December 11, 2011

Made for walking

For a couple of years now, my piano teacher has been saying she needs to take me shopping. She’s a beautiful woman who is always dressed gorgeously, in carefully chosen clothes and jewelry. I, on the other hand, tend to wear the same pair of jeans over and over again, paired with whatever t-shirt I happened to grab out of the closet. Once when my daughter was trying to tactfully describe the way I dress, Boy in Black said, “You’d never be surprised to find a twig or leaf in Mom’s hair.” Yep. That about sums it up.

Friday afternoon during my piano lesson, Beautiful Piano Teacher told me she’d just bought a pair of boots. She even pulled out her cell phone to show me a picture of them. “They’re warm and comfortable,” she said. “I hate cold feet.” 

“I hate cold feet too,” I said. “I should get a pair of boots.” It’s not that I don’t own a pair of boots. I do. They’re insulated hiking boots that have to be laced up every time I put them on. I wear them with jeans all winter long, but they’re fairly clunky and my feet end up sweating, which makes them cold. I liked the idea of a pair of boots that I could just slip on and off, so that my feet won’t sweat when I’m indoors.

“I used to have a pair of regular boots,” I told Beautiful Piano Teacher. “But it was before my daughter was born so it was more than 25 years ago.”

She stood up. “We have to get you a pair of boots. Let’s go.”

“Right now?” I asked. I liked the idea of owning boots, but the thought of shopping for them made me feel queasy. Shopping for boots would be a Herculean task, one I’d need to prepare for with food and drink, perhaps some meditation.

“Yep,” she said firmly. “My next lesson cancelled — we have time.”

The next thing you know, we were in her car and heading to the mall. Yes, we were going to the mall on a Friday afternoon just two weeks before Christmas. Beautiful Piano Teacher is a brave woman. 

She led me into Baron & Seamstress, an expensive department store. “Don’t worry,” she said. “They’re having a sale.”

It wasn’t the prices that scared me, but rather, the store itself. I’m afraid of department stores. They confuse me. There are always pillars and mirrors and escalators and racks of stuff set up in paths that get me completely lost. The merchandise is set up in a way that seems to me completely random. I much prefer thrift stores, where all the red shirts are put on one rack, or all the jeans in one bin. That method of organization is at least logical.

But Beautiful Piano Teacher has no fear of department stores. In fact, she actually likes to shop. Without hesitation, she marched past racks of shirts and holiday sweaters, swishing past counters of perfume and weird cosmetic gunk, turning this way and that, leading me right to the shoe department. She was right about the sale. Big signs proclaimed the prices. Women were everywhere – grabbing at the boots on the tables, sitting in the chairs to take off their shoes, and tossing boxes aside as they tried the boots on. It’s the kind of scene that made me want to turn and slink out of the store, although escape at that point was impossible since there’s no way I could have ever found my way back to the car.

The confusion didn’t bother Beautiful Piano Teacher at all. She scanned the tables quickly, while I muttered objections. “No heels. No pointy toes. No suede. No weird buckles.”

She found a boot that met my requirements and held it up. “See? It’s lined so they'll be warm. It’s stylish.”

I gave in. “Okay.” Then I looked around. All the chairs were filled, so I figured it might take hours before anyone waited on us. Usually in that situation, I give up and go home. I’m invisible when I’m in a department store — I never get waited on. And more than twenty minutes in a mall makes me lightheaded.

Beautiful Piano Teacher went up to the counter, held up the boot, and called out in her lovely Russian accent: “We need this in size 8.” A salesperson appeared from nowhere.

Within minutes, I was trying on the boots. They were as comfortable as slippers. They were lined with soft, warm material. Beautiful Piano Teacher assured me they were fashionable.

“Even if you wear jeans, they look so much better than the sneakers or hiking boots you usually wear,” she said. We drove back to the studio just in time for her next lesson, and the next day, I tried the boots out. I wore them for hours, and my feet stayed warm and comfortable the whole time.

“It’s a start,” Beautiful Piano Teacher said when I showed up at my sons’ piano recital wearing the boots. “Next time, we will buy you some clothes.”

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is soooo funny. The mall is no evil! Enjoy the boots.

Songbird said...

I love this story. But no need for an Extreme jo(e) Makeover.

Rev Dr Mom said...

We need pictures!

Brigindo said...

I love it. I share your fear of dept stores (and dislike shopping in general). I try to do most of mine online.

lucy said...

Awesome. Can she take me shopping next? My slip-on LLBean shoes just fell apart, and I'm already sick of lacing my hiking boots...

Anthea said...

What a kind lady and how thoughtful of her! These boots do sound lovely.

Andi Sibley said...

This is such a happy story! I am like you and hate to shop. I agree, I'd love to see a picture of you in your boots!

Silver Fox said...

Yes, pictures!

Kris said...

YOU are the ONLY person I know of that dislikes shopping more than I do.

Melissa Sarno said...

I love this post. I wish I had your piano teacher to take me shopping. I hate shopping but I love clothes. (Weird, I know)

Lilian said...

Songbird, the piano teacher seems to be a gentle, woman, nothing to do with Clinton and Stacy of What Not to Wear and she won't make Jo(e) go through all the stuff people go through in that show (like being order to go shopping alone) or Extreme Makeover (I haven't actually watched the latter).

That's just what you need, Jo(e), someone not related to you ('cause I know your daughter has already tried to go shopping with you with not a lot of success) that will help you pick a few new pretty things here and there to add to your wardrobe & "shake it up" little bit! Well done, Stylish Piano Teacher, you're awesome! (if she knows about the blog, and I realize that maybe she doesn't, you could share our comments with her). ;)

P.S. now you owe us a photo of the boots, they sound so comfy and nice!

kathy a. said...

the mall is evil; good you had an experienced guide.

i really need jeans that fit, and that's harder than shoes. well, i could use some styling overall, but i'm starting with needs. and trying to do it via online. but i swear that it will be less stessful to try and return, than to try at the mall and find nothing -- which is the reason i stopped going to the mall in the first place, aside from the brain rot.

C said...

Reading this was a revelation! As a woman who enjoys shopping as a social activity and as a means to new clothing from time to time, I've never quite fathomed people who don't like it. Your description of the physiological and psychological distress you experience while shopping awakened my empathy, and I'm so glad that you had a good experience with your teacher. Have you read Kathy Peiss's work on the beauty industry, or Elaine Abelson's classic, When Ladies Go A-Thieving? Gender and consumer culture are fascinating!

Lomagirl said...

The malll disorients me! Actually, it's telling that I can just say "the mall" and mean most of them in America.
What a wonderful piano teacher.

YourFireAnt said...

Uh oh! She's going to turn you into your daughter. Reverse evolution.

;-)

Wordsmith said...

"I’d need to prepare for with food and drink, perhaps some meditation."
Hilarious post.
Thanks for sharing. Ha!

Sarah said...

Thrift store organization DOES make way more sense! It goes: shirts, organized by size and color; pants, organized by size, type and color; shoes, organized by size; belts all in one place, purses in another. Shazam! Department stores are all wonky. One department store by my house has a sign that says "dresses, third floor," except they keep dresses all over and the third floor seems to be a repository for certain types of dresses only fancy 80s ladies would wear. Confusing as heck, and also why I bought my new year's dress at the local thrift emporium (cheaper, too!).

Rana said...

Department stores (and malls) make a lot more sense when you realize that their layout is deliberately planned to increase the amount of time you spend wandering about in them. If you were able to just walk in, find a shirt within five minutes, buy it, and walk out a couple of minutes after that, they'd lose the opportunity for you to walk past a cute sweater you might buy, a sexy skirt you might buy, a warm soft scarf you might buy, a rakish hat you might buy... you get the idea.

So the solution is to have a specific object in mind before you go into the store, and you ignore everything that isn't that, and you expect to spend time wandering about.

Or you can do what I usually do, which is look at stuff online first, then go to one smaller store, try on whatever it is, and, if it fits and looks okay, buy it and leave. (That's how I got my suit, and it took maybe 5-10 minutes, tops, to see it, try it, and buy it.)

It also gets easier with practice, because you learn that the stuff on the aisles and the displays is more expensive, while the staples and the sale stuff are tucked into the backs and middles of each section. So you just dart into the middle of each section, see if you like anything, and, if not, leave and go to the next. If you can manage a grocery store, you can manage a department store; it's the same principle, only the things for sale are as big as you are.

That said, if it stresses you out, that's what things like Zappos are for. :)

Rana said...

Oh, and each section is usually aimed at a particular style or age group. So if you're a tall trendy young woman, you don't bother with the section meant for older petite women who wear pearls to breakfast, and vice versa.

There is a logic to it, in other words, but it does take time (and desire!) to figure it out.

Rana said...

(Now, if only I could figure out the layout of our local grocery store. I'm still confused by how different kinds of flavored water are in five different aisles, none of which are labeled sufficiently to indicate why.)

jo(e) said...

Rana: That's why I always take a guide with me. It's like going into the jungle with the friend who knows where the venomous snakes are.

jo(e) said...

Rana: Ha! We commented at exactly the same time. Our grocery store is always changing its layout -- hoping to get us to buy new stuff, I suppose -- but I'm there often enough that I notice the changes right away. It also helps that I've shopped at the same grocery store for more than 30 years ....

I buy clothes so seldom that there is no chance of me figuring out department stores or malls.

Sue said...

Wow! I thought I was the only one who breaks out into a cold sweat at the thought of a department store!

I'm so glad you had a compassionate guide for your boot shopping.

Someone asked me last week: "How do always manage to look so put together?" I gave her a blank stare. She said: "Your clothes. They always look so nice."

Ah.

I think it was the "put together" part that confused me. Inside my head is nothing like that... just sayin'....

My response: "My partner shops online and has good taste."

Heaven knows what I would be wearing otherwise....