April 1, 2008


Mannequin Shopping

by Julie Sucha Anderson

During a recent business dinner, a man told my husband and I how his wife had spent hours shopping for the perfect dress for the evening. I looked down to see what I had on. To how many events had I worn this little black dress? Was it even in style?

I am not a shopper. I know that goes against the grain of how much of society views women, but honestly, I'd rather clean latrines than spend aimless hours carousing around a mall. Besides, if I were intended to shop in stores, would all those catalogs appear in my mailbox?

My friends know that if shopping is on their agenda for the day, they need not call me until it's time to go to lunch. I always show up for lunch, but wandering around a store trying to find the best deal or staring at myself in a strange mirror only tires me out and makes me wish I had chosen a different route for the day.

When did this aversion begin? As a child, I loved to roam the penny candy aisle at the Ben Franklin or visit the local tobacco store, which doubled as a bookstore, with my dad on Sunday afternoons. He bought cigars. I hung out in the Nancy Drew section of the basement book department.

I will still go to a candy or bookstore any day, but clothes shopping? Maybe my years of shopping with preschool children caused such antipathy. Imagine standing in a dressing room in your underwear and turning to see your 18-month-old child crawl under the door and take off into the store.

Nor do I find joy looking at myself in three-way mirrors. It usually reminds me that I should be on a diet. And getting undressed, dressed and redressed? I hate to do that once a day.

Maybe I should blame my mother. When I was a girl, she took me to Fantles Department store in southern Minnesota. The same ladies had worked in the little girl department for 40 years -- silver beauty shop hairdos, conservative dresses with sturdy shoes. My mother held up multicolored frilly dresses with buttons. I held up blue dresses with zippers. My mother said her choices were right because the sales ladies agreed with her. Of course they did -- she had the checkbook.

We'd end up angry at one another and often leave with nothing. I couldn't help it. I liked what I liked, and if I didn't feel comfortable in what I wore, I wasn't happy.

When my oldest son turned two, he decided he didn't like my choices in clothes. I knew this was punishment for me based on how I behaved with my mother, but I never told her because she would enjoy it too much. I chose not to fight with my son. I only bought him clothes if he was present and I only purchased what he liked, even if it was plaid pants and a striped shirt. I decided it would help him develop confidence in his own sense of style. He has come far from the days of living in a Zorro cape and leather cowboy outfit. At 22, he isn't wearing all black and leather, and I attribute it to getting it out of his system when he was 5.

But me? Even after all these years, I'm still in terminal rebellion. Comfort takes precedence and my mind is usually elsewhere when I dress for the day. Sometimes when I've rushed out to the store and am waiting at the checkout stand, I'll notice people looking at me. I quickly scan myself to find that I'm wearing purple running shorts, a Green Bay Packer sweatshirt and my winter clogs. I may not have combed my hair or washed my face. I do stand tall though. I HAVE brushed my teeth.

My grandmother would be appalled, rest her soul. Born in 1890, she didn't walk to the mailbox two houses down unless she was dressed up, complete with hat and gloves. Shopping, for Grandma, was an event and if I went with her, I had to wear a dress. I always felt like I was going to church.

In weak moments, I will accept a friend's occasional invitation to shop. This past December I met two friends at the mall. We started in the men's department. Within 20 minutes I had purchased presents for my father, my husband, three brothers, and two of my three sons. I then moved on to housewares, bought some dishes I needed, and then to linens to get a blanket and some new sheets. I picked up teacher gifts and underwear and wandered through the holiday decoration area. Two hours had passed, my back hurt, and my stomach growled. Walking back through the men's department, I found my friends still there, going through the racks, only two or three items in their arms and still unsure whether they'd make a purchase. I couldn't believe it. They hadn't made it out of men's and I was done for the day.

“Can't we go to lunch now?” I begged.

“But we're finding such good deals,” they said. “That's the fun.”

I must have a different definition of “fun”.

On a trip to Laredo, Texas with two other women, I packed my swimming suit and a pile of books and magazines. To my dismay, they had me up at the crack of dawn to walk across the border into Nuevo Laredo. We trudged through every shop. After a couple of hours, all the merchandise looked the same to me. I finally talked them into lunch only on the condition that I'd quit complaining if we ate. They obliged, we ate, and I shut up.

That afternoon, we ended up in a mercado. My friends shopped; I found a margarita booth. I had a great time watching people. I could also see into many of the shops. From my perch, I decided what I was going to buy. I only had to walk over and hand the cashier my money. When my friends found me, they couldn't believe how much I had bought.

“And I didn't have to walk for hours to find it either,” I proudly announced.

“She doesn't get it, does she?” they said to each other.

I'm not convinced I'm the one who doesn't get it.

I'm not offended if my friends don't call me on shopping days. I don't know exactly what I miss, besides gossip and laughs, but I'd much rather do that over lunch and shop on my own in the comfort of my recliner, catalog and computer in hand.

If I do have to go to the mall, I understand that there are people who are born to search the sale racks and there are people like me who see a mannequin and say, “I want that. Size 12. I'll try it on at home.” Makes me much happier to be that way.

Julie Sucha Anderson lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and three sons. A novel and essay writer, she is the co-editor of Grrl Talk - Sass, Wit, and Wisdom from the Austin WriterGrrls. Her work has appeared in many publications including Mom Writers Literary Magazine, ThisIBelieve.org, and AustinMama. She also has an essay forthcoming in A Cup of Comfort for Loved Ones of People with Alzheimer's. Julie can be reached via e-mail.