“Let’s go shopping” is a call to action that I’ll rarely turn down. While my current clothing, accessory, and shoe library is quite healthy, I enjoy inviting new pieces to the fold when they fill just that right void.
Many of my friends think that I have a day job to afford all of my beautiful toys. The truth is I rarely pay full price. I was raised in a Jewish household where frugality was a principle. No. Not cheap. Frugality is getting the best value for your dollar. When you transgress fashion in the ways I chose, you can find some really extraordinary items at the back of the store at the deeply discounted sale racks or at a Goodwill with retail tags still attached.
It takes a lot to make me pay retail. I either need to really believe in the company, worry that the item I can’t live without will never make it to the sale bin, or have just gotten my company bonus check. On a recent trip to NY, one couture shop in SoHo unexpectedly checked two of the boxes. The third box was fortuitously ticked with the timing of my bonus having just been deposited in my account that previous Friday.
We’d only ventured over to SoHo for an hour on Monday before we got to watch the taping of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. I desperately wanted to go back — specifically to seek inspiration in the Etro boutique. My friend Matt had turned me on to Etro. Between eBay and the Etro Outlet in Las Vegas, I had secured some provocative and foundational finds. The tingles I started to feel were one part the last gasp of winter storm Stella and one part getting ready to explore the Spring 2017 collection.
As soon as we got in the door, my eyes widened with just the slightest hint of a tear. This was precisely what I wanted to see. We were greeted by two handsome gentlemen who offered their services. Not wanting to be a bother to someone who was unlikely to make a commission from me, I offered the cursory, “Just looking.” So, when Brandon asked if he could get us some water, I was pleasantly surprised. He came back with two fresh bottles of Fiji water and two glasses — pouring us Fiji’s finest.
I know the drill in these stores. While we didn’t appear to be looky-loos, I thought ‘no couture boutique wants to cater to a woman on their men’s floor.’ I went downstairs to admire the women’s selection. I’ve found many an Etro blazer, shoe, top in the women’s section before that has struck me. But the Spring 2017 collection was much too diaphanous for my tastes.
Rounding the stairs, I noticed 2 racks placed side-by-side beneath them. They were not intended for display. On them hung the most stunning pants I thought I’d ever seen. I admired a few and then realized that they were men’s and unlikely to fit.
We came back upstairs — Brandon effortlessly balancing a silver tray with our Fiji bottles and glasses atop. I said in passing, “The women’s collection didn’t inspire me. Sadly, it’s the men’s collection that I adore.” This was said with the same cursory brush-off of someone who appears to have presented a conundrum where the only reasonable option to exit the store gracefully, reputation in tact.
Without missing a beat, Brandon informed me that the men’s clothing could be tailored to my sizing needs. Having heard that we were visiting from Atlanta, he further informed me that the tailoring and shipping would be free with no tax applied to the purchase. It just. got. interesting!
Remembering the racks of pants that captivated me downstairs, I immediately started picking through them like I was a contestant on Supermarket Sweep. I grabbed any pair of pants that caught my periphery. Those are always the patterns that capture. In the end, I placed 4 pair of pants on the table, as Brandon brought another, and Megan brought the last. I almost felt like Julia Roberts in the Pretty Woman montage where Larry Miller and team are forced to ‘suck up’ to her. Only, Brandon wasn’t forced nor was he ‘sucking up.’
I tried on 3 of the 6 when I handed a pair back to Brandon. “These just don’t grab me. No need to even try them.” I got through another pair and then realized that pair that I gave back — there was something that spoke to me. They weren’t saying goodbye. They winked and said, hello! The blue; the purple; the textures; the horizontal lines. They looked so Beyond the Valley of the Dolls! These were the ones.
When I pulled them on, the decision was validated. I walked out of the dressing room and asked Brandon, “Now what?” Enter stage left — Michael. Tall, slimly athletic, devastatingly handsome with an accent I couldn’t place (French?), he introduced himself with a gentleman’s handshake and an inviting smile. He asked me to step on the platform in front of the mirror. The magic began like the mice in Cinderella magically fixing her dress.
He pinned the hem line and tapered the width to suit my more feminine frame. Then observing the lines, he adjusted the thighs. “Have a look,” he said.
Front looked good. Length was now perfect. I turned around and to the side and had a perplexed look on my face. Michael asked what was stumping me. Then it just came out of my mouth. “My ass, Michael. My ass is much nicer than these pants seem to show.” I surprised myself with this comment. Michael was unflustered. Without missing a beat, he knew exactly what to do. He took out two more pins and strategically placed them to better shape the backside.
As I paid for my posh new pants, the store staff gathered at the register to chat us up. Bradley Cooper’s doppelgänger joked with my wife and slipped her a cologne sample; Brandon couldn’t suppress his excitement for me; and Michael directed us to the new Ted Baker flagship store around the corner for our final stop in SoHo. The entire crew was helpful, supportive, and unflinchingly effusive.
I walked in the shop seeking inspiration. I was treated with the respect that I belonged there as much as any Manhattan socialite. My expectation was to have a memorable experience. And, because Michael and Brandon transcended my expectations, I walked out with — well, I guess the promise of a pair of pants soon to ship.
I believe in a world in which my experience can be universal and not one of privilege.
When I think of the so called ‘religious freedom’ bills that seem to pop up like whack-a-mole
heads on the state and federal legislatures there is a part of me that thinks, why wouldn’t you want to improve your earnings by supporting a community that is still largely dual-income-no-children? Is treating any class of people like they are somehow not worthy of your services so important to you that you are willing to sacrifice the very essence of business — disenfranchising not just them but also a growing number of allies?
Thank you to Michael, Brandon and their colleagues for living the Golden Rule. There will always be businesses like Etro that treat all who walk in the door as valued customers. I see more and more small businesses with a commitment to service, community, and equality. And then I can go back to that shop that thought that hatred and ignorance disguised as ‘religious freedom’ is acceptable and say:
I was in here yesterday, you wouldn’t wait on me.
Shop Assistant: Oh.
You people work on commission, right?
Shop assistant: Yeah.
Big mistake. Big. Huge. I have to go shopping now.
— “Pretty Woman” 1990