Fear of Boutiques (Part One?)

Why on earth would a fully functioning adult woman be afraid to walk into a store?  It’s crazy, I know, but I’m still often intimidated by a certain kind of fashionable, independently owned boutique.

It’s frustrating because I am also strongly attracted to this kind of shop.  What’s not to love?  Each one has its own creative personality, with a collection lovingly selected by an actual person, not by a corporate entity.  Rather than just the usual array of the usual suspects, boutiques have eclectic collections that are united by one thread – the artistic vision of the boutique’s owner.   Boutiques are where you can find truly special items, and put the fun back into shopping!

So why am I afraid to walk into so many of them?

I do have my reasons.  I can’t swear that they’re rational reasons, but you can be the judge:

1. Too much individual attention.  I know that fabulous customer service is one of the draws, but I’m weird – I prefer an anonymous shopping experience.  Boutiques make me feel too conspicuous.  They are small, increasing the danger that I might be the only actual shopper.  The overly solicitous staff may pounce on me, which fills me with dread.  If they help me, it will be rude not to buy anything!  If it’s the owner, I’ll hurt her feelings!  If I’m unlikely to buy something, I have no right to be wasting their time!

And if you’re thinking that I have way more than my share of irrational guilt, well, you’re right.  This fact has been pointed out to me a number of times, sometimes even by highly paid professionals.  You think you can change my mind now???  I’ve made progress over the years, but my core neuroses are here to stay.

2.  Everybody will know I don’t belong there. More about the reasons why, below, but whatever the reason, the fear is palpable.  If I don’t belong there, will they humor me with patronizing smiles?  Or will they ignore me all together?  Come to think of it, that may be the only thing worse than being pounced on!

And if you’re thinking, “Wow, you shouldn’t be so insecure,” I direct you again to the “core neuroses” point, above.

3.  Sticker shock. You knew it would come down to this, didn’t you?  Uniquely crafted, quality items tend to cost more.  In a larger store, I can walk past the pricey items and head to the lower end ones or the sale racks.  In a smaller boutique, what if nothing is in my price range?  If I walk right out, will I have a neon sign flashing over my head reading “out of her league?”  Do I have to stay around and “pretend shop” — aimlessly flipping through items — to avoid making a fool of myself or offending the store staff?  Or will they already know —  from perusing my shoes and handbag, presumably — that their wares are out of my price range?  Will they snicker at me, or worse, pity me, when I leave?

4.  Too trendy, and I’m too old. The truly fashion-forward boutique is filled with frothy, flitty garments perfect for young women doing young things.  Clubbing!  Going on first dates!  Attending bachelorette parties in swanky clubs!  Does a hip store make its reputation by providing practical, well-made items that can go from work to dinner with one’s husband of almost 20 years?  Well, they might, but that’s not what they’re advertising in the window.  Even though I know there’s probably a place for the mature woman, I don’t always believe it in the moment.

5.  They won’t have clothes for my size or body type. In real life, my size-eight frame is considered thin.  This means that, in the world of trendier fashion, I’m just barely within the margins of acceptability.  Skin tight, clingy and/or transparent  fabrics are not my friends.  And while most boutiques seem to have my size (at the upper end of their scale, I can’t help noticing), appropriateness of cut may be another matter entirely.  I can still do a fairly deep V-neck, but I’m not a fan of visible bra straps or thongs hanging out of pants.  Come to think of it, I’m not a fan of thongs, at all.

6.  The clothes are for more fabulous lives than mine. A lot of what I see in boutiques would go for dressy, stylish occasions.  How many of these do I have?  Not many.  And this is depressing!  I don’t want a reminder of how practical my life is.

However, it is this concern, more than any of the others, that makes me eager to overcome these fears once and for all.   I need to occasionally step outside of the box and be less practical.  I need to, occasionally, look for fun clothes.  No, I don’t have to buy something if I fear I will never wear it.  But how will I find something that I will wear if I don’t even look?

Sometimes, once you try something and love it, you find that you will wear it.  I’ve had this experience many times; some of my favorite items are things that were originally out of my comfort zone.  It’s only by going outside that zone, once in a while, that one’s style can truly evolve.

Sure, I’ve made my share of mistake purchases – things bought for “maybe some day” that went unworn.  But this mistake happens most often when I’m blinded by a sale price.  What if I only buy something that I’m willing to pay full price for, and that I can make a commitment to wear?

And more importantly, what if I give myself permission and opportunity to shop and try new things, without feeling pressure to buy?

In short, I need to get over the guilt and fear of sales clerk scorn.  So here it is:  the boutique challenge!  Sometime soon, I will shop in one of the boutiques that I’ve admired from afar.  Afterwards, I will blog about the experience.

I may need a little time to figure out my strategy:  to shop with money, or no money?  To have a specific goal in mind, or no goal? To plan to buy, or to plan on not buying, but just trying?

In the meantime, feel free to participate in my growth process.  If you have any strategic advice, or if you’ve had a positive boutique experience, tell me about it!  Inspire me!  Encourage me to get over my insecurities!

Together, we can be strong.


About Anne @ The Frump Factor

Reflections on beauty and style, for women who weren't born yesterday. Bring your sense of humor and "Fight the Frump" with me!
This entry was posted in Fashion, Over40, Shopping and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Fear of Boutiques (Part One?)

  1. Uyen says:

    wow Anne…you basically summed it all up right there. I feel the EXACT same way as you! It’s the too much attention and then if you don’t buy anything, you feel guilty…that’s what gets to me the most.

  2. Terri says:

    This is an interesting challenge. I avoid boutiques for many of the same reasons, but in my little town there are four boutiques, one on each side of the town square. I’ve been curious about them and thought that after I receive the cards I have ordered that I WOULD go in and introduce myself and my blog, whether I purchased anything or not. The last time I shopped for a specific dress was to celebrate an anniversary with my husband of 14 years. I didn’t shop a boutique, but a Marshall’s, and it was fascinating to watch how other customers and clerks wanted to be a part of my “special occasion.”

  3. manya says:

    I hear you lady, I feel the same way no matter how much I admire fashion and designers. It’s sad women have different insecurities throughout their lives.

  4. Uyen, Terri & Manya: Wow, it’s gratifying to see that I’m not the only one who feels this way!

    Terri: Great idea, going to visit those boutiques and introducing yourself & the blog. Part of me loves the idea of having a store where the people know you — I envision something like what you experienced at Marshall’s, where everybody wants to be involved in your shopping experience. I just have to learn how to not feel obligated to buy.

  5. MaggieT says:

    I remember when Junior was just a baby, and friends and family would give her the most adorable dresses and other outfits. Sister-in-law #1 gave me some excellent advice: “Don’t save the nice outfits for special occasions. Dress her up even you’re going to Stop&Shop!” It was great advice, given how fast a baby outgrows clothes. It is still great advice for grown-up ladies, given how fast styles change (or in my case, how fast I grow). Just because you’re standing in front of a class or running errands, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look fab. I see women in the grocery store who are dressed better than I dress to go out. It’s not any harder to put on a nice shirt than a t-shirt. It’s not harder to put on a pair of kick-ass jeans than the ones you wear to mow the lawn. Economically speaking, you’d be better off buying fewer but more fabulous clothes that you wear regularly–even to the grocery store–than more cheaper and not fabulous clothes you rotate through. You can be the one in Whole Foods that I see and think, “Wow. Look at HER.” Beats being one of the legions of middled-aged women in Whole Foods walking around in fleece Northface jackets covered with dog hair.

    Guess which one I am!

    • Hee! Love that last image there.
      I agree with everything you just said.
      But I am also — quite often (usually?) — less than fabulous. Good to have a goal, though.
      (I’m still wearing fleece to the pub, though….. but only if I’ve actually been out walking and need a pub stop on the way home!)

    • Vicki says:

      I agree…It is just as easy (and comfortable) to put on a nice outfit with a piece of jewelry or two and look good as you’re running errands… You are representing your family, or your husband if you’re married…and it just makes us feel good to look good! When our kids were students, I never wanted to embarress them by looking sloppy when out in the community. I know this probably isn’t a very popular opinion, but it is just as easy to look good in your own home and in your own community as it is to look sloppy! My own mom (who is now 75) ALWAYS was up, dressed nicely with make up on in our own home…and she still does this! With all of the people out there looking for jobs, it certainly is in their best interest to look professional at all times…you never know if the person standing in the grocery line is hiring! 🙂

      • I agree — I do like to look and feel good out in public. And while I always wear elastic-waist pants and no shoes while at home, I look for yoga-type pants that are somewhat fitted and have a nice silhouette. And I often do put on a little bit of makeup at home, just to make me feel better!

  6. Vicki says:

    Oh please do not fear shopping in a Boutique!!! As an owner of a Boutique for over 27 years, I have to say that most shops like ours are truly welcoming to our clients…both new and old. We do not get our feelings hurt if you stop by to just take a look…we work very hard to find clothing that fits “real” women, and because we have a relationship with our clients, we are able to find items that really do work for YOU,not just a mass audience. Thank you for your insight, though! It is important for me to know that there are people that are uncomfortable just walking through the doors of a boutiuqe, and work on ways to alleviate their fears. I promise you though that most Boutiques are owned and operated by very personable, very REAL women who deeply care about our clients…whether or not today is a spending day or a looking day for them! Once you’ve been spoiled with FREE Gift Wrap, FREE drinks & goodies, and truly personalized service, you will LOVE boutique shopping! (Wishing you were closer so we could spoil you a bit at Adrians! http://www.facebook.com/adriansboutique).Looking forward to hearing about your experience! Vicki @ Adrians

    • Hey, thanks for the warm welcome! I do love the idea of personal service (not to mention special nights with “drinkies”) that I’ve seen advertised at some boutiques. And I have found owners and staff to be very friendly, when I have ventured in! I just need to get past my own insecurities so that I can do more than just “pretend shop.” Thus far, I’ve usually just browsed, not tried on. (But I always compliment the staff on the collection, when appropriate! That helps me to feel better about just looking).

  7. denise:) says:

    You’re not the only one- your list of reasons could’ve been written by me! Especially #1. I hate being doted on!! It’s my number one reason it takes me a few days to prepare mentally for the MAC or Benefit counters at Macy’s. JUST LET ME LOOK AND I’LL WAVE WHEN I WANT YOU!

    We have a few boutiques in town. My friend stopped in at one and was promptly directed to the 2nd hand “boutique” down the street. I have decided I will never visit that particular boutique!! I thought it was out of character for that store to be the collection point for the annual Used Coat Drive, and that is the only time I have ever entered it. Practically threw my old coats at the saleslady and ran away… 🙂

  8. Melinda says:

    I agree with all the worried feelings. The sad thing is that I even feel guilty about not going in. I really want small, independent shops to succeed—just not with me as a patron.

  9. jo frances says:

    Strange, I can keep my focus in places like Loehmanns or warehouse sales where it’s crowded and the clothes are in heaps, but put me in a quiet boutique and I get sensory overload…anyway, thanks for a terrific and very relatable post!!!

  10. LOVED this! I am with you!!

  11. Grace says:

    Oh my God. You just verbalized (or wrote) exactly what I’ve never been able to articulate about my aversion to the gorgeous boutiques that abound in my hometown of Atlanta. But it’s true — I feel like I don’t belong. And I abhor hovering sales people. Yesterday, for example, I was in an upscale bathing suit boutique in Lenox Mall. I’m leaving on a cruise in 2 days and needed a new suit. Melinda, the sales gal, drove me absolutely nuts by standing outside my dressing room and maintaining a running chatter the entire time I was trying on suits. If I hadn’t desperately needed a suit, I would have walked away just because she annoyed the hell out of me. Alas, I bought two suits and reinforced her annoying behavior.

  12. Gail says:

    Oh Anne I’m exactly like you!! I don’t go into boutiques either for all the reasons you’ve given. And I’d never go into a designer boutique in a million years.

    • You raise a good point about there being a “range” of boutiques — some being more high-fashiony than others. I don’t think I’d go into a 1-designer boutique, either. But I’d still like to challenge myself to go into some of the others with more ease. (And to actually shop, not just “pretend shop.”) So the challenge stands! Once the snow melts and I can get out again, that is. Maybe part of the challenge is figuring out which stores might be more comfortable for me.

  13. Annie Joy says:

    I agree with every point you made. I guess it’s that “Pretty Woman” syndrome for me, that fear that someone is going to let you know that you really don’t belong there. It’s a fear that (some of us) carry throughout our lives — that we don’t really belong. And if it’s not the sales person or other customers (who we suspect are really, actually focusing on our “wrongness” other than their own personal challenges), then we can always count on the mirror to remind us that we’re not Julia Roberts and the purchase price will come out of our own handbags and not out of Richard Gere’s fat wallet.
    So, I’m middle-of-the-road — at my age and income level, shopping is usually more rewarding at the larger stores, where I can find “classic” styles in my size and price range. That’s not to say that I don’t visit a boutique now and then, just to add a little spice to my life and wardrobe! As always, thanks for your perspective and for articulating it so well!

  14. BigD says:

    I think you verbalized my inner issues!
    The other issue I’d add is: Not getting waited on at all.
    I expect the boutique girls will take one look at me and think “why bother?” and ignore me.
    I have the uncanny ability to walk into any store and get ignored. I can walk in with one other person or 3 and I will be the ONLY ONE who doesn’t get a “May I help you?” from the staff!
    I feel like I should be shopping at the Goodwill…

  15. Cynthia says:

    Yeah, you’re right on here. A lot of boutiques don’t seem to go above size 8 and they’re all clubwear-oriented. Why should I even bother with a place like that?

    But it’s even worse when you’re large. I’m tall and I’ve been as big as a size 20 in my life. You walk into the wrong boutique and salesgirls make this “stop fatting up my space” face at you. Like you even being there is disgusting, and people might start to think their shop is a shop for fat people just by you walking in. I’ve even gotten ‘tude like this at one of our local vintage stores much more recently — last summer, when I was a comfortable modern size M, so it’s not like I was getting fat cooties on their store, the salesgirls still got all snotty when I asked about sizes of particular items.

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