On Pants, Shopping, and Transformation

“Standing in front of the dressing room mirror is such a reality check.” Melinda said as she handed over a stack of clothes she would not be buying. I agreed as I handed over my stack too. We each retained one shirt. Pants were what we’d come to find.

In most fairy tales and many modern women’s stories there is a moment of transformation. Cinderella’s godmother transforms her from a drudge to a princess. The best friend takes the woman shopping and she changes from a nerd into something beautiful. The little mermaid sheds her fins for legs. The further outcomes vary greatly, but in each the transformational element echoes in story after story. It is a reflection of the desire of ordinary women to be made beautiful. This is what I search for in the clothing racks. I seek the item which will camouflage my physical faults and draw the eye in good ways. I hope for clothing which will transform me. It is a lot to ask from mere clothing.

My last post about shopping for pants got far more responses than I expected. Women poured out sympathy and suggestions. At least one man read the commentary and was trying to comprehend the attraction of shopping for women. One friend, Jessica, was so moved by my lack of good pants that she declared that we must go shopping together. Melinda volunteered to go too. So the three of us found babysitting for our respective offspring and met at a mall.

When I was a teenager, shopping was a big component of my social interactions with friends. We would go to the mall and spend hours browsing through racks, trying on clothes, and pretending not to notice the boys who were there. There was giggling. Mostly it was freedom we craved on these shopping expeditions. We were away from our parents with money in our pockets. Trying on clothes was like playing dress up. We could experiment with who we wanted to be by trying on different clothes. And there was always the unspoken hope of transformation, that we would find one beautiful item which would make us beautiful. Shopping with adult women is much the same. We escaped from our children to visit with friends, to play dress up, and to hope for transformation.

Howard and the kids watched Princess and the Frog this weekend. That is a movie which is heavily invested in transformations. The characters transform again and again as the film explores how appearance relates to substance. Many of the transformations are magical in nature, but at least one is transformation by clothing. Tiana puts on a borrowed dress and becomes a princess.

Fun was the primary purpose of the outing for me. The quest for pants was merely a good excuse to hang out with two women I don’t get to see often enough. I honestly did not care whether I brought home clothes or not. The enjoyment was in allowing myself to look, imagine, and laugh. So amidst all the talking and looking, each of us selected some clothes to try on. Which led to the moment when Melinda and I grimaced together about the unkindness of dressing room mirrors. For there we saw ourselves, transformed in unwanted dimensions. We resolved to be better about getting regular exercise, and we began by walking through the mall to a different store.

Every woman has an item of clothing that they remember because they did not buy it. It is a reverse form of shoppers regret. Mine was a persimmon colored dress. I was seventeen and the dress was perfect. It fit perfectly, the skirt swung, the color flattered my complexion. I loved it. My mother loved it. It was a dress that transformed me. But we left it behind because it cost twice as much as any other dress I had ever owned. If I had bought it, I would have worn it and loved it. But eventually it would have been worn out, outgrown, or out of date. I would not still have it today. But it shines in my memory.

The shopping expedition did result in the purchase of pants. In fact all three of us bought the exact same pair of pants. Or rather we bought three identical pairs of pants. (We are not doing the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants thing where we attempt to share a single pair.) Now we feel that in the spirit of acting like junior high girls we should all arrange to wear them to the same event on the same day.

So did I find transformation among the clothing racks? Not this trip. I just found a good pair of pants that make me feel a little more attractive. It is a small transformation I guess. But I can’t help feeling like full transformation is out there. If only I could find it, then all my dreams could come true. That’s how it works in all the fairy tales. In real life the thing that makes dreams come true is lots of hard work. (I love that Princess and the Frog acknowledges this. It is positive progress in the way we teach our kids to think about dreams.) So if I don’t seek for my dreams in the clothing racks, what am I seeking? I’m seeking the clothes which make me feel transformed. They don’t have to be expensive. Sometimes I find it in clothes that I’m given for free or on the cheap at second hand stores. Sometimes it is by pulling out my sewing machine and making alterations to things I already own. No matter where the clothes come from, I’m playing dress up. Putting on professional clothes contributes to my feeling of professionalism and thus to my ability to actually be professional. Putting on attractive clothes helps me feel attractive, which causes me to have confidence, which actually makes me more attractive.

I once fessed up to a woman at church that I sometimes buy new shoes before conventions, because wearing something new gives me confidence. I was a little mystified with this seeming illogical behavior in myself. The other woman laughed. “Oh sweetie. I don’t even try to rationalize it. I just know it works and I buy shoes.”

I think this is wisdom. Take what works and run with it. So here I sit in my new pants, ready to handle whatever comes next with more confidence than I had the day before yesterday.