God, I hate clothes shopping. Yet, there comes a day when every man has to go to the mall.
It’s kind of a conditioned response, I suppose. When I was growing up, my mom would take us kids shopping and I always ended up looking like a dork. It wasn’t really her fault, she didn’t have a lot to work with. Plus the 1970s were full of questionable styles for her to home in on — like bell bottoms with wide, multi-colored stripes or plaid. Corduroy bell bottoms also populated my closet. (Do you know how hard it was for me to evade bully’s when they could track me through the school halls by the distinctive zft-zft-zft sound of my corduroy-clad thighs rubbing together as I ran away?)
The 80s weren’t any kinder because by then, I was in that skinny, gangly teenage phase — my two nicknames in junior high were Stick Man and Bones if that gives you any indication of my thinness. Seriously, I looked like I was one missed meal away from being classified as a famine victim.
All this meant shopping was torture because nothing fit. I would go into a store and see something that looked cool only to watch it magically turn uncool the second I put it on. It was very demoralizing. Throw in an atrocious haircut and my mother wanting to dress me like a preppy and no wonder I was miserable. Trust me, if you had walked a mile in my shoes, you’d have shopping PTSD too.
But it was unavoidable — I needed to go shopping. The Year of Sean, now into its fourteenth month, is officially winding down and I’m going to start work Monday. Yep, I got a job. I’d interviewed with a couple of places and was in the final running for two jobs when out of the blue an agency I used to work for, Bigfish Creative Group, contacted me about coming back, so I immediately signed on for a second tour. The dress code is pretty much whatever you want to wear, but still, as I looked at my ratty attire, it became apparent I needed new clothes. Some of my jeans were getting threadbare and I was tired of the relaxed fit bagginess. I was looking out of style (Actually, that’s kind of my default dress state), so action had to be taken.
Damn it, I was going to have to go shopping.
My own personal Queer Eye
Before my brother Kevin died, I used to rely on him as my fashion consultant. He was very judgmental of my wardrobe and more than once, as I got ready to go out, he’d ask with a critical eye:
“You’re not going out in that, are you?”
Well, not anymore I wasn’t.
Then he’d pick something out for me or loan me something to wear. Eventually, he just started telling me to give him money when he was heading to a sale (while my brother was a clothes horse, most of it was obtained on sale). He was my own personal session of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
Let me tell you, it’s hard to go wrong with a gay guy dressing you — except for once or twice when he couldn’t decide if what he’d put me in looked “too gay,” which is a real confidence underminer. Kind of gay is okay because women tend to think, in general, that gay guys are sharp dressers. But too gay is no bueno because your average straight guy has a hard enough time attracting women without suddenly confusing them and throwing them off the scent and possibly attracting the wrong demographic. (One time a drunk, newly minted lesbian who randomly started talking to me insisted I was gay — I’m assuming it was my brother’s sartorial efforts on my behalf that led to this conclusion or the fact she was hammered. But that’s a story for another post).
Are you sure this is a good idea?
In idle conversation, I mentioned to the Houseguest that I needed to go shopping to update my wardrobe. Suddenly, her ears perked up. You know how you can’t say “walk” around a dog without it getting excited? Same thing. The Houseguest loves clothes shopping and she pounced on the opportunity and offered to go with me. Now, I was originally just going to run up to Target and pick up a couple of pairs of jeans, but she suggested going to the mall for a much wider selection so we could find the best fitting brand at the best price. I was a little surprised she was willing to go with me after our Trader Joe’s fiasco, but she was more than willing and against my better judgment, I agreed.
I should have known better. We have two almost incompatible styles of shopping. Mine is more direct. I go in, try to find what I’m looking for, and get out. Of course, I’m indecisive as hell when I get multiple choices, so that can bog me down. The Houseguest, on the other hand, likes to take her time and explore all the options available, in multiple stores, and ask questions and find the best deal. As a man, it’s a time-consuming nightmare for me.
Excuse me. Do you have any more jeans?
Anyway, so we went up to Superstition Springs Mall, and I guess it’s a good thing I took her because we went into JC Penney and they had a million different kinds of jeans. Seriously, as I looked upon the tables and shelves piled with jeans, I felt like my head was about to explode.
As I started looking at the different styles, I wondered what the hell the names even meant? Orignal Straight, Original Fit Flex, Shrink to Fit (my personal nightmare because I’d definitely fuck that up), Athletic Fit Stretch, Straight, Relaxed-Fit Straight, Straight Stretch, Slim Straight Fit, Regular Fit, Regular Straight-Leg Fit, Regular Fit Stretch, Slim Jeans Stretch, Original Bootcut, Slim Bootcut, Flex Denim, Flex Skinny, Skinny Stretch, Skinny 4-Way Stretch, Slim Fit Performance, Regular Taper Fit, Loose Straight Leg, Loose Straight Stretch, Comfort Fit, Carpenter Jeans, and God only knows how many other kinds. Then you have to factor in where they sit on the waist or not and the various colors and washes.
I’m telling you, without her there, I would have either walked out overwhelmed without any jeans or been in there for hours asking strangers if the Flex Skinny ones made my ass looks big. (By the way, in one of life’s great injustices, I don’t have an ass.)
Let the games begin!
So, the Houseguest immediately took charge and asked me what style I was interested in. The hell if I knew, so I shrugged my shoulders and she rolled her eyes with a sigh, realizing she had her work cut out for her. She asked me what size I wore — again, I kind of gave an indecisive shrug. I knew the length (32 inches), but the waist size I had no idea about because my weight has fluctuated over the past two years and at my tubbiest, I was struggling to button my dress pants that came with the built-in expanders. Seriously, a 36-inch waist might have been a tight fit back then. But I’d lost 25 pounds. But the past week I’d just gained six pounds back, though I was determined to lose it.
Anyway, I figured my waist was somewhere between 32 and 34 inches. So she began scooping up various types of jeans and waist sizes and marched me off to the fitting rooms before handing me an armful of jeans and went to get more.
What the fuck had I gotten myself into?
Walking the runway
Man, I was hopping in and out of that fitting room like a dog in a butcher’s doorway, popping out to walk the runway under the Houseguest’s critical eye. I put acceptable jeans in one pile and handed her the rejects. After a while, I realized she was enjoying herself — I had become a life-sized Ken doll for her to play dress up.
After what seemed like an eternity, I ended up going with a selection of tapered and slim jeans, which I doubt I would have tried on if I’d been on my own. But I had to admit, I thought they looked pretty good on me.
Because I’m weak-willed, the two pair of jeans I originally intended to buy multiplied into six pairs of jeans. Luckily, they were on sale, which knocked a sizeable chunk off the bill. And the woman working the counter was super nice and worked some more magic that lopped off another 20 percent. She saved me so much money, I even bought a couple of shirts.
Let’s shop some more!
After we were done, it was payback time because the Houseguest wanted to shop. I’d driven myself up to the mall separately so I could escape once we were done. I knew she would probably go on a shopping quest, and I didn’t think I had the fortitude to accompany her. I’d already spent way more time in the mall than I’d intended. But I felt compelled to accompany her for a bit since she’d been so helpful. So we grabbed lunch and then went on a mission to three shoe stores.
At the third store, suddenly it popped into my head I needed new Converse basketball shoes. Recently, one of my old Chuck Taylor’s had failed at the movies. The front of its sole broke loose and flapped like a hobo’s shoe with every step. The whole thing had been highly embarrassing as I couldn’t walk normally without it tripping me up. Crossing the lobby, I shuffled along like I had barely survived polio. At the concession counter, I’d bummed a large rubber band from an amused teen worker and wrapped it around the toe of my shoe to keep the sole in place. Afterward, I’d used an adhesive to try and repair it, but I had no confidence in my repair job.
This is all vaguely familiar…
Trying on shoes was kind of a bad idea because the Houseguest went into dress Ken mode again. She began disappearing and reappearing with shoes and boots I would never have thought to try on. They looked good. So, I walked out with two pairs of shoes and a pair of boots — again, on sale, thank God.
Somehow, my original two pairs of jeans had multiplied into 6 pairs of jeans and three pairs of footwear. I left the mall struggling with three bulky bags and a drink and a newfound sense of admiration for the gold digger I gave an Uber ride to who was able to manhandle six even larger bags all by herself.
And the Houseguest didn’t buy a damn thing.
Is it all over?
When we got back to the house, I was exhausted. I was also hot as well because being in the chilly mall for hours on end had sabotaged my carefully cultivated heat tolerance and my 85° F house suddenly felt warm to me. The Houseguest was still in her post-shopping high and didn’t want to hear my whining as I turned the AC down. It was time for a fashion show. She disappeared and returned with shirts from my closet to hold them up to the new jeans. Then she made me go change so she could have another fashion show and give her final seal of approval.
Afterward, she mentioned I could always go back and exchange some of my skinny jeans to diversify.
Uh uh, no way. I’ve done my time. I’m not going back to that mall for at least three years.