Shopping At American Apparel
I bought a pair of ridiculous pants and they are the ridiculous pants of my dreams. They are very tight with great stretch and the sort of shine that shines late at night, which is the time of day they should be worn.
In the store, I began comparing pairs of patterned tights wondering which design would tear less easily when the short, sprite sales rep came up to me and asked what sort of bandeau I would wear underneath the sheer white blouse I held in my hand. It was the sort of shirt that I own in ridiculous quantity: chiffon-y, or silky. They always have a lovely feel to the touch, a softness that I wish would translate to my personality or the lines of my limbs. I wear the blouses because they represent the same thing that my first couch or my home-cooked meals do: sophistication, maturity, a “grown-up” life.
But this time the top was also a cop-out. It was more than I would normally spend. It was a recreation of what I love to find at the vintage stores and sales that I venture to from week to week throughout the city. It was not real. It lacked in authenticity. It was a lovely that was not my own. It was a lovely that a lot of other women across the country would wear and think nothing else of as they go about the things that frame their day.
So this associate recommended skirts that were nothing special. I had avoided them earlier. I was familiar with their shape, how they would hit at my waist or hips at the exact wrong place, creating these fabric bubbles that looked like the pregnancy I can’t imagine myself having. And then he recommended these pants that were high-waisted and thin, and skinny in shape. They would fit like a glove, a very tight and very tiny glove. They were the pants I had always dreamed of, meaning so ugly that they could only work on a body like mine or with a fashion sense like mine. And, in my mind, they would be my pants. They would be so weird that only I could understand them. They would be the other part of me, a second half that I didn’t realize I was missing.
He put me in the dressing room that was well-lit, meaning not that lit at all. It was small and dark and cramped, but I appreciated the fact that this was the sort of space that made a girl feel good about herself. The other ones were located upstairs. I had been in them earlier in the day, spending more time examining the pores of my skin and adjusting the straps of my too small bra than actually trying on clothes.
The fitting room should be a place of celebration. I have never bought an item of clothing that didn’t warrant a celebration in the dressing room. I celebrate for the perfection of the fabric, the way the lines fall along my long arms and bigger breasts and thicker hips. I celebrate for the future moments that I see happening in compliment to the blouse, the skirt, the cropped top. I celebrate because it’s mine.
This sounds greedy or self-centered, but hear me out. Don’t go to Forever 21 or H&M. Buy less. But buy what you want to cherish. Buy what matters to you. Buy things that will last, that you can wear all the time. Or don’t buy at all. But if you’re like me and you sometimes find yourself at sales or in stores, buy with concern. Don’t buy recklessly. Don’t buy because it’s there. Don’t buy just to buy.
“These are ridiculous,” I said.
The freedom of the past five years has been intoxicating. I think about the jeans I used to try to wear and how they never fit quite right. I think about the labels that said much of nothing. I remember how I purchased a $100 pair of jeans and I think about what it means that they tore on their first day out of the Marshall Field’s store.
Someone recently asked me how I thought urban fashion had changed within the past 5 years and I didn’t answer because I didn’t know what to say. Now I do. Urban fashion has changed in that the uniform is not as concrete as it has been or probably ever will be. Meaning: there is a freedom to urban fashion and style that I never felt before as a teenager or as a college student or as a black person in a city where the black people are more community-oriented, more us vs. them-oriented, more This is What it Means to be Black-oriented.
People at work used to say that I dressed up everyday, but my clothes were not professional. Sometimes my shirts were crinkled. Sometimes my tights were torn. Frequently, I wore pairs of shorts that without tights would make me feel exposed and unfortunately vulnerable in the way that only develops in the early moments of summer. What they meant, I think, was that I dressed for myself. I dressed for me. I like what I like and that is that: a high-waist, a soft blouse, and those one or two items so strange that only a few relish in their beautiful-ugly.
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If you’ve been looking for a chance to say something then this very well could be it.
I wish to God I’d had a list like this when I was 23.
Answer phones better than anyone else has answered phones before. Relay messages so brilliant, they bring people to tears. Turn the coffee run into the choreography of Swan Lake. Become best friends with every intern and every underling and every taxi driver you encounter.
I remember taking the pen and notebook from that woman outside the courtroom, flipping to a clean page in the book, and writing, JESSICA IS SAD in big, bold, uncoordinated letters. “My sister is going to be a good writer someday! Look at how nice her lines are!”