Yesterday, my daughter, Lindsey, left to study in Spain for a year. I’ll miss her every minute of every day. But the thing I’ll miss most is the time we spend together in clothing store dressing rooms. An essay about one of our trips:
My sixteen-year-old daughter, Lindsey, has agreed to help me find jeans nice enough to wear to work. This mission has led us to downtown Boston.
When I try to enter Anne Taylor at the Prudential Center, Lindsey stops me. “Step away from the frumpy beige cardigans,” she orders with the delicacy of a drill sergeant. Lindsey wants to keep me on task. As a typical teenage girl, Lindsey doesn’t want to enter a store she views as having nothing for her. I don’t like it, but I obey. I know I’m lucky that my teenager has agreed to spend time with me at all. Plus, I’m afraid that if I don’t listen, she might demand that I do pushups in the middle of the mall—right in front of everyone from the well-heeled housewives perusing throw pillows at Pottery Barn to the geeks fondling accessories in the Apple store.
Lindsey escorts me into Free People, which is one of her favorite stores. Inside, we are surrounded by flowing garments designed for modern-day flower children. Lindsey acts as though she’s just arrived at her home planet while I feel awkward. I inhale wool and cotton and try to relax. But against the backdrop of long sweaters with funky wide sleeves meant to be worn with leggings, I look like what I am—the mother of someone who fits the store’s target demographic. I do not belong. Lindsey, on the other hand, is their dream customer—petite with the kind of curves that would look good wearing a mail sack—or even a mailbox.
“What about these?” Lindsey asks, waving a pair of jeans with extremely wide bell bottoms. I assess the jeans and nod. I don’t want Lindsey to feel like I don’t appreciate her effort, but I know these jeans won’t work for me. I picture myself wearing them as I walk across our living room, the bottoms swinging from side-to-side like church bells—picking up lint and cat hair as I move across the room.
“I guess I could try them on,” I say.
Lindsey smiles, then selects a flower print sun dress with tiers of ruffles and just a bit of lace trim for herself.
A waif-like sales girl approaches. “Can I start a dressing room?” she asks.
Lindsey hands her the sundress and I hand her the jeans. “Can you put everything in the same dressing room?” Lindsey asks.
My heart melts and I stifle a smile. Lindsey is going to allow me to try on clothes with her! For the few minutes while we are in the dressing room, I will have Lindsey’s undivided attention. These are the moments that mothers of teenage girls dream about.
Lindsey pulls back the fifteen-foot-tall, yellow tassle-trimmed, purple velvet curtain that serves as the door to the dressing room. Inside, the walls are papered with a pink and yellow fleur-de-lis pattern. It is almost Disneyesque in its theme saturation.
I try on the jeans Lindsey has selected for me, but they are a definite no-go. Bell bottoms aside, they squish my sagging behind upward—in an unsuccessful attempt to lift it back to where it sat thirty years ago. Once again, I am reminded that gravity is a harsh and persistent foe.
Meanwhile, the sundress looks great on Lindsey. So great that it makes me want to cry. I am overwhelmed with amazement that someone this beautiful and perfect could be the result of the combination of her father’s and my incredibly ordinary gene pool.
“Will you buy this for me?” she asks.
I want to scream, “Yes! yes! yes!” But I hold back. Lindsey receives a generous monthly allowance that is supposed to cover her clothing purchases but she would much rather spend my money than her own. I flip over the price tag. The dress is one-hundred and ninety-eight dollars. “You have your own money,” I say. Lindsey is disappointed, but not disappointed enough to pull out her own wallet. We leave the store without the dress.
At Lindsey’s suggestion, our next stop is the junior department at Saks Fifth Avenue. Lindsey’s shoulder-length brown hair flies and her eyes glow like the Terminator as she leads me through a throng of skinny girls with no behinds trying on tiny Alice+Olivia party dresses. Lindsey amasses a pile of jeans for me to try on. Hudson, J Brand, Seven for All Mankind—all brands so cool that I’ve never heard of any of them (I haven’t been up on hip jeans since Guess was big).
A well-groomed twenty-something guy named Royce introduces himself and offers to start a dressing room. Royce wears slim black pants, a white shirt, a touch of mascara, and a baby-sized gold hoop earring. Shopping euphoria overcomes me as Lindsey and I follow Royce’s tiny derriere. He unlocks a wooden door at the end of the hall, piles my jeans on a square table adjacent to the three-way mirror, and tosses his head. “I’ll be back to see if you need another size or anything,” he says. A glance toward Lindsey confirms that she is as excited as I am.
Lindsey and I both giggle. She grabs a pair of Citizens of Humanity jeans and wiggles into them. She poses hands-on-hips in front of the three way mirror, tilts her head down and turns her eyes up. “What do you think?” she says.
It’s a perfect fit. Lindsey glows. “You’re beautiful and the jeans look good too,” I say.
I dive into my stash, attacking the pile top-to-bottom. Unfortunately, I learn quickly that trendy jeans are not my friends. They make me feel conspicuous and ridiculous. I am a Chihuahua wearing a red satin jacket with its nails painted to match. Although some of the pairs fit, the waists are too low for me. I’m just not comfortable having a breeze blowing down my butt crack.
Worn by a teen, these pants defy gravity. On me, even the pairs that fit comfortably slide down my hips when I walk. I know a teenage girl has a different body shape than a forty-something woman, but how anyone keeps these low-rise jeans hovering is a mystery to me (It occurs to me that I can’t keep a hula-hoop up either. Perhaps the two skills are related). The next size smaller stays up, but pushes the loose skin on my stomach into a paunch that protrudes over the pants. The crotch is so snug that I would have to re-adjust myself as often as a baseball player just to make it down the stairs.
“You look great,” Lindsey said, eyeing me as though I were a craft project she’d spent hours creating. She grins with pleasure. I fight back a tear and resisted the urge to hug her, which would probably be pushing the bonding thing a bit too far. I don’t want to ruin the mood.
Now I face a dilemma. I want to like the jeans because I want to like what Lindsey likes. But the jeans are just too tight. I decide to go with honesty.
“I feel like a sausage about to burst out of its casing,” I say.
Lindsey rolls her eyes. “That’s the way they’re supposed to fit.”
Determined to succeed, Lindsey asks Royce to deliver more styles. Boot cut, skinny, flare, straight, ultra low rise, boyfriend—I try them all, basking in my daughter’s attention. After rejecting a dozen or so pairs of jeans, I find one that isn’t too bad. Not unbelievably comfortable, but no roll in the front and no draft whistling through theGrand Canyon.
Then I see the price. One-hundred and ninety-eight dollars.
I feel woozy. The room spins. The most I’ve ever spent on jeans was eighty-nine dollars, and that was a special treat I justified by wearing those jeans four days a week for the following three years. The thought of spending twice that on a single pair of jeans evokes a memory of my mother with that serious look she gets when she’s trying not to look judgmental—the look that makes her look even more judgmental.
Don’t I deserve this? I wonder. A couple of time I’ve purchased jeans that cost this much for Lindsey. But now that the jeans are for me, the answer is a resounding NO. There are so many other ways to spend two-hundred dollars: Six pairs of jeans at Old Navy, two bags of groceries at Whole foods, or enough mini M&Ms to wallpaper my entire house.
“I am sure we can find a pair that is just as good for less money,” I tell Lindsey.
Lindsey looks disappointed. Then the glow returns to her eyes. “I have one more idea,” she says.
Lindsey leads me up Newbury Street to a store called Second Time Around. “Resale goes upscale,” says the sign.
As we peruse the racks of clothes, I recognize familiar brands—Ralph Lauren, Theory. Not that I own any of them, but I know that each of them usually comes with a fairly hefty price tag. This place is fabulous. It’s like the USA Network for barely worn but good quality clothes.
At the jeans rack, I find a pair of those same two-hundred dollar jeans. Here they only cost forty dollars. Much more affordable, and they fit even better: the previous owner has pre-stretched the butt for me. Lindsey accompanies me into the dressing room. When I put the jeans on, I feel taller, smarter, younger and better looking—they are perfect for work.
Lindsey nods with approval, which makes me feel even better. “They look great. Are you gonna get them?” Lindsey asks.
I hesitate. Of course I want the jeans. But more than that, I want my day with my daughter to continue. As soon as I whip out my credit card, we’ll head home and our dressing room intimacy will be over.
I shrug my shoulders. “I don’t know,” I tell her.
“Well hurry up, and decide. I want to go back to Free People and look at that dress again,” she says.
The mention of Free People makes me grimace. Just as Lindsey has a limited capacity for stores like Ann Taylor that have nothing for her, I am not in the mood for more giant bell bottoms and the free-form sweaters. But then I remember the up side. There is plenty of room in that dressing room for a girl’s mother to come in too. Even if it does look like something out of Toontown.
“I think you should try the sundress on again,” I say.
“Will you pay for it?” Lindsey asks. She knows she’s got me.
I smile and pay for my new jeans. “Maybe,” I say.