Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society. — Mark Twain
"Jane’s waiting for me downstairs. I’ll see you in a few hours,” I said, kissing David on each cheek.
David pulled back and gave me his serious face. “Just…be careful,” he said.
“I don’t know what you’re so worried about. It’s going to be fine.”
“I’m not so sure about that. Last time you went shopping with friends, you came home with something brown.”
“First of all, Jane is more than a friend: she’s my sister. Secondly, she feels the same way you do about brown. And she’s way up on the latest fashions.”
“That’s what scares me,” David said. I laughed and rolled my eyes. For a guy whose go-to uniform comprises jeans and a plain black T-shirt, my man is awfully attentive to the aesthetics of others’ attire. I suspect David inherited his affinity for elegance and simplicity from his grandmother, who owned a designer-clothing boutique in Chestnut Hill, a ritzy area he describes as the “Del Mar of Philadelphia.”
“Don’t worry, Posh, I promise not to buy anything Britney might wear.” I smiled to let him know I wasn’t miffed by his lack of faith in my fashion sense and then disappeared out the door.
Jane had been campaigning to go shopping with me for the better part of a year. She had once worked at Nordstrom, in a position that was the culmination of a clothing-centric calling that began when she was in high school. At Nordstrom, Jane had accumulated clients for whom she was a personal shopper. She wanted to be a buyer for the store, responsible for choosing the designs featured in every department. But she ended up in the pharmaceutical industry, even though her passion is, was, and always will be, for fashion.
Jane has — on several occasions and with no subtlety — suggested I check out a show called What Not to Wear. “Not because you don’t dress well,” she insists, “but because they make people stretch their comfort zones and try things they wouldn’t usually go for.” Apparently, my wardrobe restrictions (i.e., no ruffles, patterns, or bling, etc.) are, in Jane’s opinion, way too limiting.
Jane was so excited when we got to the mall, you would have thought she was the one who was about to dust off an old credit card to stock up on new threads. In each store we entered, she ransacked the racks with the precision of a SWAT team extracting hostages. Once I was in a dressing room with more hangers than could fit on the hooks, Jane served as my runner, collecting my spurned items, retrieving alternate sizes, and proffering more options from the other side of the door. So efficient was she, a continuous stream of other shoppers mistook her for an employee. From within my mirrored box, I kept hearing her say, “I’m sorry, I don’t actually work here.”
In exchange for Jane’s help, I made one major concession, and that was to be open-minded. She pushed me to try on all sorts of frilly tops — blouses with ruffle-y bits hanging off the front or long, flowing sleeves. I humored her but rejected anything I knew would make David flinch. In a bid to earn my trust (and David’s), Jane abstained from patterns and pastels.
After an hour of Jane throwing clothes at me, I settled on a pair of dark blue jeans and a dusty-olive-colored jacket. On a whim, Jane selected a red-sequined top that, to both of our surprise, we loved. I collected my “yeses” and was heading toward the checkout counter when Jane stopped me.
“You have to try this on,” she said, already exchanging the pile in my arms for the two pieces she’d just found.
“Are you kidding me? Jane, this is a tracksuit.”
“No, it’s a sweatshirt and sweatpants, and it’s made by Seven7.” She showed me the label. “You can’t always wear a black button-down; you need stuff for all occasions. Every woman needs an outfit like this — it’s so comfortable, and this one is cute. Look at those rhinestones and that cool velour detail.”
“You’re not selling me,” I said. She pushed the clothes further into my arms and gave me a look. “Fine, I’ll try it on. Then we go.”
A minute later, I opened the dressing-room door, wearing the black sweatpants and matching sweatshirt. “Oh, my God, this is so comfortable. And I kind of like the way it looks on me,” I said. “But I couldn’t possibly... I mean, it’s a tracksuit. David would have a conniption.”
“It’s actually really flattering on you,” Jane said.
“It’s more comfortable than my robe. This could be for, like, watching movies, cuddling up, and organizing stuff around the house. I don’t own anything like this.”
Jane nodded. “You need this,” she said. “There are some things that our men will not like but that we get anyway because we like it. Simon doesn’t care for my new business suit, but I feel good in it, so I wear it anyway.”
“Yeah, but I bet Simon doesn’t sigh and shake his head the way David does when he doesn’t like something,” I said. “Doesn’t matter. I’m sold. This is going in the ‘yes’ pile.” Jane beamed all the way to the register.
Once home, I saved the tracksuit for last as I modeled my purchases for David. He, too, liked the red-sequined top once he saw it on me. For a while, David had a look on his face that stated, “Maybe I was wrong about Jane.” That was until I pulled the tracksuit out of the bag.
David reacted to the sweats the same way my father had reacted when, as a teenager, I came home one day with a pierced tongue. He hung his head and seemed to wonder where he’d gone wrong. “You are not bringing that on our trip,” David said. (We were two days away from packing to leave for Washington, DC.)
“Come on, it’s cute and casual. And it’s not like it’s velour or nylon: this is normal, cottony cloth.”
“You are not bringing that on our trip,” David repeated.
“What about the sweatshirt? It looks good with these new jeans,” I said.
“Actually, yeah, it does. You can bring that and wear it as a very casual outfit. But not the pants.”
“Why’s the top okay but not the bottom?”
“The same reason it’s not okay to wear flip-flops to a nice restaurant,” David said. “It’s the gateway outfit — one day, you’re trying on a tracksuit and the next thing you know, you’re auditioning for The Real Housewives of Hillcrest.” I crossed my arms in front of me and huffed. Smiling, David added, “Next time, I’m going with you.”