Wednesday, October 21, 2009

One man shops alone

I hate shopping for clothes for work. It's boring: there are only so many variations on what I can wear to work. I only shop for myself a few times a year and even then it's only in the most dire need. I'm tired of wearing the same shirts from week to week, and the less said about the state of my pants collection, the better. Apparently I've been wearing the same pairs of pants for work so long that they've shrunk and are rapidly turning into plus-fours. While that look may work for professional golfers, I don't want to dress that way for the office. So I've been shopping this week.

My first stop was Century 21, conveniently located next to my office. It carries name brands at discount prices, so the store attracts a massive crowd of bargain-seekers, especially tourists, every day. I avoided the store for years, only going there for socks and underwear and an emergency belt one morning in August 2001. But when it came to things I wear on the outside it wasn't until after my divorce that I started shopping there regularly. My ex-wife had been the shopping expert in my life and I relied on her to help me buy clothes for work. A few months after the divorce I needed new shirts in a hurry and didn't know where else to go, so I checked out what Century 21 had to offer. What I found was a large selection of dress shirts in a wide variety of styles and colors, all marked down from retail price. I haven't shopped anywhere else for shirts since then. I don't like fighting with the crowd but the prices are well worth a few bruises.

Shopping for pants has become slightly more difficult. When I lost about 25 lbs in 2003 and 2004, I dropped about two inches from my waist. Apparently men with my waistline don't exist for clothing manufacturers. At Macy's this evening (Century 21 doesn't sell the pants I wear), the gentleman with a 34, 36, or any waist well into the 40s would have had no problem finding pants in his size. Pants for the slightly slimmer man were rare. I have long ruled out pleated pants or "relaxed fit" so that further limited my available selections. When I did find a pair in my size, they were in a slightly different style than my old pants, so I was off to the fitting room.

If I don't like shopping for clothes, I have a real hatred of fitting rooms. They're small, sometimes dank rooms hidden in the back of the store. There's often a pile of discarded clothes on the floor. The door may or may not have a lock preventing someone from barging in on me while I'm half-dressed. And I have to take my shoes off, so that the only things protecting me from the horrors of the store floor are my socks. I can put up with all of that.

The thing that annoys me the most about the fitting room isn't the room itself. It's that moment when I walk out of the fitting room so the person I'm shopping with can see how I look. When I was growing up, my mother always had me try on clothes in the store. And whenever I opened that door and walked out in my socks and a pair of pants with the tags still on them, my mother would not be waiting outside the door. She would have wandered off looking for something else for me to try on, leaving me there, vulnerable, while other parents and children stared at me. "Look at that little boy without shoes! He's so sad!" they would say. (They might have said it after they walked away, but I knew they said it.) When I was older and married and my ex-wife and I went shopping, she did the same thing. Somehow it's worse when you're a grown man and your wife has left you standing there in your socks and a pair of pants you don't own. My father told me he and my stepmother solved this problem by buying different sizes and styles of clothes and trying them on at home. I would do that as well if going to Macy's twice in a week wasn't such a pain in the ass.

Since I was shopping alone this evening, I did not have that emasculating moment outside the fitting room. I had to judge the pants myself. I know I have no fashion sense, but I think I made the right choices. With a bit of luck and the right water temperature selection in the laundry room, I should be appropriately dressed for another year. Besides, I dress for an office where I'm practically invisible outside of my department. As long as I don't have blood stains on my clothes, no one notices what I wear.

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