Please Touch The Merchandise
I miss shopping. And I don’t mean the soulless computer-mediated simulacrum of shopping we’ve all gotten used to.
Staring at a thumbnail-size photo of a sock is not the same as holding the sock. Feeling the sock. Cradling the sock like it’s a newborn. Looking deep into the warp and woof of the sock to judge its mettle as a foot glove. Will it endure? Will it fight the good fight without drooping around my ankles in defeat? Is this sock me?
I click. I buy. I am almost always disappointed. What I took to be tiny flowers imprinted on the sock are in fact flying cheeseburgers. Oh well, tomorrow is another day.
It’s gotten to the point where I use old-school shopping in role play. “You be the store employee, and I’ll be the annoying shopper who sends you back and forth between the fitting room and the racks to find the right size.”
You have a strained smile glued to your face. You begin to sweat. “No problem,” you chirp repeatedly. But your tone belies a growing sense of desperation. “A nine?” you ask doubtfully.
“Yes, a nine!”, I snap, slamming the bathroom door.
I despair of ever owning another pair of pants that aren’t 80% elastic. You can call yoga pants “pants” all you want, but wishing doesn’t make it so. You can’t climb the corporate ladder in a pair of jeggings unless you’re a Kardashian.
You need to get out there into the field, into the rough and tumble. You need to find a pair of 100% polyester, dry-clean only, Anne Klein dress slacks that will accommodate both your thighs and your waist while still allowing you to sit down without undoing the top button.
Miracles happen, but they don’t happen online.
Maybe it’s retail’s own fault. A failure of imagination.
Marshalls is one big room full of clothes. It’s the kind of place you end up when you’ve just gotten out of prison, you’re wearing the leg warmers you had on in 1993 when you got busted for scalping Metallica tickets, and they’ve given you $10 in gift certificates to start a new life.
TJ Maxx. Dress Barn. Forever 21.
Forever came sooner than we expected. The outlet mall near my house is a jumble of ghostly ruins in a weedy field, its broken signage stabbing the sky in post-apocalyptic despair. The little train that chugged along the perimeter of the parking lot couldn’t save it. The playground couldn’t save it. The Levi’s and Gap anchor stores couldn’t save it.
The pandemic sped up the demise of brick and mortar, but it was inevitable. We shop online because we are lazy. We want it all, and we want it now. If we don’t like it, we send it back and try again — clothing, partners, pets, children.
We no longer value shopping as an experience in our sped-up lives.
But I miss it. I miss looking at my reflection in the smudged floor-length mirror with a top or a pair of pants held awkwardly to my body and thinking, “Hell yes, I look good.”