I don’t know if my feeling that I don’t belong in hair salons or nice stores has anything to do with my gender or if it arises from some unresolved childhood issue that could be addressed by ingesting dark chocolate, lighting candles and chanting. It could be that I’m just a silly old girl who never got over some insult levied at her a hundred years ago. But the fact is, I find myself apologizing to stylists and impeccably dressed clerks. They seem so busy, so otherwise-engaged, that my need of their assistance feels like an imposition.
But in the last couple of years, through the diligent haunting of better consignment stores, I’ve discovered that Ann Taylor clothing fits me well and appeals to me. Last year, I ventured into the Plaza store and had a knock-out wonderful experience buying a dress for my son’s graduation.
I’ve been back quite a few times since that first success, and I’ve figured out which clerks have the most patience for my hour-long perusal of the sale racks. I have two criteria for clothing: It can’t be full price, and it has to be just exactly right for me. The convergence of these requirements can be rare but rewarding.
This evening, I ventured into Ann Taylor again, looking for an outfit for an appointment at which I want to make a particularly personal statement. A lovely, tall clerk named Tanya asked what exactly I wanted to convey with my attire. I responded without hesitation: That I’m my own person. She helped me browse the sale dresses for my size — which she judged to be somewhere between a 2 and a zero — and then “started a room” for me, a phrase which means she claimed the commission for anything which I might decide to purchase.
I tried on two dresses that looked sort of busy and scrunched my nose at my reflection. But the third dress — oh, jackpot! Me to a T! I padded out onto the sales floor in search of Tanya. I found her talking with two other clerks. As soon as the one facing me spied me, she broke into a wide and quite genuine smile. Tanya turned toward me and her face lighted. Oh my gosh, that dress is SO you, she exclaimed.
I asked her what she thought I should wear as a jacket. She did not hesitate: You should wear something that YOU would pick out. I had to laugh. It made such sense. To be me, I had to pick something that was me. Soon, the three clerks and I had fanned out through the store, and I tried jacket after jacket, cardigans short and long-sleeved, and a plethora of color choice.
I found the perfect sweater hiding on the sale wall, and when I slipped into it, the three of them gasped. Oh, wow, that is just what you needed.
Before I left the store, I also found a shirt, a pair of pants and a belt. Tanya totalled up the purchase and one of the other ladies, Stacey, bagged my items. She walked me to the door, and I told her I thought she was the person who had helped me find the dress for my son’s graduation. She beamed. Did it work out? she asked. I told her it had. Did you get lots of compliments on it? she wondered. I told her, Well, not really, but my son told me I looked like a real mother.
Stacey held the door open for me, and told me she was glad I had come into the store this evening. I honestly believe she meant it. I watched her turn away and go back inside: Young, blonde, statuesque and beautiful. The kind of woman that I’ve always felt was entitled to have doors opened for her and gifts showered upon her. The kind of woman I’ve never felt myself to be.