Shop-o-Rama

I have fallen prey to the siren song of the discount, the ever-present lure of a bargain. Yes, I have started shopping at Costco. It’s worlds away from regular, everyday shopping, and I like it.

And why not? It’s a land of wonderment, where you can buy gallon jugs of olive oil, rice by the barrel, car tires, tube socks, books, and cakes that are layered in so much chocolate it would make Willy Wonka blush. I bought an enormous jug of laundry detergent for about $9 and six months later, I’m still using it. I got a package of paper towels that I had to lash to a dolly. I almost bought a package of 64 pairs of underwear, but I decided that was too much pressure.

It really is a hopeful place, when you get right down to it. Buying in volume is like saying “YES” to your life – “Yes! I will live to finish that six pounds of coffee! Yes! I will have canned peaches until the END OF TIME! Take your single-serving pouch of tuna and BITE ME!” (You’ll want to twirl down the aisles and possibly toss your hat in the air like a crazed Mary Tyler Moore. Resist the urge.)

You can spot the newbies right away. They’re the ones picking up two-pound cans of Chicken Noodle Soup and going, “Oooohhh…” They’re the ones looking at a three-pack of barbecue sauce and saying, “Now who in their right mind would buy this much?” But they’re also the ones who wind up at the check-out with six of those three-packs so you know the conversion happened somewhere, probably in the wine department. (The store is big on samples.) I imagine one of those new shoppers sitting on their kitchen floor about three hours later, weeping, surrounded by boxes of Popsicles, toothpaste and paper plates that are so big you could lose a toddler in them and thinking, “It’s all just too much…” Even in bulk, one must practice moderation.

It sure beats clothes shopping, as far as I’m concerned. Buying big at Costco is encouraged. Buying big in clothing stores, not so much. I have an upper limit of about twenty minutes for clothes shopping. It’s not a matter of not knowing what I’m looking for. I’ve been reading fashion magazines since 1977; I’m aware of what skirt goes with what blouse. When you’re not a Size 6, though, it can be discouraging. You walk from rack to rack, pulling pieces to look at.

“The vertical stripes on this sweater look like a landing strip. I’ll have planes circling, waiting for clearance.”

“If I wear this blouse, my boobs will look like they have their own ZIP Code. They’re there. We’re aware. We don’t need to announce them.”

“These jeans might as well have a bull’s eye painted on the ass.”

And if I’m actually able to find things in my size that don’t have cutsie sayings or pictures of cows on them, trying them on is, well, trying. Personally, I think the government should forget about water boarding. Trying on clothes in a cramped dressing room, with a mirror the store probably salvaged from a carnival, under those not-entirely-flattering lights (the heat lamps at McDonald’s would be a better choice), is a real and common form of torture. I’m serious. After three outfits the terrorists would be in tears.

If I find pants that fit in the waist, I guarantee they’ll be five inches too long. (I never understood this. They’re supposed to be “average length.” I’m 5’7”– who in the hell are they designing for?) If they are the right length, I have to practically lie on the floor to get them zipped. This, invariably, is when the sales person comes to check on me, and I’m sure she’s quite alarmed when my muffled response comes from about five feet lower than where she expected it.

“How are you doing in there?” she says, brightly.

“As God as my witness, I’m never shopping again. From now on, I’m wearing a nylon tent everywhere. Oh, I hate my liiiiiiffffeeee…”

“Do you need another size?”

“I need a cupcake. Back off.”

“All righty, my name is Sandy, if you need anything, let me know!”

“Thanks, Sandy. I’ve got my therapist on speed dial. I’ll keep you posted.”

I walked out of that store with a pair of socks and a sour disposition. It was not a successful venture.

I have been doing quite a bit of shopping online, which allows me to do the whole retail self-loathing bit in the privacy of my own bedroom. Unfortunately, if something doesn’t fit, you have to do the “shopping walk of shame” to return it. It’s gotten to the point where the kid at the UPS store has started to recognize me.

“No luck this time?” he asks.

“No, they’re weren’t ‘me.’”

“You got the capri pants, didn’t you? It’s a tough look to pull off, you know.”

That’s a lot of smugness coming from a seventeen-year-old wearing a nametag and a Batman belt buckle.

I have to work up the courage to shop for clothes, because it’s a necessary evil. It is also a solitary activity, because all my friends are slim and fit, and, bless their hearts, they don’t always understand that it’s hard to find things when you’re shaped like a Hershey’s Kiss, and when I’m trying on the sixth little black dress that looks like it’s designed by The House of Old Ladies, it’s not terribly encouraging to hear, “Oh, that’s….cuuuuute….” However, when I shop with a buddy we usually wind up with hot pretzels or vanilla lattes afterwards, so it’s not a total loss.

I’ll keep shopping at Costco, though, and enjoying my box of 600 garbage bags. They fit the can, they’re always in style, and they have cute little twist ties. That’s fun. And I may go back and get that 64-pack of underpants after all. Life’s a party.

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Gypsies, Pants and Sleeves (with apologies to Cher)

I’ve been thinking about outfits lately. Not mine, necessarily, but the fashion choices of the world at large. A typical mall walk will produce some cringe-worthy looks, but I think it’s particularly interesting when it happens to famous people. Maybe it’s jealousy, maybe it’s insecurity, but I would guess that many of us secretly love it when celebrities’ ensembles figuratively crash and burn. The word “schadenfreude” means “to take pleasure in the misfortune of others.” Doesn’t quite apply to fashion, though. I think we need to make up a word that describes the secret delight that comes from watching how the mighty have fallen hemlines.

How about “schadenfrock?”

Yes, schadenfrock. To take pleasure in the baffling, wackadoodle fashion choices of others.

To be fair, fashion can be confusing. One moment it’s A-line mini skirts; the next minute it’s maxi-dresses and gladiator sandals. It’s almost enough to send one running to the home shopping channel to buy coordinating, bedazzled mock turtleneck/knit pant ensembles (of which I may or may not have three.) It can be tough out there. And while I’m no fashionista, I have been reading Vogue since I was a kid so I at least have a basic idea of who the major designers are and how to add accessories to change a look from day to night, which apparently is very important because God forbid one should wear their daytime earrings after 6:00 PM.

We all seem to have an opinion on fashion. For some, it’s “Eh, it’s clean and kind of matches;” to others, “I worship at the altar of Project Runway.” The majority of us fall somewhere in between, but I would hazard a guess that most of us – at least the female most of us – feel a secret glee when others make bad choices. Especially when it comes to celebrities, when we figuratively poke each other in the ribs and whisper, “Isn’t that dreadful?”  I love to look at the pretty dresses, but secretly I live for the “Worst Dressed” lists. Weird necklines, tops that don’t fit, spatula-applied makeup, ill-advised sequins, bad hair extensions – all are met with a rousing chorus of, “Was her stylist high?”

It’s really getting out of hand for some celebrities. As my friend Nadine remarked, “It’s like they’re trying to sartorially out-weird each other.” For example, Nikki Minaj once showed up at an awards show wearing what looked like pink and white sausages on her hair-do, silver origami on her bust, a plush-toy purse, an art-deco SARS mask and what appeared to be a tourniquet on her leg. (She’s since toned it down a bit, disappointingly.) Katy Perry appeared at the same show wearing what I’m reasonably certain was a wedge of cheddar on her head. I think Lady Gaga once wore the kid from “Stranger Things” as a poncho. (He’s fine.) Now, I know these outfits border on being less fashion and more costume, but I still would have liked to have been in the production meeting that produced these ideas. (“I want you to embody space unicorn chic. With a touch of ennui.”)  I also know that they have a little more leeway at this event than at others – what wouldn’t fly at the top movie award show is perfectly acceptable at the Awards For Films On That Channel That Used to Play Videos But Now Not So Much. But still, I can’t help but think that somehow, somewhere, the 1980’s versions of Cher, Boy George and Cyndi Lauper are looking at these outfit choices and thinking, “You know, it’s really all a bit much…”

Unless you’re Cher. Then totally be Cher. She could wear a space unicorn and OWN IT.

Mere mortals are vulnerable to bad choices as well. We see it every day. Most women, at one time or another, have greeted a friend fresh from the salon with a rousing, “You look great!” only to think to themselves, “Oh my good Lord, what DID she do?” and follow up with a tiny, slightly guilty, silent chuckle. Everyone has their opinions about what looks good, but I’m going to make a declarative statement: Leggings. They are a clear and present danger, and they must be stopped. The only women on whom these look good are the ones who are six feet tall and weigh about three pounds. But sadly, it’s never those women who I see wearing them. It’s usually women who, bless their hearts, are trying to not wear sweatpants everywhere but really don’t have the asses to truly pull off this look. They either pair it with a t-shirt that is too short, spotlighting the offending area, or try to balance it with a too-oversized top that makes them look like they’re wearing a dress and their legs are really, really cold. (Full disclosure: I count myself among those who should not be wearing butt-spotlighting pants. If I could get away with wearing a sandwich board to hide that area, I totally would.)  Leggings are the cousin to the stirrup pant, which was popular during my college years. All those did was give you cankles. And if they were even a smidge too short you spent your whole day hiking them up. Not attractive. I also take issues with low-rise jeans, which tend to show more of the underpanties than I want to see, and so-called “skinny jeans,” which are, sadly, often worn by folks who are anything but.

Now, there is a solution to the tight trouser situation. Our grandmothers called them “girdles” or “foundation garments,” but most of us know them by their new, monosyllabic modern moniker: Spanx. (Let us all bow our head in thanks.) While Spanx might be a necessity, and definitely help one’s figure, they should, quite frankly, be classified as a torture device. They hold in the fat in the tush area, but the concept of displacement is quite clear and you know that the fat has to go somewhere. Sure, your bottom half looks great but your top half might look like you play offensive tackle for the Bears. I’ve even heard of women doubling up on their Spanx, but I wouldn’t dare try that because I’d be afraid that if I sat down I’d be in danger of farting out of my nose.

There’s something to be said for dressing one’s age. I know some people find a look that they like and lock into it for the next thirty years. (It’s worked for The Queen.) But some try to walk that fine edge between hip and, “Oh, honey, no.” I used to work with a middle-aged woman who wore jeans that had big crowns on the back pockets. Crowns, like cartoon royalty would wear. I’m trying to get behind the thought process that went into purchasing, much less wearing, pants with crowns on the butt. Most women of a certain age try to downplay that area. She practically pointed it out to you. I guess that takes a certain level of moxy. But really, why crowns? Does she think, perhaps, that her ass rules? That she is the Empress of Heineytown?

Or the Tsarina of Tuchasville. I haven’t decided which one I like better.

By the way, she was the kind of person who, if you almost bumped into her and then said, “Excuse me,” didn’t even acknowledge your existence. She just kept on walking. That’s a rather high-falutin’ attitude. Perhaps her ass went to her head.

So, all in all, fashion is a game. Sometimes it’s a game of risk, and sometimes it’s a highly planned operation. We all want to look our best, and some of us try a little harder than others. But I would wager that even the most fashion-challenged of us remember a time when we looked really, really good. For me, I’m still proud of the dress I wore to my senior prom – pink lace, dropped waist, tea length and so, so pretty. But we also remember the bad looks too – I once had an unfortunate run-in with a pair of palazzo pants, as well as an experiment with the “smoky eye” that went horribly awry. Most days, though, I stick to a few rules: No orange and black together, even on Halloween. (It makes me look like a five foot seven inch candy corn.)  No sweaters with ducks on them. (Except those three bought on HSN after a touch too much chardonnay.) Avoid the muffin top at all costs. Other than that, I try to relax about it. Life’s too short for tight pants.

And remember – if you wear cheese on your head, you’re asking for a little schadenfrock.

Commercial Fatigue

Just saw an ad that promised to remedy “fatigued skin.” What the hell is fatigued skin?

“Gee, Stan, I’d love to go out with you but my dermis is pooped ”

“I’m sorry I’m late. My skin overslept.”

“My skin is so fatigued. I need another cup of coffee…poured over my head.”

What’s next? Trite hair? Jejeune fingernails? Exasperated eyelashes?

Goop, Schmoop

I seem to have a growing irritation with all things Gwyneth Paltrow. I think she’s a decent enough actress — that isn’t my issue. I think it’s her declarative statements about how she’s just a normal gal, and her recent self-positioning as a “lifestyle guru” that have me a bit irked. (She also considers herself a nice Jewish girl, and while I appreciate the shout-out, when your mother is the ultimate shiksa goddess you really can’t claim to be of the tribe. Well, I guess you can, but we don’t have to claim her back.)

One day I decided to visit her website, just to see if it was as “out there” as I had heard. Turns out that it’s full of super down-to-earth, helpful hints. For example, do you find yourself wondering what to wear this season? Gwyneth has it in the bag:

“The ubiquitous sailor stripe is not going anywhere.”

Well, thank G-d.

“Big bold stripes in jarring colors are the way to go, and the really daring will wear stripes with other stripes, patterns and lots of color.”

I don’t really think I want to look like a circus clown on speed, thank you very much.

“P.S., get on this trend right away, because NEXT season is all about the polka dot!”

You know, I think I’ll ride this current trend out. That’s a lot of pressure.  I need to rest up for the polka dot, which apparently will be the entire focal point of our collective existence.

“Worn by day, the long skirt—whether full or pleated—is completely at ease anywhere. I like to see this silhouette paired with flats; the juxtaposition of the two make it a more casual and languid look. Wear with an oversized blazer, a belted cardigan or even a bomber jacket to complete the look.”

First of all, I don’t think I’ve ever looked languid in my life. I wouldn’t know where to begin. Also, you need to weigh about three pounds to pull off this look. The rest of us would look like bag ladies.

“The Best Accessory: A smile! Just remember, you are never fully dressed without a smile!”

This is not helpful. I think if I were smiling while wearing a long skirt, oversized blazer with jarring colors and big stripes, I’d be committed.

By the way, in another area of her site, she also offers a nice gift suggestion: a $52.50 flyswatter. (I am not making that up.)

I think if she just owned up to the fact that she has had an extremely privileged life and basically has had her career handed to her, I wouldn’t be as annoyed. But no, she is trying to be an Everywoman, who has worked so hard to earn everything she has, and true, while she is married to a rock star and is besties with Madonna, she really understands what the rest of us need to live our best lives.

I speak only for myself, but I can’t take advice from this woman. I am single, eat compulsively, I have a cat who yells at me,  and I have days where I’m just grateful my socks match and I haven’t spilled coffee down my front.

I should write my own lifestyle guide. It would be about a paragraph long, and would contain pearls such as:

  • This season is all about clean clothes. Do your laundry occasionally. Stripes? Paisley pashminas? Feh. Just try not to look homeless.
  • Please microwave your leftover veggie burger before eating it standing over the sink. It is not a burgsicle. While you are waiting, pour some wine in your coffee mug, but let it breathe. Or just blow on it. It’s a $8 bottle of pinot from Trader Joe’s, for Pete’s sake.
  • Need a last minute gift? Forget the French boutiques. Try rifling through your closet for that pen set someone gave you two years ago, throw it in a gift bag, and hope to G-d the recipient isn’t the person who originally gave it to you.

I think it would be a best seller. At least my Mom would buy it.