Towards the end of spring semester of my freshman year at college, I learned an important lesson: when your life is falling apart, you need something simple and superficial to yank you out of your funk, even if it’s for only a day.
Now realistically, life wasn’t really falling apart; my psyche was merely experiencing an ongoing war between severe depression and extreme anxiety. Each side had an ample supply of weapons to toss. I had an unclean break from my first serious relationship and I gained 20 pounds through its course – that’s two offensive strikes for depression. My grades were taking a nosedive and I was terrified of communicating with people; even making eye contact made my throat tighten and my hands shake – powerful weapons for the anxiety side.
At the height of this internal battle, I returned to my dorm room one night. Upon opening the door, I was greeted by my roommate Emily and our friend Shemeka. They were sitting on Emily’s bed, staring at me gravely. Shemeka spoke first. “We need to talk to you about something.”
Uh-Oh. Was it my messiness? Was it my pathetic issues with my ex? Emily rested her hands on her lap. “Anne-Marie, it’s your clothes.”
I looked down at my Marvin the Martian T-shirt. “Huh?”
“You are a cute girl, and you have great features, but you don’t wear things that complement that.”
I looked at them, perplexed. “I don’t?”
Shemeka shook her head. “Like those blue shorts you wear; the ones that are really short? You shouldn’t wear them, because when you bend over, it shows your butt.”
“What?? It does?” I intuitively grabbed my rear end.
Emily continued. “And those tight leggings you wear with the swirls…”
Shemeka knew exactly what pants Emily was talking about and finished her sentence for her. “…they don’t match with anything you own.”
I sat down on my bed and pondered for a moment. I thought I had some fun, indie-artist-y chaotic sense of style; that I marched to my own drummer, as they say. My friends were blowing my mind. “But…I shop at the mall…” You can never go wrong with the mall, right? I mean…the clothing is pricey, and they would never sell something out of fashion… they have Merry Go Round, and Wet Seal. Wet Seal! I put my hands on my shorts. “I got these at Wet Seal…”
Shemeka smiled sympathetically, and Emily shook her head. “See, this is what we need to teach you; things at Wet Seal look really good on the rack, but you have to inspect them. They aren’t made as well as other clothing, and that’s why they aren’t as expensive. You’re not getting as much value or quality as you would get at say, The Gap.”
My eyes widened. “The Gap? They are so expensive!”
Emily stood up, exasperated. She pointed to her shirt. “Ten dollars! I got this for ten dollars at The Gap!”
I looked at her in amazement. Where was this magical place she could find such inexpensive quality items? I wanted to see the magical cheap clothes place! I wanted to wear shorts that didn’t expose my ass! I thought about the bad turn my life was taking. Perhaps this one thing could set forth a series of events that would move my life in the right direction. I looked at them like a lost kitten. “Can…can you guys take me shopping?”
Their faces lit up and they squealed with glee. “Yes!” I knew by looking at them that I was going to be their dress-up doll for a day, and I was totally okay with that. My life needed a makeover, why not start with my closet?
“Let’s go tomorrow afternoon!”
All three of us had classes in the afternoon, but what the hell – we skipped a bunch all ready, and this was an emergency. I need this – I don’t need Anthropology.
The next day, we went on a pilgrimage to a haven from school and reality: Our Lady Queen of Shopping, hallowed be thy name, O home of clothing, Sbarros, and overpriced smelly soaps! So yeah: we took the bus to the Tucson Mall. From this point forward, I’m going to refer to Shemeka and Emily as Fashion Intervention Team (FIT), because they spoke as One – they were like two copies of the same Cylon model, but their Plan was to properly outfit every last human in the universe. FIT’s first stop was “The Limited.” We walked in and I eyed a shirt near the front. They grabbed me and made a beeline to the back of the store.
Fashion Intervention Team’s First and Most Cardinal Rule of Shopping: “Never pay full price for anything. Never! It will all go on sale eventually. Oh and by sale? We don’t mean 10% off.” We arrived at the back of the store, and they introduced me to the magical place they spoke of the previous night – the Clearance Section.
Fashion Intervention Team’s Second Rule of Shopping: “Always start at the back of the store. That’s where the clearance items are.” I looked at the items skeptically. “I thought this was the stuff that was going out of season…”
FIT shook their head. “We live in the desert – you can easily wear these for another month before it gets uncomfortable.” They waded through racks and checked seams and price tags. “Besides, when you find something that looks good on you, it will never go out of style. Try this on!” I was handed an off-white T-shirt with some girly prose and a rose on it. I squinted to read the writing on the shirt. “I can’t read what it says…”
FIT sighed. “It doesn’t matter! You’re not getting it for the saying – it’s a cute print and it’s feminine, unlike your Van Halen concert shirt!”…Which I wore with the swirly pants. Yeah, maybe that was a bad fashion choice…
I tried on and ultimately purchased the Illegible Girl Shirt, and we moved on to the next store – The Gap. I walked to the back of the store, and FIT nodded in approval. They instantly grabbed a plain white oversized shirt and dark blue leggings and handed them to me.
Fashion Intervention Team’s Third and Fourth Rules of Shopping: “Oversized shirts are great with leggings, because the shirt hides your trouble areas (a.k.a. my pronounced ass, brought to you by the deep fried offerings at the UofA Student Union). Combined with the leggings you get to show off your skinny legs! Also, you want a plain white shirt, because you can mix and match with different bottoms. The more combinations you can get with one piece, the better it is!”
We purchased the shirt and the leggings. True confession time – FIT would show dismay at this, but I kept that shirt for 15 years. I stopped wearing it out several years ago, but wore it around the house until the collar completely ripped off and Chris pleaded with me to throw it away.
Anne-Marie’s Anti-Fashion Tip #1: Shirts are more comfortable and feel extra homey when they are loaded with holes and have a ripped collar. I may have tossed that shirt, but I still have my tattered UofA Alumni shirt from 1999, and you will pry it from my cold, dead, unfashionable hands.
We continued on. I pointed to a Merry Go Round and FIT grumbled.
Fashion Intervention Team’s Fifth Rule of Shopping: Don’t shop at Merry-Go-Round, unless you want to look like a Bon Jovi Groupie.
“Hey; my Junior year prom dress was from Merry-Go-Round!”
FIT was prescient – when the 80s groupie style completely left the universe in its pink lame spaceship powered by Aqua Net bottles and C.C. Deville tears, it took Merry-Go-Round with it. I believe Hot Topic is essentially its replacement, replacing 80s whore with Emo-Avril Cul-de-Sac Disenchantment; take your pick as to which is worse.
FIT wasn’t impressed with the other boutique stores. We hit the big anchors, the best of which being Dillards. To split the Collective for but a moment, I need to point one thing out. Dillards was THE store for Emily. Emily worked at the mall for a while a few moons after this intervention, and I am convinced that she began her day by kneeling before a Dillards sale rack, arms outstretched in exaltation, praying and praising the God of Dillards for His Righteous Sales and Brand Name Goodness. I will admit that if this were Scientology, I would have so been Will Smith to her Jada Pinkett. She sold me on Dillards Sale-vation, and I too worshipped their sale rack altar many times during college.
Fashion Intervention Team’s Sixth Rule of Shopping: For name brands, the department stores are better than the brand stores (like Guess), because you’ll find more items on the clearance rack, and the clearance price will be rock-bottom.
At Dillards, FIT presented me with the Clearance Rack to end all Clearance Racks – the “66% off already marked down items” rack. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Was I reading it correctly? I looked at the price tag on a cute pair of shorts – the shorts were originally $40, and on the price tag, it stated that they were marked down to $30. “So…I can get this for… under $15?”
FIT nodded. We then turned to the rack and devoured the clothing like starved Coyotes on a fresh, meaty carcass. A Guess shirt for $10; an Esprit tank for $5! I felt like I was sharing this moment with my inner 13 year-old who was rejected by her peers for never wearing these brands.
We finished up our shopping, and got on the bus to head back to the dorms – the neighboring bus seats towered with our full shopping bags. Emily’s boyfriend came over to the dorm, and she made him sit through a brief fashion show of some of the items we purchased. He showed as much enthusiasm as a guy could muster for such a thing, particularly approving of a nice sleeveless pantsuit Emily picked out for me.
Now truthfully, my lovely new wardrobe and hair color of the week didn’t change my life. I was still horribly depressed, had a hard time with my bad break up, and my social anxiety kept me from responding to the compliments I got for my new “look.” I was still me, unfortunately, but if nothing else, I now at least had shopping as an outlet for my angst. For a few minutes, I could look in the mirror at my cute clothes and feel good about something.
Shortly after returning to Tucson for my Sophomore year, I visited Emily at her apartment to show her all of the clothing I bought without her assistance. Naturally, we did a little “fashion show,” and at the end of it, she had a little tear in her eye and exclaimed, “I knew you could do it! I’m so proud of you!” I admired myself in the mirror – a fitted white blouse covered with a cute print vest over faded blue jeans, brown suede boots on my feet. I looked good. Well, 90s-era good. I earned my FIT diploma that day.
Unfortunate teen photo of yours truly is copyright 1992-2012 by Douang Athitang