Getting ready for work a few weeks ago, I reached for my trusty “good” pair of pants and a clean shirt and noticed that both were well past the condition acceptable for donation to the Salvation Army. I rifled through my closet and discovered that everything inside was in a similar state, and that a disturbing number of sweatshirts had made it into my work outfit rotation.
A trip to the mall was in order. I would locate a good pair of work pants and buy it in a few different colors, then find a couple of basic shirts and be home in time for supper.
Or so I thought. After trying on 15 seemingly ordinary outfits in succession, each one more unflattering than the last, I started to lose hope. Everything was either too tight, or so big that it pooled at my feet, or (somehow) both. The apparent simplicity of the task only served to increase my frustration: I wasn’t searching for a wedding dress or the perfect evening gown, just sensible, normal basics – what the hell was the problem?
I soldiered on to the next store, focused on acquiring a much-needed pair of basic black pants.
An hour later, dozens of pairs of pants littered the floor of the dressing room. Mr. Max looked over with concern as I trudged out silently and back again, lugging a second enormous pile of pants in every possible size and style. Despite my best efforts, not one was decent enough to wear in public.
Reason and logic had failed me, so I returned to the task with a new game plan: wild, irrational flailing. Remembering that the style-challenged contestants on What Not To Wear often have an initial distaste for flattering clothing, I purposefully chose things I hated: Twee little dresses, capri pants, office lady blouses.
I learned the following lessons:
1) Everything from the “petites” section looks like stuff that Angela from The Office would wear. It doesn’t fit, either.
2) Ruffly little girl dresses make women of average height and weight over the age of 25 look like drag queens.
3) If you are not tall, you are fucked.
I was deep in the throes of a full-on Department Store Meltdown, the body dysmorphia/total insanity that results from a horrible shopping trip. The mall was closing, so I had no choice but to return to the car empty- handed. I needed dinner, a nap, and some time to think.
It doesn’t make any sense, I thought bitterly. I don’t actually care about how I dress and, besides, I used to have a ton of clothes!
Of course, I wasn’t exactly “dressing for success” back then.
Eventually the meltdown subsided and I regained my senses: I am not deformed or insane. It is not my fault that tapered jeans are now back in style, or that stores only carry even sizes, or that women’s clothing sizes make no sense anyway, or that you can’t get a goddamned normal black pair of pants anywhere anymore. Buying clothes is pretty much a traumatic experience for everyone.
Epilogue: I returned to a cheap clothing store later in the week with Mr. Max and managed to find some decent stuff. I’m still cynical about the whole affair, but at least now I can be cynical in something besides a stained sweatshirt.