Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Retail Therapy

Power Girl and I have a Theory of Retail Therapy. Not to be confused with “shopping.” Or “browsing.” Or even “hanging out at the mall.” Retail Therapy is when the list is not the point, the looking is not the point, even, to some extent, the hanging out with your dear friend who knows almost everything about you, tucks away in her own small heart the whoring and the slutting around and the desperate insecurity, is not the point. Retail Therapy is when your dog dies, your cancer comes back, your relationship is over and you’re reduced, physically and/or emotionally, to frantic dry heaving before every meal. Retail Therapy is about regaining control. Being in charge of your own life despite the forces of death, love and metastasization.

The Theory: If it is perfect, it is worth any price. If it is imperfect, it is to be instantly forgotten.

Shopping in this way, purchasing in this way, is intensely powerful. Meeting the saleslady’s eyes over your armful of potential, knowing that if the item is right, you will make her day, if the item is wrong, there will be no regrets.

Expedition One: An exclusive (how exclusive can it be when Banana Republic is there? We think it actually means “no food court”) mall on the East Coast. A grey, rainy day. Power Girl and I plunge into Bloomingdales and try on perhaps forty formal and cocktail gowns with two specific occasions in mind. Our saleslady is a treasure, one who has the guts to say, “No, that’s not you,” rather than shark us. We have her hold five dresses and head to Bebe, where we are requested to leave our clutch purses at the counter. Next! A small boutique of many designers. One dress is great, but not exactly what I need. Next! Another is smashing, but not special enough for $800 (I think I can get something similar for under $500). Next! Coffee break. Power Girl has chai and an almond cranberry pastry, I have warm milk with a splash of coffee (my new indulgence) and an orange and chocolate croissant. Ladies who lunch are lunching around us, petit fours on tiny china plates, incongruous plastic spoons. We return to Bloomingdales and end up with seven dresses. Damage: $1500, including clearances, bonus markdowns from the saleslady, and a 10% thank-you-for-opening-an-account-with-Bloomingdales discount. Not too bad considering the biggest chunk was a $785 floor-length formal, fine-pleated navy chiffon, Grecian, stunning. It’s my first formal that looks nothing like any prom from any era. Mary Pickford would have worn this before shedding it in a heap on the floor to frolic in the indoor pool, Douglas Fairbanks a slick baby seal by her side.

Power Girl hunts fruitlessly through the rest of Bloomies, Coach and Banana for a bag (we eventually find it at Target for $5 on last-chance clearance), I pick up a little red ipod and accessories, we head to Chinatown, park in the first spot we see, enter the first restaurant by the car, and plunge down rickety stairs to a room in which we are the only non-Chinese. Metaphorical chopsticks drop to the tables before the room resumes chatting among themselves in Cantonese. Jackpot! Even the college students who drift in cross the language barrier at the door, sound-sound-sound-“computer lab”-sound-sound-long syllable-“research paper”. We invite a lady waiting for her party (there’s no wait-seating) to sit with us, and she teaches us about vinegar in the soup, gives us her card, invites us to call next time we are in town. It is the best Chinese I’ve ever eaten.

Damage for the day, including parking, lunch, dinner and the airport tolls from picking up another friend and Secret Scientist who squeezed next to me in the backseat with the bags and softly held my hand the whole way home: $2135.

Expedition Two: I have measured my finances (I’m saving up for either new windows or a trip to Europe as a present for Husband, not sure if warm toes and a lower gas bill or the alleys of Amsterdam are a better birthday surprise) and decided that I will blow all of my last present/fee/ill-gotten-gains from Be-My-Real-Friend on happy shopping. I count the already-therapeutic ipod in this. Power Girl has decided her latest bonus is meant to be perfect boots and some new clothes. We head to Toronto, land of shopping, though the dollar right now is hurting rather than helping us. Screw it. It’s time to pay any price for perfection.

Esprit: t-shirts from clearance.
Roberto Couture: boots for Power Girl. More than she has ever spent on shoes.
Some Sort of Older Woman Store I Normally Wouldn’t Shop In But That Turns Out to Have Amazing, Sexy-Classy Shirts and Blouses: two blouses and a skirt. More than I would normally pay, but two weeks later I’m still getting great feedback on the shirts.
Food Court: Bagel sandwich for Power Girl, spicy tuna roll for me.
My Favorite Lingerie Store Ever (Tacky Name, Ugly Lighting, and the Greatest Bra Saleslady in the World): Four bras of a brand I love that is about to be discontinued, and cutie panties for Power Girl. The saleslady here is another wonderful woman, she adjusts everything “Put it on the second hook for trying on! Always the second hook! OK, I am sorry about my cold fingers but let me just pull you out a little here, and tuck you in a little there…good fit, but not your color, take that off and put this on” and will not let us buy a bra that doesn’t fit. Not that we want to this time.
Godiva: Chocolates for sustenance. I have a cappuccino truffle. Power Girl has dark chocolate raspberry.
H&M: The mother lode. Skirts, dresses, shirts, accessories, and finally the purse I’ve been looking for. We call to each other in the dressing rooms – “do I like this?” “God, yes.” “Hell, no.” "It's cute but not perfect." Lover calls in the middle of trying on and I am flustered enough to pick up a pair of formal shorts. The Fug Girls would be gripped by seizures, but they’ll be cute with tights and boots.

All day long, we do not agonize. We do not question our finances, worry if something truly matches, mess around to see if we can fit in the wrong size. If it is perfect, we buy it. If it is not, we hand it back without a second glance. There is no “Gee, maybe it will work if I…” If there is no medium in the back, we’re outta there. As a side effect, the money from my client transforms into a present from my friend, the means to have a good day at a time when I desperately need one, a happiness that he has made possible, a gift certificate for self-medication. Suddenly, I realize, it’s not about the money, if I can make it not about the money, if I can make it about spending time with Be-My-Real-Friend, treating him like I’m not a sure thing, letting go of the crushing sense of obligation for him to have a good time and let him treat me like a girl, it’s actually pretty fun. It’s not that a sure thing costs, it’s a fair trade – pleasure for pleasure, with the bonus of enjoying the time when I can calm my ass down and enjoy the time. Where else is there a man who is happy to talk to me, asks very little, cares what I think of him, listens to me whine and gives me a big cash present every time we meet?

Damage: under $1000. It’s a small price to pay for the perfect happiness of being better dressed, in control, and carrying four bags filled with potential. We cab back to the hotel, we try things on again, we rest. I silently thank Be-My-Real-Friend, then just go ahead and call him. For once, it’s good to be a whore.


Blissfully Wed said...

I hate shopping. But I hang on your every word.

My best to you.

seacoast couple said...

I love this post! You have a great blog and you remind me so much of my wife! ;)

I added you to our favorites on our blog!


Devorah said...

Yay retail therapy. I did that with a friend once, not to the scale of you and Power Girl, but still, it was helpful.

I hope you have a good Thanksgiving if it is a holiday you celebrate. Go in to a triptophan coma and snuggle with Husband if you two are together for the evening.


Mandy said...

Blissfully - thank you :) I'm not normally much of a shopper, I'd rather go for a walk or to a museum. But it was sure great to spend money like water.

Seacoast - thank you! I look forward to reading your blog, and I'm flattered to be in such good company.

Devorah - I adore Thanksgiving, and it's my major holiday :) I hope that you, too, have pie. Virtual hugs your way - I'm so glad you keep in touch.

Jay said...

Much has been said about shopping, but oh my... those undies are so hot. They are exactly the right amount of transparent. I really envy the client/lover who will get to touch them.

Vixen said...

As soon as I read "formal shorts" I thought-"Wait doesn't that fug website say something about those?" And then you link to them. hehe

I'm jealous that you got such amazing salesladies to help you. It took me awhile to find the kind of bra that worked for me and I so wish I would have had the kind of help you did in a lingerie store.

New Diarist said...

I used to have more patience for shopping. Now, I tend to buy most of my things over the internet, and I go into a store pretty much only when I know exactly what I want and I buy that item and then leave.

I'm not sure if this means I have become far too provincial in my taste, or that there is no real joy in shopping when I can't afford so much of what I want.

I also haven't the patience for crowds these days. I'd much rather wpend the time in a museum or gallery.

I did like the panties though. Is that you? I like to look at the various pictures you have posted and try to put them together in my mind into a whole Mandy. Perhaps someday I will succeed.

Mandy said...

Jay - thanks :) Those would be personal panties. I keep two sets of underwear, and never the twain shall meet!

Vixen - I think the secret is to find an independent store, or else an established department store with an older group of salesladies. This is hard, though, if you're not in a big city. I was really, really helped by having ladies who knew what they were doing!

New Diarist - I'm with you a lot of the time, and it's been rare for me to do major shopping! I, too, would rather go for a walk or see some art.

Yes, that is me in the panties :) I would think you'd be able to assemble a pretty complete picture by now!

G said...

I completely take back your CB membership and am entirely envious of the shopping trip seeing as I am now in a second mortgage to cover the fking daycare. What a great trip. You deserve it more then anyone!

The ipod makes your panties even prettier. ;)

Tom Paine said...

Money is the great equalizer, both in mood and in ethics. I am a whore in what I do (not a sexual one), so there are times when the money makes that bearable.

But then Dr. Johnson once said "only a fool doesn't write for money."

Mandy said...

g - thanks :) It has been so long since I spent a serious amount of money that it did feel good to do it! And I felt a lot better about it truly being my money that wasn't wasting household money.

Tom - damn straight :) If you have to please the client, you might as well get paid, and if it's just your own pleasure...well, there's a name for that, too.