Nothing epitomised my first trip to the US in 2005 more than shopping. Well, shopping and New York but New York is a separate post.
As I was saying, to really experience a new place, you needn’t go to some touristy museum-style place but just ought to do “do as the Romans”. And so I found myself in a Victoria’s Secret sale.
I’ve been mall-ratting a bit but nothing has driven me to such excitement as this sale. Though there’s nothing unusual about it. Underwear, after all, are like diamonds – they’re a girl’s best friend. And if you needed any proof, you had to be at there.
Victoria’s Secret is one of those stores that just entices you in, in much the same way as candy stores to: with lots of colourful little baubles beckoning you, in this case seductively, from the store window. And while the windows may be naughty but nice, there’s nothing coy about what’s going on inside. It’s a marketplace.
In the centre of the room, under spotlights, stand circular stands marked with the magic number – 32, 34, 36 and er…unimaginable. And each stand is further subdivided into the all-important grades – from A to D, and in this case, straight A’s may not quite be what you’re aiming for. However, you are what you’re born with and so you head for the letter and number that God gave you, and the good thing about Victoria’s Secret is that it makes every woman feel special. For years, I was the smallest size and I cannot tell you what a pain it was to find bras…well, at all, and when you did, to find bras that were not trainers or pointy little things. Weirdly, people with big ones say the same thing; apparently in this arena, the law of averages is what you want to work with.
But in Victoria’s Secret everyone’s a princess, or a slut, whichever you’d rather be, and going by the preferences I observed I’d say the latter. It’s every woman for herself, and what a variety of women there were, in all shapes and colours, rolling up thier sleeves and digging in. Age, class, or race no bar, you elbowed your way in, with faux “excusemes” and fought for those ribbons and bows. You’re equipped with big, black shopping bags (which were pretty neat in themselves) and you’re ready to go.
While the bra section was one thing, the panties were out of this world. The tiniest bits of slinky cloth or a small snatch of lace, with the briefest straps, and a price tag that would make your heart stop. That’s what they mean by less is more, I guess. Apparently, red is the way to go in the underwear department because there were two whole boxes of lurid reddies, in smooth satin, raunchy lace, and um, just straps. There were thongs with bows, crotchless panties…and er, just lace. Sometimes you pulled out a thing, and just stared at it in wonder, thinking “HOW ON EARTH DO YOU PUT THIS ON?”
Honestly, some of those things would need an engineer to get started. If you finally managed to get them on, and then off say during sex or to pee, you’d be stuck for another hour, trying to figure out how to go back on and would probably have to call the fire engine finally.
Anyway, once you’ve lost your inhibitions and raided the boxes, you go on to stage 2: waiting in line to try them on. The queue is unbelievable, and filled with women unabashedly brandishing things that would make your granny blush. Some even have impassive husbands and wide-eyed children around. While we’re standing there, shifting from one leg to another, and cursing those women who are already inside with 4000 things, taking forever, this guy and his wife (i hope) walk in, Starbucks in hand (humph! we threw out our Coke on the way in), and ask for some weird type of bra.
The guy turns to us, rolls his eyes, and asks loudly “SO what kinds of bra did your dad want?”
Finally we’re in. The changing rooms are the size of some people’s houses in Bombay, carpeted with long mirror and nice looking seat. By the way, they lock the trial rooms here, apparently people have been caught making out in them, and you have to get an attendent to unlock it for you if you want to try anything. My sis and I, who should be canonized for sharing a room, frantically tug off our clothes and get started. I can’t believe they let you take as many clothes as you want in – sales in India restrict trials to three items at a time, if trials are allowed at all. However, we’re halfway through when I hear a knock on our door. Apparently, you’re allowed inside only for a specific amount of time after which, policewoman type woman, replete in black suit and earpiece and mike (aka smartass walkie-talkie), will hound you snootily out…she can unlock the door and drag you out of there in your hopefully-Victoria Secret undies.
Ok and here’s the best part. You have to stand in another line to pay…during which you eliminate half the items you’ve tried on because when it comes to the cold hard fact of cash, it all seems a bit overwhelming…And when you think about it, underwear like these, if they’re doign thier job, will only be on for about 5 minutes (you’re not going to wear them unless you’re seducing someone) and then what’s the point. Also, frankly, guys never notice underwear, they just want to get on to stage 2. Ok, maybe I’m rationalising. If I had plenty of money, I’d take the lot of them. But as it happens, I walk out with two bras, and polka-dotted sheer red panty with ribbons at the back. And believe me, I’ve never spent more on underwear in my life.
PS: Great thing about America…You can take it all home, and return it if you don’t like it…getting cash back if the labels still on. Can you believe it?
My thoughts 5 years on:
Shopping at Victoria’s Secret, actually buying a brand I had hitherto only seen and lusted over in a magazine, was sort of life-defining for me. But really, I barely ended up wearing most of those slinky things. I’ve come to the conclusion that sexy underwear is a waste and doesn’t make you feel so much sexy, as scratchy.
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Have just returned from a three-hour stint at Target where we spent $130. This is shocking for three reasons:
1) It was at Target. Yes, I’ve heard that Target is supposed to be lower end, but honestly, I think its a great store, where you can pick up your panties while running your eye over the chocolate selection and stocking up on groceries as well.
2) The process took three hours: I didn’t think it was possible to shop for three hours, in the same store. In fact, when we left, my sister said we should be back by 5…And I laughed, thinking that it was impossible to shop for more than two hours. But there you are.
3) We spent $ 130: I don’t even want to do the conversion here because this is apparently a lot even by American standards. What makes it worse is that I can’t say that’s that, no more. Because there are so many more malls to go before I sleep.
But as I sank wearily into the comfort of my sister’s Honda, I couldn’t help noting my aching legs, and my tired arms. And then it hit me (as it has struck thousands of women before me). Shopping is a great workout. What makes it great is not only that it’s pleasurable, but that it’s holistic too. By this I mean that shopping provides for all-round development, it is therapy for mind, body and soul.
1) Well, at a very obvious level, shopping is physically trying. It’s part of the deal that you have to be on your feet, trawling the aisles, darting in and out of racks as you spot better bargains, pulling clothes on and off speedily, rushing back for (hopefully) smaller sizes, standing in the queue to pay, your heart racing as you watch the figures add up, and finally carrying it all to the car.
2) At an intellectual level, shopping requires a mind of steel: to spot the best deals, to see through the cons, to calculate percentages and do currency conversions on the spot and finally to add it all up. If you’re truly talented, you’ll be able to weild your credit card with skill, utilizing it to its maximum potential and keeping ahead of the bank. If you can juggle interest rates deftly and make sure you pay on time, you’ll find you’re actually saving…in a sense.
3) It’s obvious that shopping enhances your aesthetic sense, training your eye for beauty and fine-tuning your desires.
4) Shopping is also a philanthropic activity. John Maynard Keynes early on said “dig trenches and fill them up” and through shopping you are doing nothing but filling up the trenches, spurring on the economy and making the world go round. So, the next time you kick of those new sandals, make sure you pat yourself on the back.
5) Community feeling is bolstered as shopping provides an ideal activity for mothers and daughters, sisters, and just old friends to bond. There are few things that foster camaraderie among the gals than trying on jeans together.
6) And lastly, and I think, most importantly, shopping is therapeutic. There’s nothing that gets the adrenalin going and makes the world seem like a better place than trying on a new skirt, then finding five possible tops to go with it, and winking at yourself in a floor-length mirror, while a salesgirl hovers by, anxious to pander you with more. It’s a simple truth as old as time itself. If you’re feeling blue, there’s a bag somewhere out there for you. Each girl has her pet failing (if still want to call it that), and mine are bags: when I find the perfect bag, or pair of shoes, I feel such a rush of joy, such a heady glow, that for that one moment, I am totally exhilerated, and yet so at peace.