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Over Labor Day weekend, I took advantage of the relative calm and tranquility of New York City to do some shopping in actual stores, rather than online, which is how I do about 85% of my shopping normally. My experiences certainly didn’t convince me to do it again any time soon.
My first fail happened at Rag & Bone, where I attempted to try on these boots, which I’ve seen online and in magazines for several weeks. They’re pricey, so I wanted to try them on in real life first. “We won’t have those in for another month,” the clerk said. Oh. Instead, I ordered them right then and there on my phone online, where a bunch of sizes were already sold out.
Next, I popped into Sandro because a dress in the window caught my eye. (I also love the fact that the store uses sizes 1, 2, and 3 instead of the judge-y “small,” “medium,” and “large” designations. It’s the only time I get to say, “Oh, I’m a 2.”)
But I forgot one crucial fact about Sandro: There are no mirrors inside the individual dressing rooms. You need to step out into the glare of the real world, to a communal mirror, to inspect your butt in the clothes you’re trying on.
I realized this as I pulled a slightly-too-tight shirt over my head, just as the perfectly nice male clerk who was waiting outside said, “So how does it fit?” Hell. No. I pulled it off and ran out of the store, mumbling incoherently.
The dressing room experience is a very personal and intimate one. It’s best done alone, much like inspecting your pores or going to the bathroom. The process of trying on clothes is messy, emotional, and fraught with anxiety, at least for me. No one needs to witness that. Plus, there are the butt selfies.
When I try something on that fits not quite perfectly, a mental dance of sorts goes on in my head. Hmm, can I take this in? How would it look if I lost three pounds? Will it go with those stupidly expensive Rag & Bone boots I just ordered? I will whip out a makeup compact if the room doesn’t have a three-way mirror and inspect my butt from many angles. I’ve even taken belfies on my phone — deleted immediately afterwards — to get a sense of how I look.
I take my shirt off to see what jeans look like in their true form with no shirttail. I suck things in. I push other things out. I would never want anyone to witness the contortions I go through to make something I really like on the hanger potentially work on my body.
I’d also argue that not having a mirror inside the dressing room prevents sales. I’ve purchased things that aren’t quite perfect because I’ve spent enough time sweet talking the item (and myself) in a mirrored private dressing room, convincing myself I could make it work. In a communal mirror situation, I run out, sneak a look to be sure no one is watching, quickly scan, and then, if anything is amiss, off it comes. Every single retailer should put a well-lit, three-way skinny mirror in every dressing room (Zara has this) and then watch the money roll in.
I’ve had this communal mirror experience at Aritzia, too. Last winter, I was at the Oakbrook Center mall outside of Chicago, trying on a few oversize flannel shirts, a category that Aritzia does exceptionally well. The sales clerk, who I’m pretty sure was a high school student working there during her holiday break, chirped perkily at me when I slunk out to be sure the shirt was hitting my ratty leggings at the right point, “Oh, that is SO CUTE!” I didn’t even try on the other two items I had in the dressing room with me. See, retailers? Lost sales.
Then, there are the uncomfortable conversations with other shoppers. “That dress is cute on you.” “Oh, thanks. I love those pleather leggings.” Trying on clothes should be like taking the subway: no talking or eye contact allowed.
My own self-judgment is all I need, and all I can tolerate in a dressing room. Adding other potential people into the equation is a recipe for sending me right out of the store. Shoes are the only item acceptable for trying on in public — if they’re in stock, of course.