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Just Thinking: Clothes shopping at store doesn’t have same appeal

Margo Bartlett
Guest Columnist

Many people are nervous about returning to normal life in what we hope are the waning days of the pandemic.  

After all, it’s been more than a year since we left our perfect New York City brownstone and walked briskly to our adorable job as a children’s bookstore owner. No, wait, that was Meg Ryan in “You’ve Got Mail.” 

Margo Bartlett

See, that’s what I mean. We don’t know how to do real life anymore.  

I realized this the other day when I went clothes shopping for the first time in 14 months. Which isn’t to say I’ve bought no new clothes in that time. I ordered several pairs of pants online because it was either that or spend a long weekend with family, wearing elastic-waisted baby-blue flannels.  

My family isn’t picky, but we were hiking, and pajamas weren’t the look I was going for. Besides, I didn’t know what boots one wears with blue flannel. 

I hadn’t been in a store, browsing through the racks, squinting at this and pursing my lips at that, for all this time. I didn’t miss it, not because I’ve never been a shopper but because I have.  

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How I feel about looking for clothes is exactly how I feel about candy bars and amusement-park rides. I used to love both those things, but after eating too many Butterfingers and working several summers at an amusement park (often concurrently) I finally got my fill. Now I’m done with shopping, or I would be if public nakedness weren’t both awkward and illegal. 

The store I chose was doing a lively business, or perhaps it just seemed that way to me. I once inched my way through the jammed Arnold Sports Festival’s expo hall, my nose touching the neck of the stranger in front of me, without giving a thought to the implications of all that compressed humanity. Now a mother and daughter on the other side of a double rack of clearance tops make me feel crowded. It’s all relative. 

Right away, I realized I wasn’t up to hours of flicking through hangers, making split decisions with each flick: “Yikes.” “No.” “That’s awful.” “Everything I own is blue.” “Now this isn’t bad.” “Holy moly.” And so on. I had collected only two “Now this isn’t bads” when I noticed the dressing rooms were gone. 

Not literally gone; I could see them behind a barrier of temporary shelving. The new way to shop is to buy clothes, take them home and return them if you find yourself saying, “Yikes,” “No” or “That’s awful” in your own house.  

This was a relief. I not only have had my fill of shopping; I’ve also had my fill of each little shopping part: Taking off your clothes and putting them on again. Chatting at your own reflection (“Nice seeing you!”) to catch a glimpse of clothes in action. Hanging and buttoning rejected items obsessively so dressing-room attendants don’t hate you. Making two trips to try on.  

Fortunately for the retail clothing industry, resistant shoppers are in the minority. We all have our faults, and shopping petulantly is one of mine. But I took heart when I saw a headline in the Sunday newspaper. It turns out I wasn’t grabbing a couple of tops so people would stop thinking my overworked navy pullover was the only piece of clothing I own. I was among Americans moving to, and I quote, “update their closets as they emerge from the pandemic.” 

What’s more, my purchase of two soft, comfy tops not unlike my aforementioned pullover was trendy, not predictable. “People are going to lean into comfort more, even when they’re getting dressed for evening or galas,” a designer said.  

That’s exactly what I’m going to do: Lean into comfort. I’ll go even further: I’ll fall face first into comfort. And since the last time I went to anything that could be described as a “gala,” I won a state-of-the-art record player, I don’t need to worry about building on my two new tops.  

As another designer said, no one is rushing back to pre-pandemic levels. We’re all going to take our time. I plan to take mine in comfort. Face down.  

Write to Margo Bartlett at margo.bartlett@gmail.com