Thursday, May 26, 2011

Month Without Mirrors 5.26 Update: Clothes Shopping!

Clothes shopping when you've banned yourself from mirrors requires a different sort of trust than the sort you'd normally put in a total stranger. I'm loath to ask sales staff what they think of any particular garment on me—the worst of all possible shopping worlds being when the saleslady bullies me into coming out of the dressing room (I'll come out of the dressing room at will, but trust me, if you push me to model a piece that looks hideous I will only be embarrassed, and you will lose a sale); the mirror is the saving grace. I don't even like to take friends shopping with me for that reason: I don't want to saddle them with the responsibility of telling me what works and what doesn't.

But! In the name of research (of course) I gave blind clothes shopping a whirl recently. I was turned on to a Dutch line, King Louie, which creates feminine, made-to-move clothes appropriate for a city that breathes bicycling. I'm trying to revamp my wardrobe to include dresses that don't require heels or sucking in the beer gut I acquired last year during a three-month stint in Prague, and this seemed like a good opportunity. I generally know what colors and cuts suit me, so I walked into the store confident that maybe I wouldn't even need help—only to find that the cuts of the dresses I found most appealing weren't the type I normally wear (the type I normally wear being the sort that requires...heels and gut-sucking). They didn't have any of my personal no-nos (pleats, for example), but they were out of my safety zone of fitted scoop-neck sheaths. But this raspberry dress with a blousy top and sash looked so...comfortable! No gut-sucking! Flat sandals! Mobility!

I tried it on, then stood in the dressing room unsure of what to do. I could tell that it fit right just by looking down and by how it felt, but as far as how it looked? No idea. Plus, I'm not great with draping and sashes and stuff, but damn if I didn't feel relaxed in this thing. I had to ask the sales staff, and I just sort of crossed my fingers that the famous Dutch nonchalant frankness would mean that the hard sell would lose out over honesty.

In fact, that's just what happened—I hope. I had to ask her what she thought instead of simply wait for her to proffer her opinion. She looked me up and down and said it worked on me, and that it was the dress that every single staffer had purchased. Then she looked at my face and saw what I imagine looked like worry: I was comfortable in the store, but clearly a foreigner, and clearly anxious. "You can always ask what we think," she said, and smiled. "It's what we're here for."

I think of myself as a pretty trusting person, but it hadn't ever occurred to me that, in fact, that is what a salesperson is there for. I mean, of course they're also there to make a sale, and the emotional labor of the salesperson means that they have to flatter and fawn in order to do so. But a good salesperson knows better than to do that falsely.

Um, that's what I'm banking on, anyway.

The exchange got me on a no-mirror high, and I purchased not only that dress, but two others (I did take a quick peek at my butt to make sure a knit dress didn't reveal a terrible panty line). At another shop, I purchased a vintage early 20th-century linen nightgown that makes me feel like I'm on Downton Abbey. The nightgown was, well, a nightgown, so sizing wasn't an issue; in fact, I didn't try it on. But I wonder if I'd have purchased it were I not doing the mirror experiment. One thing I've missed during this experiment is the pleasure of briefly feeling like I've stepped into a sort of fantasy life, even when it's really just my own. I wrote in my initial mirror post of catching a glimpse of myself with pencils in my hair and thinking, My, don't I look like a writer?; this experiment was meant, in part, to turn such notions inward. But sometimes it's just fun to feel like I'm inviting another world into my private sphere. I am not pre-WWI nobility, but wearing a loose linen nightgown with delicate stitching on top with my hair loose over my shoulders certainly makes me feel like pre-WWI nobility. My longing for play can take a precarious turn into a sort of semi-permanent acting, in which I'm so aware of appearing that I lose the focus on being. But play needn't be sacrificed for self.

I figured this photo doesn't show anything except my chin that I can't already see,
so even though I'm abstaining from looking at photos of myself, I can look at this. And so can you!

The last time I did a conscious "play" experience with my bombshell makeover, I felt unmoored from the experience. It revealed myths I've told myself over the years, and showed me exactly how much I fear putting myself out there. But there are different sorts of play, some of which are private, others of which are public. Becoming comfortable with private forms of persona might open up the doors for me to feel more fluid—more authentic—in allowing myself the public forms of play. One of my favorite outfits—khaki shirtdress with neckerchief and Mary Jane heels—was dubbed "stewardess chic" by a coworker, a description that fills me with a 1970s glamour glee whenever I think of her term. It's stewardess chic, but it's still me, and I suppose that's the difference. I'd like to learn how to experiment more with that sort of playful attitude toward my appearance in public. This mirror fast is helping me develop the core that I'll need in order to do that without feeling like I'm merely acting, and poorly at that. I'm not there yet. For now, I've just got my nightgown. You may call me Lady Whitefield.


  1. Interesting concept...I don't know what I would do without a mirror in a changing room. Nay, in the store because I am not only one of those lazy types but I also know my body shape really well and at the best I just want to put something against me and look to see how it grabs me. I like items 'grabbing' me and seeing it against my skin helps. I need mirrors!


  2. Mulika, you're one step ahead of me, then! I can NEVER tell by grabbing and draping if something will fit (my body has changed over the years as well and I think I'm still figuring out what works on me now).

    Thank you for reading! Nice to meet you.

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