In Which I Almost Bought A Sweater From Ann Taylor
I recently went to the mall to buy a work-appropriate sweater, a seemingly simple task that should not have resulted in an existential crisis. I wanted something thin and soft, that wouldn’t show cleavage and didn’t cost seventeen thousand dollars. The mall seemed like an appropriate place to buy such a commonplace item, or so I thought. What followed was a harrowing incident that altered my perception of what I had become.
First, I stopped in Forever 21 on a tip from a friend who swears they have decently priced work clothes. I left quickly, a little frightened that denim bra tops were a thing that kids are doing these days. Then I went to Express, which has remained my standby for such things. After having a salesperson try to tell me that a button-down shirt with leopard print inside the collar was fine for a job interview, I left here discouraged as well. I tried Gap, which has somehow become a frightening wasteland of sales racks, J. Crew where nothing fit me, and even Banana Republic and White House/Black Market, where I didn’t find anything, not that I could afford it anyway. I had some success when I cautiously ventured into Dillard’s (Do people shop at department stores? Is that uncool?), but I was just not willing to fork over $80 for the one sweater I kind of liked. Defeated, I ambled around until I was lured to a store by mannequins in tasteful, brightly colored clothes and prices I could tolerate. I took two steps towards the entrance before I looked up in horror and found I was in front of Ann Taylor. Where my mom shops.
I debated going in. What would that say about me—am I OLD now? But I needed a damn sweater; I had no choice. I pulled my jacket up to obscure my face and stole inside, hoping fate would be kind and I would not be recognized while shopping in a mom store.
I’ve never been the kind of girl who’s particularly good at dressing herself, but I only recently realized just how much of an advantage it is to have youth on your side. I specifically felt this the day I walked into Urban Outfitters and saw that high-waisted mom jeans were cool again; it’s like you are specifically making the statement, “I’m putting the least flattering clothing possible on my body and I’m still going to look good.” When I was younger, I could throw on whatever and look fine, but if I put those shorts on now, I would be mistaken for an actual mom. I can’t go in there anymore. I’m too old and I just don’t understand. Other stores started to slip away from me as well, mostly the places I could actually afford: The BP section of Nordstrom, cheap hoodies from Hollister, Buffalo Exchange.
It’s a sad day when you realize you can no longer wear certain things or styles (I don’t think “Forever 21” was meant literally). Sure there are some people who can say fuck it and pull off trendy clothes forever, but I am not one of those lucky souls. Though I enjoy shopping for things to wear on a night out, the unfortunate reality now is that I have far more occasion to wear cardigans than crop tops. It doesn’t help that, while I am still relatively young, my body has begun to soften with time, and I have to consider how much people want to see. “Does this look good on me?” has become “Am I too old for this?”
What I look for now is things that will last me a while: classics and quality—though preferably not so high-quality that I have to dry clean them (this comic explains how I feel about that). I wear a lot of black, something I swore I’d never do when I was younger, shun shorts, and am probably boring in other ways as well. I feel like I am past fun and flirty, and am attempting sophistication instead.
But going into a store where my mom shops is a different kind of aging. Not that my mom isn’t a fashionable lady (Hi Mom! You’re great!), and she has given me fabulous clothes that were “too young” for her, a concept I thought absurd at the time. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Ann Taylor, but going into a store where everything is “sensible” and nothing is even attempting to be “trendy”—even if I can’t wear it—is admitting defeat. It’s admitting I’m old. And I’m not quite ready to do that yet; I’m stuck in an in-between.
In the end, I didn’t find the sweater of my dreams at Ann Taylor either, but my self-perception was still shaken. I may have to do more boring adult things now that I’m pushing 30, but I still never really feel like a grown up. In fact, I would really like it if someone could start a new chain that sells moderately priced, high-quality business-casual together with sexy-evening attire to solve my quandary. In the meantime, I’ll be explaining to anyone who stares that after my unnerving trip to the mall, I decided to follow Nora Ephron’s sage advice: “If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re thirty-four.”
I have created the following Venn Diagram to summarize my point. Please keep in mind I am poor and this does not take into account important factors like “Does not destroy entire forests to make one sock” or “Clothing not made with the tears of small children.”
Cover photograph by Hillary Boles
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