The Pleasure and the Pain of Shopping in New York


The Pleasure and the Pain of Shopping in New York

Reenactment: How To Discard Your Nice Things On The Dressing Room Floor.
Flat! Flat like a slapjack, flat like the second dimension, flat like your boyfriend's chest!
I'll just die without her, I'll die!

I didn’t move to New York to be a writer. I didn’t move here to work in the fashion industry. I didn’t move here to become a fashion blogger (and I hope to God no one does). I didn’t move here for love because #ew, and I didn’t move here to find the kind of friends I’d never met in college or go to museums too much or buy a plant. Those are all things that happened incidentally.

I moved here to shop.

I say that with a brushstroke of hyperbole, but not a huge one. After all, this is where all the legendary department stores sit (even if they’re all owned by each other now). Here, more than in any place in the U.S., a person buying clothing is trying to communicate something, whether it’s in the couture recesses of Bergdorf’s or the perverse nave of the exotic skin specialty shoe store on Delancey. Nowhere else can Century21, Barney’s, Fivestory, Nepenthes, American Two Shot, Maryam Nassir Zadeh, and that candy-colored streamline Nike store on Mercer all exist on one island.

And unless you’re King Midas or Queen Miroslava, stores are likely the only chance you’ll get to really look at a thing. Look at snaps of Rei Kawakubo’s FW12 coats on the runway and through Tommy Ton’s lens all you please, but without seeing them in person, without examining the stitching and touching the fabric, you can’t understand how brilliant they are, that they really are flat like cartoon characters popping back to life after getting trammeled by a steamroller, huffing out “Why I oughta!” with a whimsical sartorial punch.

And so I shop. I don’t mean I buy, though sometimes I buy. I’m a fashion blogger, but not a Fashion Blogger, so no one’s sending me anything for free, and I have a good job that allows me to shop. But mostly, I look. I study: what does this look like in production? How does that look on a human? What stores are carrying this coat, and which are carrying the jacket version? Where are they putting this skirt, and with what are they merchandising it? How much does that cool runway thing retail for? (Did you know that incredible Tumblr-inspired bonded python Proenza vest you freaked out about from SS12 is $8,964?) Who buys that fur-trimmed swimsuit?  What makes it enjoyable to shop?

And what makes it unbearable?

I’m just a few blocks from my apartment on the Upper East Side, where I live because there is an Ingres at the Met that I must see five days a week or I’ll die, and I’m in a store and it’s fancy. And I do mean fancy. I mean this is a jewel-box of a store, a Faberge Egg of a store, where everything is glass and there’s a big wall made of turtle teeth and all the clothing racks are elephant bones (or did Alexandra Jacobs write that they were made from elephant man’s bones?). Maria Callas wasn’t simply singing and this isn’t merely a store—you get it.

Right now I’m standing by a dressing room—practically loitering, after all these minutes—with a dress made of delicate crepe that’s slashed into pleats. It is $825 marked down from $1075, because it’s a few days’ yawn into January, and I fully intend to buy it. I’ve seen it online on sale for less, but I prefer to receive my expensive purchases in a glossy bag, rather than a cardboard box like a severed hand from a serial killer.

I’d have no problem showing myself into the dressing room, only it’s locked, as they so often are (women haven’t won all their liberties yet, I suppose). I know there are women working there—two, who cooed brief “helloooo’s” blessed with vocal-fry before returning to scintillating textual experiences. It was hard not to take their apathy personally, not to think their terseness meant I didn’t look like someone who would or could buy something. Especially since I’ve been to this store before and like, bought stuff. And I think I generally look like a respectable, stylish, well-heeled human when shopping.

I’d tried to shake it off, but now their salutation smarts even more as I wander in search of them. Finally, one emerges from behind a curtain like a birthday party magician. “Oh, did you want to try that on?” she says, as if I may no longer want to. (She could be right.) I tell her sure, and with a flick of the key that takes all of three seconds, I’m in.

Of course, the thing is a size too big, so I poke my head outside the door, but she’s already returned to the back room, and waiting for her to ask how I’m doing seems moot. Getting it myself means putting on my Kelly Wearstler jeans and my Mark McNairy t-shirt and my J. Crew Collection Cashmere Popover and my Ede & Ravenscroft men’s scarf and my lace-up Ann Demeulemeester combat boots and taking my Chloe bag with me (who knows what black hand lurks in boutique dressing rooms) and then getting undressed again. Plus MacGyvering the door open with hangers and maybe gum. And if I’m already dressed…

The knife that jabbed into my pride earlier has been twisted, and I slink out the door like Charlie Brown at Christmas. (I suppose I could compare it to a bad date with a promising guy, but I detest the conceit that any issue in a woman’s life merits a dating analogy.)

I’m not a socialite or a celebrity or a Park Avenue hostess; I don’t need to be worshiped when I go in a store. But I do want to be romanced. I want to be delighted. I understand working retail can feel like the least fun thing in the world, but when I’m preparing to spoon over some cash, I at least want to feel welcome.

It’s nearly 8, so Barney’s and everything else is closed. The day is a shopping wash. I hate to admit it, but I suppose the internet is still open.