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Changing Places
I was in a fancy fitting room the other day. It was extraordinary for a number of reasons.Usually, morbid curiosity leads me into high-end stores only to harrumph at price tags, while a lack of interest, occasion and money prevents me from moving to the trying-on stage. However, this past Christmas I received a gift card to a pricey store and I had to start using it. Otherwise, taking my sweet time would cost me two bucks per month. It's a mystery how companies can legally take back gift cards.

The first display I looked at had $95 polo shirts, which didn't include a saddle, wooden ball, mallet or pony -- I asked. It did come with a humorless floor manager, though.

Habit and common sense pushed me toward a dimly lit, isolated area in the far back of the store marked "Clearance." I needed a secret code phrase to enter: middle class. Despite being demoted to Clearance Island, all the clothing there was on wooden hangers. My entire home has five wood hangers, all of which are in the front hall closet to give guests the image of sophistication. It's an illusion that only remains if they stay in the closet. Many rarely do.

After picking out a few things, I headed toward the fitting room. An elegant young attendant introduced herself (Kelly) while gathering my garments. She floated toward a tastefully decorated, spacious room. It was quite a departure from the fitting rooms I'm accustomed to, which have no right calling themselves rooms. They're shower stalls with pitiable benches covered with inside-out (undoubtedly too small) clothing. Almost always, the entrances are policed by women who've grown surly after working in a space as charming as an inner-city bus depot while collecting too many unwanted outfits and puny paychecks. I know, because I was one of them. Surly was a good day for me.

Fancy fitting rooms, it turns out, aren't decorated with torn tags, straight pins and plastic hangers. They are immaculate accommodations with painted murals, framed mirrors and upholstered chairs. I wondered if Kelly could arrange room service -- I was suddenly in the mood for chocolate-dipped strawberries.

I asked some friends about their fitting room experiences. Florida Sue said she quit them altogether. "I HATE THEM. I remember that years ago dressing rooms had hidden cameras and some dirtbag monitoring them. Since then I buy some interesting outfits and try them on in the safety of my own home."

Most folks would think the poor dear was confusing a fitting room with a jail cell. But I know better: She's originally from Long Island.

Kathryn declared, "Communal fitting rooms must be the seventh level of hell!" Her comment reminded me of a store where I grew up that had an open fitting space -- big room, no dignity. I believe the store was called Paranoid Palace and was managed by the same dirtbag that scarred Florida Sue. I survived by imagining it was a hazing for the sorority, Omegad Beta Hurry.

Unpleasant fitting rooms helped me fully appreciate the fancy one, where my lady-in-waiting asked my name and wrote it on an oval mirror just outside the room. That way she could periodically ask, "How are things going, Jean? Is there any way I can help, Jean?" I wish I had a classier name.

After a while, I finally decided on a $40 blouse (marked down from $70). I still have money on the gift card. When I go back, I'm going to thoroughly enjoy the experience. I plan to bring a magazine, try on bathrobes and call myself Anastasia.

[June 10, 2009]

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