Window Shopping Other Lives

For me, shopping is like meditation. I prefer to do it alone. If someone is next to me, I want them to be quiet, not asking me if I’m visualizing the tropical beach or if I really need that Hawaiian shirt. The only person I can shop with successfully is my sister. Cut from the same fabric, we are able to go with the flow compatibly, wherever the shopping zone might be. The right combination of closeness when we need it or distance when we need the quiet space to contemplate.

What is it we are contemplating? Like meditation, shopping is a temporary escape from a life where I’ve always worked hard and had a lot of responsibilities. I feel the need to say that, because I know shopping sounds so frivolous compared to activities such as finding a cure for cancer or ladling soup in the ghetto kitchen. Like meditation, if undertaken for short, focused periods, it can enhance our lives. It’s a creative way to contemplate all the pieces of my life, how they might better fit together or come alive with something new … or should I throw them all away and start over? It’s a way to imagine myself in a whole new life even, at least for a couple of hours.

window shoppingInstead of a down-to-earth, work-at-home beach bum who wears jeans most of the time, I can be a business woman, but hipper; a bohemian poet; a punk rock rebel; a tasteful sex bomb; or a sleek athlete. I try these possible lives on in my mind, not in the dressing room, where my dream would be instantly and cruelly shattered. No, no dressing rooms with their three-dimensional mirrors and light blasted directly from the sun. The point of contemplative window shopping is to imagine possibilities and weave their spirit back into my own life. Maybe instead of dressing like a rock star, I just need to listen to music more often or take guitar lessons?

This type of meditative shopping doesn’t have to be just for clothes either. It works with home décor, books, cosmetics, gifts, and many other items. (Maybe that red vase would zap up the beige living room? Maybe I should move to a tropical tree house on the beach?) And it doesn’t have to be just for women.

While most men do not seem to like shopping for clothes or gift items, I’ve seen them disappear for hours in hardware, gizmo-tech, and auto supply stores. They may go in for a computer cable or transmission fluid, but I’m sure it crosses their minds while trolling the aisles of gadgets that the new $5,000 home theater system would fit in the family room, or that the Italian leather key ring would look good dangling from a Ferrari ignition. Maybe they would look good cruising the Amalfi coast? With a hot Italian, of course.

Oh, the possibilities for all of us as we browse the Other Lives selections. We may come home with a small item or two, but that is not the main reason for the shopping trip. Money cannot buy what we bring home: a new way of looking at our lives, some vision that beckons us forward and yet still casts an appreciative glow on what we already have.Shopping at Bloomies

If we’re lucky enough to have a good relationship, we can keep it that way by never shopping together. Unless it’s an emergency, like the couch exploded or you ran out of beer. Even then, it’s better if just one goes. Almost every time I am out shopping – happily alone – I overhear an unhappy couple who have ignored this guideline. The man, often older and newly retired with nothing better to do than bug his wife, is reminding her that she already has three sweaters in that color. Or that she is not the expert on couch construction she thinks she is. I want to pat her on the shoulder and say, “Next time, leave him at home on the remains of the couch.” Or sometimes I see a cute young guy sitting patiently on a couch outside a dressing room. “Hi,” I want to say, “did you know there’s a great hardware store next door? It has everything you can imagine – and more.”

Is It a Mad Men World?

Unlike men who claim to look at Playboy magazine “for the articles,” I really do look at fashion magazines for the pictures, not the articles. Some of the articles in fashion magazines are interesting, especially those that address women’s social and health issues around the world. But the majority are not. They are the same superficial interviews with superficial celebrities, the same 10 ways to trim your thighs and figure out what your man (or partner) is thinking. Enough already.

I do enjoy looking at clothes, however, both in magazines and in stores. Even though I buy fewer and fewer the older I get and don’t need many for a simple, work-at-home lifestyle, I still enjoy the fantasies that these costumes evoke. As with enjoying a painting, or a sculpture, or a tree or a flower, I appreciate the mixture/interplay of colors, fabrics, forms, textures. As with enjoying a movie or a play, I can transport myself into the lives they portray – jet setter, businesswoman, rock star, cowgirl, surfer, artist, Palm Springs or Palm Beach socialite.

Then I can return to my more plainly dressed life with a sense of relief and appreciation. I don’t have to walk through airports or down hallways in 6-inch heels. I don’t have to retrofit myself into a 50s style sheath dress with a girdle underneath. (Today called body shaper or Spanx, but still a girdle.)Costume

I’m not sure I understand why today’s successful businesswomen have adopted the tight, sleeveless sheath dress and high heels as their uniform. In the 1970s, we fought for the right to hold certain jobs, but also to be able to dress comfortably. Granted, some of the polyester pantsuits of the 70s were less than appealing and the wide-shouldered power suits of the 80s were over the top, but at least we were able to move freely. And I remember going to many parties wearing flowing pants and tunics that were attractive, feminine, sexy, and comfortable! When I look at women today in dresses out of Mad Men, I have a hard time breathing and my toes hurt.

Are women dressing this way to impress each other, or to impress men? Are they trying to project a sexy image so as not to threaten others with their increasing power? Most men I know, while enjoying sexuality and an attractively dressed woman, would rather walk stride-in-stride with a partner or friend who can keep up with them than one who minces along.

And the day I see men sitting around a conference table in sleeveless tops beside women in sleeveless tops (bare arms, chest showing) will be the day I know we’re playing on the same level. But the fact that tanks on men are called wife beaters might cancel this out.

What I enjoy seeing on women (and men) and what I take away from fashion photos is the fun of expressing individualty, creativity, imagination, freedom. Even though I like certain looks more than others, I think we should be able to dress the way we want. I admire those who are brave enough to dress in costume. In the writing world, I know many like this, showing up at a reading one night looking like a 40s movie actor and the following week like a punk rocker. Wearing a long skirt with a military jacket one day and gold lame jeans and boots the next.

These brave dressers don’t pay attention to the fashion rules that set age limits or admonish against this or that for certain seasons of the year or of life. Nor do they squeeze themselves into modern-day corsets and crippling footwear. Like me, they pull on a lot – or a bit – of fantasy with their clothes in the morning and then walk quickly out the door without looking back.