I recently returned from a visit to the Frump Factor ancestral home. It was here that I endured junior high school, an endless sequence of bad haircuts, and culottes. So let’s just say the style legacy I left behind is not one of greatness.
But this was also the place where Mom taught me some of life’s essential lessons. Kindness is important. Growling dogs should be left alone. And the wrong pair of shoes can ruin an outfit. What more does one really need to know?
On this visit, we decided to spend an afternoon shopping for clothes. We are not exactly champions of recreational shopping, so when we get a chance to spend some time together, a trip to the mall isn’t usually high on our list. But when we manage to pull it off, shopping together is a real treat.
We’ve come a long way since the good old days, when I would whine, “Moooom!” every time she opened my dressing room door to see how I was doing. (Like many young girls, I was absurdly modest about being seen in my underwear, even by a store full of mothers and grandmothers). These days, shopping with Mom is both fun and educational. Here’s what I learned this time.
1) I am not the only one who hates tops with other tops built into them. You know the ones I’m talking about, right? The sheer blouses with camisoles sewn in? Or the perfect cardigan — the one you race toward as angels sing — which some idiot designer permanently attached to the ugliest blouse in the universe?
Mom and I made identical, exasperated sighs when we came across these. “I got stuck in one of those once,” Mom said. “I didn’t know if I’d ever make it out of the dressing room.” Yes, my friends; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
2) When you discover that sleeves with extra holes in them are a trend,
it’s much more fun if you have a companion with whom to share this fact. Mom and I had ourselves a rollicking laugh over this one. Well, once I managed to remove my arm from the second hole, that is. (See, again, number 1, above).
3) When you finally find the slacks you want, in the perfect color, your size will always be the only one that’s missing. I thought it was just me. But no; it happened to Mom, too. Good to know.
4) An extra set of eyes helps, so long as you don’t lose your own vision. Mom and I were both able to find things for each other, sometimes spotting items that the other would have dismissed too hastily. But we also know ourselves well enough to be able to say, “No; that one isn’t me.”
5) You should never judge a shirt by its label. I found this printed top on a clearance rack:
Mom walked right by it because of the name on the label — a manufacturer often associated with, um, “old lady prints.” Mom may be in her 70s, but she’s nobody’s old lady! I know how she feels; I’ve walked by this brand many times myself. But this one was different! The photo fails to capture its charms. Once Mom tried it on, she loved it. That very night, she wore it with white jeans and summer sandals for an evening out. Adorable! (I foolishly failed to take a photo, but trust me).
6) Sometimes the smartest purchase is the one you don’t make. I really wanted to find a cute, summery top. I tried on many. The most promising one had that annoying elastic along the bottom hem, ensuring that it would never lie right and I would be forever tugging at it. Mom thought it was really good on me. But we both agreed that if it drove me crazy, I’d never wear it.
7) The key to successful shopping is knowing when to stop. Mom and I have remarkably similar attention spans. We both start to lose it after 90 minutes or 3 comprehensive try-on sessions, whichever comes first.
8) It’s important to have a post-shopping reward. Sadly, the days of the department store restaurant seem to be over. I remember when Mom and I could have a very elegant little lunch after shopping, even in our town’s humble, independent department store. Today, you have to be a little more creative. A cup of coffee will do. Well, as long as it comes with a biscotti on the side. And only if it’s still too early for a glass of wine.
9) Some things don’t get worse with age. When it comes to mall excursions with Mom, my craziest memory is of the time we left the store by the wrong exit and thus emerged in a completely different parking lot. For a panicked 5 minutes, we thought the car had been stolen. We’re over 20 years older now, but we still managed to make our way out the door and to our car without mishap. Whew!
10) Mom and I should go shopping more often. But then, I kind of knew that. Thanks, Mom!