On the whole, I think women are fabulous. But also a little crazy. I can say this because as part of the sisterhood, I have license to go where no man should dare to tread.
As a group, we are certainly better educated and more independent than the majority of our foremothers. But occasionally there is a circumstance that makes me question whether or not we have received our money’s worth from higher education.
Case in point. It was a cloudy, lazy Saturday afternoon, and my husband and I had spent the day at home catching up on neglected chores. In the midst of changing light bulbs and discarding leaky hoses, I suddenly remembered that we meant to choose a house gift for friends we were visiting that evening.
Since it was already late in the day, I began thinking out loud about where we could go expediently to acquire something nice.
“Well, there’s always Neiman Marcus,” I said, envisioning their pricey, but elegant gift department.
“Okay,” he said. “Let’s go,”
Taking a quick survey of my sweatpants and sneakers, I responded that I couldn’t possibly go to Neiman Marcus looking like this. I would have to shower, change my clothes, fix my hair, and apply makeup. I estimated that all of that would take too much time. So I suggested another store.
“And will you need a makeover to go to that store?” he inquired, not unreasonably.
“No,” I said without missing a beat. “I’m fine.”
He didn’t have to respond with words. I could tell from all that head shaking and his mocking grin that he thought I had gone too long without eating. Better to believe that what I had just said was caused by low blood sugar, rather than conclude his usually clever wife was losing her mind.
Apparently, my husband didn’t share the feeling that a trip to Neiman’s required a wardrobe shift, although he was hardly in his Sunday best. And his sneakers were, in fact, not as nice as mine.
How could I explain that these are the rules, that you could wear your sweaty gym clothes to go to Target or Home Depot, but not to Bergdorf’s? And that these rules have probably been present since birth, maybe even since the womb.
In the late 60’s and early 70’s I lived on Manhattan’s upper west side, a part of town that, at the time, was home to drug dealers and working girls, as well as former members of the Woodstock generation who were now getting married and raising families. The average street uniform was jeans, T- shirts, or long flowing skirts and cowboy boots.
This was all fine west of Central Park. But we were careful to shed the tie-dye when we rode the cross town bus. Then, we wore our “outfits,” which were the passports we felt were required to enter the rarified world of Bloomingdale’s. Or Saks. As if matching shoes and handbags would raise our esteem in the eyes of the salespeople.
Unfortunately, retail intimidation is not something we tend to outgrow. In fact, I’m not sure it doesn’t get more ingrained over time.
Entering a fancy department store or boutique seems to require the confidence that only proper attire can provide. “Hey,” my carefully selected outfit cries out, “I can shop here. I’m cool.” I’m qualified to peruse the racks of clothing with price tags that could otherwise provide a week’s worth of food to a starving village. I have the American Express Black Card. (Not really, but they don’t know that.)
I don’t know if men in similar circumstances are governed by the same set of standards. Perhaps some are. But I would bet not nearly as many or as often as women.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we should all head for the nearest therapist. In fact, I’m not suggesting that we change a thing. Only that we take a step back and laugh at ourselves a little, and go right on doing what we do.
How humiliating it would be to enter a fine establishment and not have an eager salesgirl approach with a bottle of store-label water. That’s why we follow the rules.