Terror In the Designer Racks

By Dena Harris

I had no sooner stepped on the plush peach carpet before I was greeted with hostility and suspicion. That’s how you know you’re in the really expensive designer stores.

"May I help you?" asked an impeccably dressed salesman I immediately nicknamed Enrique. He slid from behind his polished glass counter to intercept me, the look on his face indicating he saw right through my Anne Taylor Loft outfit to the hard truth that I didn’t have a fashion bone in my body. His tone of suffering boredom let me know he thought his question mute.I was beyond help.

My instinct was to flee. Unfortunately, I was in a bit of a bind. The romantic Alaskan cruise ship my husband and I had booked left in a week and I’d put off shopping for formal wear. As the closest thing to a formal gown currently hanging in my closet was last Halloween’s Elvira Queen-of-the-Night outfit, I either had to find a dress or resign myself to sneaking plates of food from the midnight buffet table back to my cabin on formal night.

To me, shopping is a form of torture. It’s only with the greatest of self-control, for example, that I prevent myself from marching up to store clerks as they chat into tiny headsets, yank the apparatus off their heads and shout at them to go home, read a book without pictures, and get over themselves.

Of course, chain stores in their bland homogeny still rate higher in my book than snooty up-scale shops, like the one I’d just stepped into. I like to blend in, disappear, when I shop. Really nice stores don’t allow this as they train staff not only to serve the clientele, but really to stalk them.

My snooty salesperson stood an intimidating two feet behind me and stared with glowering eyes as I pushed through racks of designer dresses, trying not to look desperate as I searched for anything over a size 6. Whenever I pulled out a dress, he pounced.

"Shall I place that in the changing area for you?" The sneer in his voice indicated his opinion of my selection.

"Um, no, thanks, just looking," I muttered, shoving the dress back on the rack and darting to the other side of the store.

With a deep sigh Enrique pulled the dress back out, straightened it on its hanger, and with tight lips replaced the gown in its proper location—two spots to the left from where I’d returned it. He never once stopped glaring at me.

For all his airs, Enrique was a bundle of laughs compared to the German terror he sent in the dressing room with me. First of all, no one even asked if she could join me there. I was bare-chested and standing in faded cotton panties when the Fuhrer’s mother walked in and gave me a once over.

She gave a heavy sigh and muttered something in German. I think it was either a prayer or an explicative. Maybe a combination of the two.

I assumed she was there to help lift the weighty beaded gowns over my head. But no, she stood in one corner and watched me struggle with criss-cross straps that ended up criss-crossing my breasts instead of my back. When I finally had the first gown on she stepped forward like a stern schoolmaster.

"You are not wearing the correct underwear for this dress." She reached out and pinched my stomach. "You need a girdle. We do not sell them here but you may find one at JC Penny’s. They have a wide selection of such things." A satisfied smirk passed over her sunken face. "But you will get no service."

She whipped out a tape measure and started yanking, none too kindly, on straps and bodices, until she had me pinned up tight as a diaper.

"Ready in two weeks. You will come back then."

I looked at myself in the mirror, a nightmare in satin and chiffon. Frau Terror was winding her tape measure and viciously stabbing pins into her blood-red tomato wrist pincushion.

"Um, I might look around a bit more before I decide..."

My voice faltered as she turned furious eyes toward me.

"What other dress will you try on?" she barked, gesturing to the remaining two I’d brought in with me.

At that point I just wanted the hell out of there. I mumbled something about returning after I bought my girdle and fled. I ran to the nearest Wal-Mart and the greeter, instead of greeting me, ignored my presence entirely as she focused on one of her many split-ends. I almost kissed her.

As the day wore on, the humor of the situation got the better of me and my confidence returned. It was me vs. Frau Terror. Bring it on, baby.

The next day, I returned to the store, sans girdle, tried on twelve different dresses just for the fun of it, returning them not only to the wrong places on the rack, but on the wrong rack entirely, bringing Enrique to tears as he followed me like a lapdog around the store. I had the German woman pin me up in four different dresses before I asked her to place them all on hold. I called back in a week to tell her thanks, but I had found what I was looking for at Penny’s.

"What?" she demanded, and I could hear the frown on her face. "Impossible."

"Well, they had no service," I admitted and paused, savoring my next words. "But their selection was wonderful."

There was a deep gasp on the other end of the phone.

Score one for the little people.