Shlumpadinkas and the Intimidating World of Retail

Recently I went to a foreign country, AKA a major-name clothing store. Okay no need to be coy; it was Lord & Taylor. I’m not a shopper (okay, I need to be kidnapped, blindfolded and led in wearing a straitjacket). But this time I did go under my own steam because I am wearing the same shirt every day, because L&T is near my house, and because there was a sale.

And people, this is a bizarre experience if you don’t do it regularly. Or rather, it’s a bizarre experience, period, and those of you who do it regularly have become inured to the practice.

All those departments, laid out in a big circle, each with its own nuanced personality and intended audience. How would I know, from the signage alone, whether I’m a Michael Kors or a Kenneth Cole girl? What does each mean? And Ralph Lauren, I would buy your clothes if you’d take your own name off of them. I’ll be darned if I’m going to pay money to advertise for you. 

BCBGMaxAzria and French Connection seem a bit fashion forward for the middle-aged. A better way of saying that is that the largest jeans are a size 4.

Obviously I’m writing from a place of my own inadequacy. I know I’m feeling contrarian. Michael Kors is probably really nice, and he never did me wrong.  Ralph Lauren makes beautiful clothes. I’d love to fit into the fashion forward jeans that are not any bigger than a dishtowel.

It’s just that going to a store that focuses on fashion makes me feel like a shlumpadinka. That’s an Oprah word that describes someone who wears the same sweatpants day after day, who has given up.

And I haven’t given up. I don’t feel like that normally, in spite of admitting I might be missing a gene that helps me handle makeup brushes adroitly. I don’t know how to tie scarves right. I’m overweight. I tend towards buying, each year, a wild print shirt that makes me deliriously happy and then wearing it over and over with something black; that’s the extent of my fashion sense.

Yet only when I am in a department store, which exists to lure me in and then entice me to buy, do I feel like a shlumpadinka. Something is wrong with the marketing if women feel like they need to rush out of the store because we are inadequate at even perusing clothes. Something about visiting a store makes me feel like I will never measure up to the standard held out for us — that we should be replacing our wardrobes yearly, that we should be incredibly thin and chic to even touch the hallowed clothes, and that makeup will transform our lives from carpool line to sex on the beach.

Last week I wandered into the makeup department of a major store, and I went there straight from the gym. My hair was a bit sweaty looking. My clothes were, well, gym clothes. I was not wearing makeup.  And I just had to laugh and imagine that perhaps I was giving a gift to the impossibly perfect makeup saleswomen… by allowing them to look at me and feel totally superior to me, for in this realm they are. Maybe in many realms. But why count?

My hue and cry is for women (and men) to realize that we are fine as we are. We are not inadequate no wonder what the marketing departments tell us. We are not strange if we don’t update our wardrobes every year to have the new trend.

Freshen up, yes. Look your best, yes. Take good care of our health, yes. (I’m preaching to myself, as those who eat biscuits with me will realize).

But really, there’s no reason to go into Bloomingdale’s and come out feeling pitiful cause you can’t afford to throw away all your old eye shadow and get the “new minimalism” (with 100 products, no doubt) or because you can’t update your little black dress to one with a different silhouette (because last year’s silhouette with a two-inch difference in hemline is entirely out of date).

There’s no reason to throw yourself in front of a train if you need a What Not To Wear intervention. And as Clinton Kelly says, “Don’t think of yourself as a mutant.”

Love who you are.  Go into a store and attack those racks with moderation, balance and perspective.  Don’t buy the lies that you’re not lovable as you are.

And if you are a person with influence in marketing women’s clothes, consider making shopping fun, accessible, and not intimidating to women who aren’t 18, skinny as a birch tree and dying to spend money for every trend.

If you build it, we will come.

5 thoughts on “Shlumpadinkas and the Intimidating World of Retail


  1. Right on! I am wearing threadbare clothes from high school b/c I break out in hives in any clothing or makeup store! I have been in your Lord & Taylor and scuttle out every time feeling defeated – argh! I don’t like to spend money on clothes and I have learned that if I find something I like, to go buy it in every color – several of each. Have you noticed my “uniform” – not very exciting – but quite comfortable – and my idea of getting wild is my little leopard belt with my jeans. Hope you are well. By the way, what is your “grandmother name”?


  2. Cary,

    AHHHHH! This makes me laugh out loud! Every woman can sooooooo relate to this! How many times have I sneaked past the makeup section, trying to avoid eye contact with those behind the counter? 🙂


  3. Or, Deby, tried to avoid the perfume spritzing people?!?


  4. You are a first-rate writer.

    This one hits all us girls. And why do the make up consultants all have to have PERFECT skin?? The eye shadow that brightens their eyes gets gummed up in the folds of my eyelids and looks ridiculous!!!

Leave a Reply