?” I asked expectantly when she stood before me.
“Nothing seemed to fit right. So I’ll just take this scarf. It’ll go well with my fall coat.”
I could only shake my head. More than an hour and she ended up with a scarf, which she didn’t even need to try on.
“Okay. Go pay for it,” I know I sounded exasperated and I felt slightly regretful. “And then let’s go have something to drink. I’m thirsty. There’s a nice café just next door.”
“Are there any other stores we could go look at? Maybe they’ll have what I want.”
“Do you know what you want?”
“Yeah, something different. And I’ll know it when I see it.”
Once again, what could I say?
There is neither moral nor words of wisdom to be gleaned. My resolution remains strong, though. I will avoid, as much as possible, clothes shopping with young girls or otherwise.
The Girls in the Store. Copyright © 2014 by Theresa Nash. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.
It’s a lovely short story. I enjoy clothes shopping where I have to match each and every item. I hate going back to the store to return unwanted items so I make sure they fit before I leave the store.