I made the mistake of mentioning this on instagram the other day and I've written it down; yet another humiliating experience to record for my posterity and for you to all feel better about yourselves.
Let’s get a few things out of the way, before I get into what went down.
First, I was going to the store to exchange a gift that Cal bought for me. (Don’t get excited – it was just a pretty slip that didn’t fit me well.) In general, I do not frequent lingerie shops. That said, the shop in question is a high-end shop, which means velvet ottoman, chesterfield sofa, and solid wood antique chest of drawers in the fitting room. It is small, and proper, and posh. Everything is in its place, everything smells nice, and everything makes you feel like you might have to give up sausage rolls if you are to wear any of the merchandise.
Another thing you need to know is that this was my allotted time to get the errand done; I wanted to be in and out of the shop as quickly as possible, so I felt hurried before I even stepped foot inside. I walk fast, and I was a bit overdressed for the 7º C (45º F) because I don’t like being cold. Imagine that I have 3 different types of wool layers, including a jumper, a merino scarf, a bouclé topcoat, and doc martens. (You’ll understand why I mention the docs in just a minute.) Now imagine that I’ve just walked 1.3 miles at a steady pace and entered a tiny boutique that smells of perfume and money, all warmed up to welcome the ladies. And scene!
The shop girl (this seems like a demeaning term – should I say shop woman? I mean she was older than myself and clearly not a girl, but saying shop woman also sounds a bit like I’m trying too hard) greeted me immediately, and she was eager and friendly, 2 things I don’t find very common in my British boutique experiences. Perhaps it was because I had a hat on when I entered and she couldn’t see my half shaved head or she hadn’t heard my American accent yet. Either way, this is not your typical British welcome. I have already prepared my spiel about why I want to exchange the slip, which is what I think is a funny body image remark with the slightest touch of self deprecation and design awareness. It’s a gamble in this city, being so casual and open, but I’m buying lingerie and directness is the only way we’re going to get this done quickly. She gives me a quick tour of the shop, the inventory, and asks for any ideas about what I might be interested in. I haven’t planned or rehearsed our exchange that far, so I just ask to browse a bit.
At this point, a couple of things are happening to me. My body is warming up quickly, bordering on overheating, and I’m untucking, unbuttoning, unraveling, and removing my layers. I can feel sweat beading up under my sweater, aka jumper, and it’s only now that I realize I’m going to have to try on some of these very delicate lacy things and doing so will be like dressing a slippery pig. Also, I’m wearing my docs. 8 eyelets and five minutes worth of unlacing and then lacing, which means there is no way I’m taking off my boots. Easy solution, I’ll only buy something for my top half. I know at this point that I should have stopped, feigned indecision and just returned the slip, but I give into my neurotic need to complete my given task. (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, compulsion is so rewarding.) I continue browsing, selecting, and bantering with the shop girl putting on her posh RP accent. (I’ve been here long enough that I can identify that sometimes.) But she is a bit stiff, and I’ve decided it’s my job to loosen her up. It’s another thing I can’t let go of – this drive to lighten up the Brits. Most of my jokes are met with a polite look of confusion. I am also used to this.
As she gets me settled in the fitting room, she tells me that she’s going to turn up the heat because it feels “quite cold” in the shop, and I respond that I’m already feeling warm from walking, but I don’t think she understands that I’m saying, “Please do not turn the heat up, or even on, because I think I might suffocate in here.” She leaves me in the fitting room and I begin to disrobe and get my stuff all laid out in a nice way so as not to look like a slob. I decide to try on the bras first, because that seems like the least amount of clothing removal and we’ve already had a lot of boob talk. It happens.
Don’t picture this, but picture this: I’m standing behind a heavy velvet curtain in the fitting room, full mirrored walls, and I’m only wearing torn boyfriend jeans and my boots. I am bare chested and under the lights, and I have the body of a 16 yr. old boy that really needs to work out more. AND I am sweating profusely, because I’ve noticed that I’m sweating and it’s made me anxious. I’m trying to hurry, which is making me sweat more and I’ve begun a full descent into what feels like panic. I don’t know why, but I suspect she is going to check on me and I don’t want her to do any such thing. I do know why actually, it’s because she’s being very helpful and I don’t want any more help. I think I can just quickly try a few on and then make my selections before she comes back. Obviously, this does not happen.
Before I get the second bra on, the curtain parts and I hear her ask, “How’s it going in here?” I glance in the mirror and make eye contact with her, hoping she realizes I’m not inviting her in, but I’m confident enough to stand there like a non-prudish European. I do not flinch. I do not shield myself, I stand there knowing she can see everything and telling myself she has seen much worse. I explain the band on the bras is tighter than I prefer and I’m not sure about sizing up. This is the moment that lingerie experts live for – the explanation of how a bra should fit - and I’ve just given her an opening. She slides the curtain all the way open and walks in right next to me. She tells me to grab the other color and she will help me try it on. Never has anyone helped me get a bra on since my mom brought home my first training bra from her Hawaii trip. (Weirdest souvenir ever, mom.) I’ve had bra fittings and they come in after you put it on and they check, blah, blah, but no one has ever snapped the closure for me. I’m a bit dumbfounded and just continue trying to play it cool, like I have a bra valet at home, my very own bra butler that helps me out.
I’m standing there stiffly, as she does the clasp and tugs at the band and I can actually feel beads of sweat running down my back, and I think “I’m going to have to buy this bra” simply because hygiene requires that no other person touch it again. She shows me how to adjust the back, and some other feature I feel is highly irrelevant. I am willing her to get out of the room, but she suggests I try on the French slip that I’ve also selected. I am not lifting my arms in front of this woman, because my armpits are looking quite French themselves. Not fully French, but French-ish. IT IS WINTER. I’m allowed.
She is positively put together with all of her clothes on, and I am nothing but a sweaty American. (At this point the sweat thing is pure anxiety, I’m not actually hot.) I try to distract her with stories of my children, which end up being really impressive comments about how they are obsessed with inheriting my stuff when I die and their poop fascination. In other words, I’ve lost control of my filter and I’m going down in sweaty, naked, flames. She continues to be polite and confused. I figure out that if I ask her for something else she will have to leave, so I do that, hoping I can then get the slip on over the top half of my body while she’s gone and she will not see what happens when I lift or do any sort of bending. She takes the bait and leaves. I hear another customer come in and feel relief that she will be distracted.
Oh no, she was not distracted, she came right back in to help with the new sizes, leaving the curtain open a bit, and there I am with my panic sweat bra, jeans and boots, trying to get the slip over my head, in full view of the rest of the shop, and I’m a bit stuck. I have to explain about my broad shoulders. She helps me get unstuck and I am done. This is not happening anymore, so I tell her I’ve made my selections and I will meet her at the cashpoint. I get myself together, but I’ve given up collecting my dignity at this point. It’s long gone.
She rings me up, treats me very professionally, and explains that there’s 4 pound credit because of the difference. Fine, lovely, I’m not going to quibble because I wanted to be gone 15 minutes ago. She tells me it’s on my account, so the next time I come in just ask for it. I gather my bags and as I’m making my way to the door, she adds, “and next time, we will turn the heat down.”
After I got home I immediately sent a voxer to two of my close friends. There was no way I was going to burn in my shame alone and frankly, my friends know I attract awkward situations. (It’s a gift really.) And the best response came from CC, who summed it all up quickly and wryly (a gift I do not have).
“And now you know why I buy my bras at Target. Nobody there wants to help me.”
I hope you enjoyed today’s life lesson at my expense.