For the sake of fashion

I usually don’t set foot in stores like Forever 21, Abercrombie, or Bebe, because I’m too embarrassed by the young employees’ uncomfortable reactions. It’s got to be difficult for them to conceal their smug exasperation with cheerful, convincing welcomes. I feel compelled to suggest something like “I’m shopping for a gift for my daughter” or another explanation I’d rather not be required to provide. I know my place: Talbots.

The Blue Kimono

  Detail of The Blue Kimono by William Merritt Chase (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

Last year, however, I had to suck it up when I needed an obi sash to coordinate with something black I wanted to wear to the ballet. The nicest one I could find online was sold at Bebe, which, for those of you who don’t know, is the young women’s apparel and accessories retailer whose ad campaigns feature actresses Mischa Barton and Eva Longoria. Now you have the picture.

I drove to the mall and, with feigned nonchalance, strode into the Bebe store and pretended to know exactly where to find the accessories. I began to feel a little queasy when the soft black leather sashes weren’t on display among the other, showier items. Slightly crestfallen, I was forced to approach the very young, very trendy salesclerk and describe the merchandise I was seeking. She understood immediately, because she was unpacking a recent shipment. The newly arrived obi were piled on a display case adjacent to the checkout counter.

My humiliation was not to be so easily and quickly avoided. The clerk was tirelessly professional. She selected one of the sashes, whisked it and me over to a full-length mirror in the middle of the boutique, and proceeded to give me instructions on how to tie it around my waist. Too tight, she warned in an intriguing Central Asian accent (of the sort often used to stereotype dominatrices), and I’d make myself nauseous. I was already feeling flushed.

Only a couple of additional customers were present in the small shop, but that was a couple more than I’d ever wanted to observe me trying on eveningwear—or, in Bebe parlance, club clothes. I smiled politely and thanked the clerk as she untied the sash. “Would you like to look at anything else?” she inquired. In a whisper, I assured her I was ready to make my single purchase. The sooner I could do that and scuttle out of the store the better.

As she took her place behind the cash register, the young woman tilted her chin up and, in her extraordinary accent, issued a carefully rehearsed sales pitch just loudly enough to rivet everyone’s attention. “Are you a ClubBebe card holder?” Of course. I laughed like the L.L. Bean Preferred Customer I am and retorted, “Do I look like a ClubBebe cardholder?” The salesclerk, well-trained and utterly lacking the satire that accompanies old age, didn’t crack a smile or miss a beat before tactfully replying, “We serve all kinds of customers here in our store.” I reached my hand out to her and said sotto voce, “That’s exactly the right answer. I only meant that I’ll probably never have an occasion to return.”

The earnest young woman said something more to encourage my patronage, and then she took down the information required to make me an official card-carrying club member. Now, I have a ClubBebe ID, which I’ve carried around for a year with my grocery, pharmacy, bakery, and Eddie Bauer customer cards—the ones that actually see some use. The piece of plastic embellished with a photo of a Brazilian supermodel will elicit snickers from whoever retrieves my personal effects after I’m run over by a bus. I don’t bother to read the monthly email advertisements sent from Bebe to its select club members, but neither have I unsubscribed. Every time the spam arrives, it makes me smile.

15 thoughts on “For the sake of fashion

  1. anonymom

    Aha! Something else we share in common! An LL Bean card! I have points to use, hooray!

    I unfortunately have no idea what an obi sash is. Oh well. At least my hairstyle is hip if my mountain pile fleece is not.

  2. Sarah Jo Schlosser

    My deepest desire is that I will know when I have found the man of my dreams, for he will LOVE me in my REI gear, Timbuk2 bags, and armloads of books…

    My dress-up store is Ann Taylor clearance racks…

    Loved this piece…thanks for making me smile. :)

  3. Robin Mizell Post author

    How funny! I’m sure we’re all candidates for What Not to Wear. I had no idea we Americans were so unfashionable until I looked around me in Paris, where even the maintenance staff dress stylishly. I was wearing my bright red wool duffle coat, which in that environment made me look like Paddington Bear or a kindergartener outfitted for a backwoods camping trip.

    My daughter is probably not amused. (laughing)

  4. the daughter

    I have a clubBEBE card too! Like mother, like daughter… except i’ll pass on the L.L.Bean card lol. Glad you now own some Abercrombie. Merry Christmas!

  5. T.T.Thomas

    Sorry I was out of town, in the uber fashionable San Francisco Bay area, so I missed this exchange but reading it tonight was like having Christmas all over again. Fabulous writing Mizell…as usual. Honestly, I laughed out loud.

    I must say, though, that I quite agree with “the daughter” on the LLBean card. Nevertheless, there was a day….oh let me share: When I first got with my partner, Karyn, she frowned, ever so slightly, when I ordered two shirts from LLBean on line. When neither shirt fit, she was clearly relieved. I kept the partner and ditched the shirts because I loved the way she didn’t completely frown when I ordered the shirts, and looking back, I understand what restraint she used. LOL. She was a model in her youth, and happens to possess an innate sense of style. I’ve learned a lot from her, not the least of which is how to be constructive not critical. In the old days, I would have guffawed about my friends who wear three dresses and birkenstocks to their shamanic drumming lessons…LMAO. Now, though, I just nod, no words, a smile of acceptance plastered all over my face. Thanks to Karyn, I reserve my comments for the ride home. I know: it’s superficial and dishonest, and everybody’s happy with it!

  6. T.T.Thomas

    Robin said: I can’t wear my Birkenstocks when I come to visit?

    No, actually you can! I believe the ever-fashionable Karyn has an old pair of Teva sandals that come close to the ever-ugly Birks…so, go ahead, wear ’em. When you see the smile of acceptance plastered all over my face, just know what it means. heh.

  7. T.T.Thomas

    White, thick, comfy socks. or in summer, bare feet. I do not believe we own a pair of high heels, but if we do, I’ve not seen them in years. Oh, and cowboy boots are always welcome. I wear a lot of ECCO and Born and, because I’m a snot, Cole Hahn loafers.

  8. T.T.Thomas

    Robin said: Is it just me, or could what you’re saying be considered splitting hairs?

    Oh absolutely not. You have to understand: Birks go with the wearing of three dresses (at the same time) and shamanic drumming (while wearing the 3 dresses and the footwear mentioned above that starts with a “B”)—didn’t I already say that? Yes I did. Now, the wearing of two t-shirts, a short-sleaved one over a long sleaved one, that’s good. That you wear with ECCO, Born or ColeH. Think of it this way: 3 dresses, no; two t-shirts, yes. Hardly an example of splitting hairs I think. Harumph.

  9. T.T.Thomas

    hahaha…no my sister Mary drives it now, and she loves it. I consider the Bug to be on a par with Mercedes and Jaguar. But a turbo Bug…now that’s living! White socks optional.

  10. Diane Centolella who is contemplating having a 60's party when she turns 60 in March......

    Oh my! I have never heard of Bebe, Mischa Barton, Eva Longoria, or obi sashes! Now Birkenstocks I know and L.L. Bean and Beetles (I had a red VW bus with white stars on the front doors in 1969). And I love “What not to Wear” and the “Tim Gunn Show” (or whatever it’s called) – like watching myself be made-over over and over and over again.

    I enjoyed reading your story. When we visit our daughter in L.A., she takes us shopping with her sometimes. She particularly likes Anthropologie (sp?). As I am waiting for her I like to walk around and look at things. Every time I catch someone’s eye, I have to restrain myself from explaining, “I am just here with my daughter” because I imagine they are snickering to themselves about the gray-haired old lady in the store.

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