The scent of freshly waxed floors and unworn cotton cleanses my spirit the moment I swing open the glass doors. I could be escaping the pressure of 90-degree air, the cutting winds of a December night, or the lingering sting of a recent parent conference—in all cases, the white glow of the shopscape saturates my body and lulls me into a soporific bliss. Red squares, as sweet and inviting as lollipops, poke out of the grids of hanging clothes, offering me 25% off, with an extra 15% discount for using my Macy’s card. The metal hardware of the racks and shelves flashes signals at me from every direction. Cozy merino wool sweaters in Kelly green and sunset orange, plaid pleated skirts, shiny silver hoop earrings, plush cashmere scarves, sleek leopard-print kitten heels propped up on little stands…oh, mercy. I just got paid.
Charter Club is a little conservative, sometimes more fitting for 50-somethings than 30-somethings who are in denial about nearly crossing the boundary into 40-something, which is only a decade away from 50-something, but occasionally I find a linen shirt in hot pink or a classy summer dress with a contemporary geometric pattern and crisp belt. Ralph Lauren receives from me no more than a passing graze, and then only because I see long cable-knit sweaters with markdown stickers on the tags. The rise in Jones New York dress “slacks” is too high—I need the waist to sit below my navel. I like Michael Kors, but sometimes even his petites run too long and too tapered. INC sucks me in completely with its shimmying blouses, sequined slim-fitting tops in electric blues and golds, and raven black fabric pants, all perfect for feeling taut and young on a night out. I do without Karen Scott and Liz Claiborne these days. In middle school, when I dressed in Larges to cover my behind and thighs, these brands served me loyally. Last summer I found a series of Karen Scott button-down shirts for about six dollars apiece on clearance, and I bought three of them in different colors, but that was an exception, as not buying them would have been more expensive than buying them. (The white shirt suffered a stain on the collar the first time I wore it, but who cares? Six dollars.) Style & Co., Macy’s label, imitates the more expensive fashions but with a cheaper flair, which means bigger decorations and boxier shapes. Sometimes, in the summer, I might buy a pair of cargo capris from this area, and once in a while a funky shift dress that I can pair with leggings. Normally, though, by the time I reach these displays, my arms are shivering with muscle fatigue trying to hold the pile of merchandise that I have already amassed, and the dressing room is beckoning, just on the other side of the acrylic cowl-neck sweaters. But another trip around the Petites is not out of the question, if my first lap was not exhaustive enough.
That pile of merchandise that I lug into the dressing room most likely includes, among other surprises:
Black or gray pants, some plain, some pinstriped
Crew-neck cotton cardigans in purples or greens, preferably not puffy-shouldered
At least one ivory-colored sweater
Empire-waist shirts embellished with delicate embroidery
A-line skirts that hit just below the knee
A-line wrap dresses with a touch of Spandex
Maxi dresses with paisley or medallion designs
A piece of outerwear, like a pleather jacket or turquoise peacoat
Anything wicked sparkly
That pile of merchandise most likely does NOT include:
Jeans, skinny or otherwise
Suit jackets or pants
Teacher sweaters embossed with pumpkins, Christmas trees, stars, or birds
I don’t have to try hard to avoid the handbag section, as I buy primarily Coach (mini signature, with matching wristlet) at the outlets at Kittery, Wrentham, or Estero, Florida when my family is visiting Sanibel Island in April. I just can’t justify spending three hundred bills on a purse on an average day, you know? But the shoe section presents a greater dilemma, and not just because I hate having to ask sales associates to fetch my sizes for me in the back room rather than try on their stock at my leisure, as in DSW or Famous Footwear. The boots—I mean, Jesus. Knee-high, mid-calf, ankle, bootie. Stiletto, platform, wedge, chunk. Riding, rain, combat, shearling. Buckled, zippered, pull-on, fold-down. You see, I wear one sort of boot with my regular-length Lucky Brand jeans—the heels need to be high enough to lift the hems off the ground, but they also have to be chunky because the jeans are casual, which is a tough combo to find. To stand for long periods of time in my classroom or clip down one of the school’s long hallways, I need comfortable but not frumpy styles. I have flat feet that cramp easily, so any boots with drastic arches cripple me by 2:30. One kind of knee-high boot looks good under pant legs; the shaft has to fit snugly around the calf. These types of boots may not look as suave with knee-length skirts, as the shafts might slide down my calves as I walk and create ugly ripples around the ankles. Of course, the extent of this problem depends on the suppleness of the leather. The boots that contain enough structure to stay erect around the calf might not hug the circumference of the leg just under the knee tightly enough, however, and the result is a gap circling this area, like a moat surrounding a castle, in which I could keep my iPhone or surplus cash (a joke, because all of my money goes to boots. Obviously). Considering I am self-conscious as it is about the thickness of my legs, I don’t need boots that add extra girth. Riding boots look cute with my classic cut Lucky Brand jeans when I am, indeed, lucky enough to fit into them (approximately three months out of the year, when I am sick of being fat and cut my eating down to half-Weight-Watchers portions), and they also complement one of those Style & Co. shift dresses I mentioned earlier. Booties are a new phenomenon about which I am still wary, but with opaque black tights under one of my circle-skirt dresses from Ann Taylor Loft, the booties that I scored at Naturalizer last weekend could be all right. And I haven’t even touched on the subject of colors and fabrics. What shade should your boots be if you are wearing gray pants and a canary yellow sweater from the Gap? Well, gray, of course! So I have a pair of heather suede Aerosoles for that outfit. A chocolate-brown tweed skirt? Chocolate-brown Franco Sartos. A hunter-green Lands End dress? Taupe Timberlands. So, you understand my needs, yes?
As a professional debt artist, I must set reasonable limits on spending at each mall shopping station. An acceptable total at Macy’s for a single transaction is anywhere from thirty dollars to a hundred and thirty (thirty should get me at least two items; for a hundred and thirty, I’d better need two bags to carry the loot). I try not to rely on the Macy’s card, but if it secures me an additional 15% off, it would be financially irresponsible of me not to take advantage of the discount.
Oh, how the weight of those bags means that dressing over the next several mornings might actually bring me pleasure, not render me sobbing into a heap of discarded outfits on the bed! Oh, how the weight of those bags means that I look neat, pulled-together, attractive, not sloppy and dowdy in pilling sweaters and pants with stretched-out knees! Oh, how the weight of those bags means that I might feel a speck less self-conscious as I stand in front of a group of twenty teenagers who notice everything! The weight of those bags means options, options, options, and having options means having power!
I realize that I have been indulging in Macy’s wares for almost ninety minutes, and feel the urgency to move on to the rest of the mall. So many sales, so little time.
Liz, you really had me at “…oh, mercy. I just got paid.” What fun this was to read. If this was an assigned task to write on a very simple task such as shopping, you nailed it.