Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Don't hide the bottom line

Today's embarrassing fashion story features yours truly. Really, I shouldn't be embarrassed about this incident, but I succumb often to what I call 'empty store pressure' and find myself making a purchase out of pity rather than passion. At least today I found my limit.

I'm sure everyone is familiar with the sight of a boutique around 10 or 11AM, before the day shoppers have finished their morning pilates and coffee. The aisles are as barren as Midtown Manhattan on a Sunday (which I happen to love as a Midtown resident, not so much as a temporary day shopper and life long fashion enthusiast). The sales people roam the floor, straighten the perfectly hung dresses, and pick invisible lint flecks off shirt hems. Their eyes devour the first brave shopper to enter the vacant vessel like hungry wolves (but really, can you blame them?). This phenomena is not just a product of the sullen economy, but certainly is exacerbated by the precarious financial climate. Always to be counted on to do my part in the name of fashion, I boldly opened the doors to one of my favorite city boutiques (favorite for their clothing, not their staff) at the arid hour of 10:30AM.

I made eye contact with all 3 saleswomen who spun to see who was gracing their desolate locality at this hour. I smiled politely, but with just enough curtness to signal I did not wish to engage their services but rather preferred to browse in peace. (There is an entire arena of such etiquette and furtive glances within the retail sphere, trust me.) I made my way down the first aisle, home to the day dresses and natural fiber tops. (This aisle also led seamlessly into the sale rack which is where I really wanted to shop.) Like heat lamps, I felt the saleswoman's eyes on my back. Midway down the aisle, I was struck by a gorgeous jade green frock with ruffle hem and draped neckline. I had to touch the sleeveless shift and determine the fabrication (ask my mother, I can do this within 2 seconds of tactile inspection.) A cotton cashmere blend. What I cannot determine by mere touch is price, and really, isn't that the second most important element of the decision to buy? I tried to surreptitiously search the garment using only my eyes for the corner of a price tag. No luck. I sighed and then reached into the garment behind the hanger to see if perhaps it was hidden there. Again, nothing. At this point, the tallest (and thinnest) of the 3 saleswomen approached me. "May I help you with something?" she asked from her position at least 2 feet above me. I smiled up, embarrassed to be the center of her attention, and to be fumbling with this seemingly expensive garment, and shook my head. The amazon seemed to become annoyed with my lack of stealth, and regarded me more quizzically. Then, softening her gaze, she rattled off how nicely the dress would fit, how she was sure I was a size 2, and how I would wear the dress 'with everything'. (I am never sold on a piece of clothing by what a salesperson tells me, I decide within the first 5 seconds if I am going to buy it or not.)

Mercy would not find me, and try as I might, I could not find the price tag. Under the pressure of the empty store, the amazon saleswoman's stare and the piercing eyes of the other unengaged employees, I declared to no one in particular "I'll take it." The amazon smiled, took the dress to the counter, and rang me up. Still unaware of what the dress cost, I passed my credit card over the counter. "That will be $455.89". As if slapped into alertness by a cold hand, I quickly snatched back my credit card, and stammered something about changing my mind. Head down, I half walked, half ran from the still destitute boutique. Why do they have to hide the price tag? My sympathy for retail in the current economy has its limits.

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