Alice Through the Plexiglass – Adventures in Pandemic Shopping

One of the things I most looked forward to after the pandemic restrictions were lifted was a dose of retail therapy, and not for stocking up on toilet paper or essentials, but the good old-fashioned, fun kind. No matter what they may say about the variety and convenience of online shopping there’s just something about in-person shopping which appeals to my creative soul, even if it’s just browsing through the stores to see what jumps out and says “Buy me! Buy me!”

Many people like the idea of having something nice waiting for them when they get home from work, or they just like the idea of getting packages.  But to me, the frustration of having to send things back, far outweighs the convenience.  I only order online, if I’m fairly sure I’m going to keep it, just need a different color or size than what’s in the store, or can’t find it anywhere else.

I prefer to see exactly what I’m getting, feel the material, assess the quality.  I have bad luck with ordering clothes online, as I’m a hard to fit size.  It reminds me of my grandmother ordering from the Sears and Eaton’s catalogs when she was older and a shut-in.  It would look so appealing in the photos but inevitably it would all go back, and she would complain of having all this money to spend and no way to spend it.  What would she think of the zillions of online choices today?

But how often do you keep things instead of dealing with the hassle of returning them? My only clothing purchase this spring consisted of four pairs of capri pants. (I’m always in search of the perfect capri pants.)  I ordered two sizes in two colors and couldn’t decide which fit better, so I kept them all.  They were already on sale, and then the store emailed me a voucher for $30 off if I spent $75 on regularly priced merchandise before the end of July, but the clothes in the store were so ugly I couldn’t find anything to buy.  And don’t they always reel you in with those special offers?

I’ve done my fair share of shopping in my younger fashionista days, starting from my teen years trying to re-create the looks in Seventeen magazine on a student budget for our monthly dress-up days (the rest of the time, we wore ugly navy and white uniforms), to my university days living in downtown Toronto where I was too poor, and too busy, to enjoy the fashion world at my feet, to my working years when I would while away many a Saturday afternoon at the mall trying to assemble and coordinate a professional wardrobe, right down to the accessories.  In the eighties, to get ahead, you had to look put together.    

I’ve always been a shopper.   Growing up in the country with no wheels, my sister and I would accompany my mother on her weekly trips into town and hit the clothing stores while she did the grocery run.  We did a lot of looking and not much buying, still it was fun to check out the latest trends and styles. 

When I was student in Toronto, the campus was near downtown, and we would occasionally go down to the Eaton Centre mall, but you would only buy if you needed something specific, like if there was a formal coming up, or you needed a new winter coat or boots.  Mostly we went for the frozen yogurt banana splits at the food court, which was a new trend we thought healthy, or to try out a new restaurant like the Magic Pan or the Great Canadian Soup company.  I lived on Bloor St. in third year so it was closer for us to go shopping at the corner of Bloor and Yonge, but again it was a lot of browsing. 

It seems strange today, when young people have so much, but back then you didn’t expect your parents to supplement your wardrobe.  It was enough they paid your tuition and residence.  The $1000 I made each summer (yes, $2/hr) had to last for living expenses and food for the whole year.  I find it funny now to look back and think that that my entire wardrobe fit into a small dorm closet, (we lived in jeans), but maybe I’ve come full circle now that my wardrobe has shrunk considerably and I’ve reverted to what is basically a capsule wardrobe.    

I’ve blogged about my love of shopping and clothes before in Thanks It’s Vintage, and also my  frustration with finding stylish clothes for older women in Twenty Pairs of Black Pants.  Sadly, to say my wardrobe has deteriorated even further with the pandemic.  I’ve lived in yoga pants, track-pants and an assortment of t-shirts and tops, which have become so shabby with continued washing, that I’m embarrassed to be seen in them.   Not to mention, the need for new underwear, socks, pajamas and running shoes.

So it was with some excitement that I hit the stores when they finally reopened in July – yes, we were in lockdown for almost six months.  And even before that, although I may have made a few quick trips to the mall last summer and before Christmas, they were quick in and out, don’t touch anything and certainly don’t try anything on affairs. 

So imagine my disappointment to be confronted with this…..

Are these left over from last year or this year, and who looks good in gold anyway, unless you’re a contender at the Olympics?

Or this…

The trendy colors for fall are supposedly to be plum jam, mallard blue and red henna, but is there a reason these are on clearance?

Or how about no color – this is from a popular store that I usually walk right by as the quality is so poor.

Neutral is almost as bad as the endless sea of black and white we see every year. Not that there’s anything wrong with black pants.  There were years when my entire wardrobe centered about black pants and an assortment of cute tops, but where were all the cute tops?

I felt like poor Alice who had fallen down the rabbit hole into a strange new world where nothing made sense.  Except I wasn’t poor – I had money to spend after two years of pent-up consumer demand, and an economy I wished to support!

Or how about this sweater, from an expensive lady’s store?  What kind of animal is this?

Is it the dormouse?

I know I haven’t shopped in awhile but is this what passes for fashion these days?

I remember the poncho look the first time around in the seventies and have no desire to re-live it. Besides wool makes me itchy just looking at it.

My grandmother knit me an afghan like that once.

The long drapey look may be popular, but you have to be tall to wear it.

TWEEDledum and TWEEDledee

This muted plaid one isn’t too bad, minus the fringe, but wouldn’t your arms get cold?

Plaid pants remind me of high school, a bad idea then and now.

I think I’ll stick with the classic black ones.

Now I admit, it’s been years since I’ve looked at a fashion magazine.  I used to take my copies of Glamour and Mademoiselle to the beach on summer weekends to keep up to date with the latest styles, necessary as we were always a year behind our American friends. The August and September issues were much anticipated as they were thick with pages of the new fall looks. Those magazines used to have style and class, but I eventually stopped buying them when they started to veer into Cosmo territory.  It was fashion I wanted, not relationship advice.  But it’s apparent I have my work cut out for me if I want to get up-to-date fashion wise. Is there such a thing as a decent fashion magazine anymore?  

I’m still mourning the death of the department store.  (Sears R.I.P.) It was one-stop shopping for everything, like socks, underwear, pj’s, shoes etc.  After a short tour of what’s left of our only mall, I managed to find one pair of summer PJ’s in a lingerie store geared to young people.  It had a stupid saying on the t-shirt (Stay Shady with a palm tree) but it was blue and a comfortable cotton and not too ugly, but I struck out with the socks.  Even the sporting stores only had those short things that fit inside your shoes.  How hard can it be to find a pair of simple white socks to wear with running shoes? 

Discouraged, I went in search of a new bathmat, in a light blue, but even that seemed elusive.  

Bath mats and towels only come in gray and neutral this year.
Isn’t the world gray enough?

Maybe that’s the problem – I’m a boomer who craves color and quality and the stores are geared toward millennials, who want neutrals and cheap prices and prefer to own minimal stuff……soon we’ll have stores selling nothing.  Sounds like something right out of Wonderland.   

The day wasn’t a total waste though. I did eventually find some white socks, although heavy winter ones, not the lightweight type I had been searching for. I also returned to Old Navy and bought some more face masks – as I’m sure we’re not out of the rabbit hole yet.  

After several hours of wearing a mask on a horribly hot and humid day, I’d had enough of the stores and was happy to go home and put my feet up (in my new McGregor socks), and brew a cup of tea. While browsing for books online, I found a nice pair of classic navy-with-white-piping winter PJ’s on the Chapters/Indigo website. Great reviews and great price as they had sent me a 25% off birthday coupon – click. When they arrived Canada Post, the quality and fit were good. Who would think of looking for pajamas in a bookstore? They even came in a cute drawstring bag, as it was gift-ware and the stores are starting to stock (and decorate) for Christmas, even though it still seems like summer here. There should be a law against that before Halloween.

Speaking of Halloween, I found quite a few Chesire Cat face masks available online. “We are All Mad Here” seems to be the second most popular choice, and isn’t that the truth.

PS. This post would have been much better if I had re-read my Lewis Carroll, but Alice was never a favorite of mine – as a rather serious child I found the books nonsensical and full of jabberwocky. From a quick check on Wikipedia, once Alice steps through the Looking Glass, just like a mirror, everything is reversed – running makes things stationary, walking away brings you closer, ugly clothes become pretty etc. You probably need magic mushrooms to believe that one…

Back in Class

      Remember all the fun stuff about back to school when you were a kid, before the reality of homework set in?    Please join me for some arts and crafts and some back to school shopping in pursuit of classic plaid.    Sorry this is so tardy, I know it’s mid-September already, but the dog ate the first draft…   

         When I was a kid in the sixties, art class was a rare treat, saved for special occasions when the teacher was too frazzled to do anything else.   I recall making mothers and fathers day cards but that was about it.   I was never a Brownie or Girl Guide.   In older grades, I got a C in art which nixed my dreams of becoming a fashion designer.   I can’t draw a straight line or paint.  But today I am a regular patron of Michaels the craft store.   Their 50% off coupons lure me in every time. 

       I ran into someone a few weeks ago and she was looking for plants for her parents grave-sites.   We started talking about those hideous purple and yellow gravestone wreaths, and I asked why are you buying those when you can make your own much nicer and cheaper, with a green wire hanger from Michaels and some flowers from the dollar store.   She thought that was an excellent idea, so I hope someone else might find some of these ideas inspiring.   Here’s a link to last years (unpublished) post Arts and Crafts 101:     (As I recently explained in my one year anniversary post, my blog was private last fall for the first three months).

After picture

       I had a quick look through the mall recently and the stores are full of plaid flannel tops, despite the fact that the forecast this weekend is for the same hot and humid weather we have had all summer.   You would think we were a country of lumberjacks, but then plaid is a perennial fall favorite.   Here’s a link to my blog from last fall, Mad for Plaid.    Enjoy! 

Plaid pencil case

(I bought a new pencil case at the dollar store for old-times sake – it might be good for stashing makeup in or all those small things which fall to the bottom of your purse).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twenty Pairs of Black Pants

March Break - AMc - 2005

March Break –  2005

          March really is the cruelest month.   The daffodil stalks are peeking up optimistically through the thawing ground, but the temperature is still in the negative.   The bone-chilling cold of January has been replaced by the raw damp winds of March, interspersed with a few bright sunny days, a tease of warmer weather to come.  There is always that one last snow storm or bout of freezing rain to crush your expectations of spring, when it is a relief to wake up in your cozy bed listening to the sleet against the window and know you have no place to go.   Now that I’m retired I have more days like that, in fact I don’t even have to get dressed at all.  I can stay in my PJ’s all day if I want.   And that is the dilemma with retirement clothes.  

           Just what do you wear when you are now longer working, or maybe like Cinderella you toil at home, not necessarily scrubbing the scullery floors, but looking after wee ones or freelancing or blogging.  (Does anyone else have writing clothes?)   If you have been a career person who lived in business clothes most of your life you may find after a period of social inactivity that your wardrobe has sadly deteriorated into a sloppy mess of old sweatpants and t-shirts, with perhaps a few dressy items for going out.   Even the last few years of my working life, my wardrobe had dwindled into a collection of black pants, of which I must have at least twenty pair (there might be more I’m afraid to count), and an assortment of tops which have lived in my closets for years.   Yes, I shop in my closet.

            A recent report on the CBS (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), said that the average Canadian buys 70 new garments per year, and we spend 400% more on clothes than in the 1980’s, all due to Fast Fashion which allows us to buy more for way less.   The report went on to describe how most of the old clothes we donate to charities end up in the landfill, either here or in African countries, as they are not needed, and urged people to hold swap meets and to buy less.  For once it seems I am ahead of the game, but not necessarily for the environmental reasons they suggested.  (see Sears RIP blog for the death of style). 

           Is it possible to look stylish and comfortable on a limited budget? Scraggly old sweats and stained t-shirts are fine for a few hours relaxing on the couch or doing laundry, cleaning or gardening but I’m not sure I want to live in them all the time.  There must be more attractive options – it’s time to hit the stores. 

             And the stores are full of black yoga pants and black leggings.  I have finally gotten used to skinny jeans but I hate yoga pants and leggings…worst thing ever invented.  All that spandex, and the material doesn’t breathe, and most of the time they are way too tight, your legs end up looking like sausages or toothpicks depending on your weight.   If they fit at the waist then they are baggy in the legs, or the legs are skin tight, and how attractive is that, unless you prefer the boots/hooker look, and really what MAW (mature adult woman), looks good in that?   Even Madonna is too old for that look although she doesn’t seem to know it, but then neither does Beyonce and she is still young.    I did manage to find a nice pair of comfortable black Puma sweatpants at Winners for $25, half price.  (When you are retired, you have to be frugal).   The material was thick too, not Lulu Lemonish, so they will be good for walking in cold weather, which is all we are having right now.    I also found a nice comfy pair at Reitman’s, under their Hyba brand, soft and minimal spandex.    Both had a drawstring waist, an important feature, if you plan on eating in them.  (When you are retired you tend to go out for lunch a lot.)   And because Reitman’s had a BOGO 50% off sale, (oh what suckers we are), I got a soft blue sweatshirt….did I mention it was soft.  Of course even the small was too big at the shoulders, but the saleslady assured me it should be worn off the shoulder with a tank top underneath, kind of like that old eighties movie, Flashdance.   I also bought some black fleecy long johns (top and bottoms) at Mark’s Work Warehouse, for $30 each….very warm and cozy, and great for winter walking.  I have worn these under my old sweatpants, and have been quite toasty even in minus thirty degree weather.  Now if they only made fleece for your face, I’m sure I would venture out more.   I also bought a pair of lined (T-Max Heat) black pants at Mark’s Work Warehouse for $40 half price, which I have worn shopping or running errands, and they are nice too, so we have the winter wear covered….oops forgot about the hat. Got a nice thick red and brown knitted hat to match my red parka, at Winners…$12.  It’s hard to find a decent hat unless you want to look like a Gap ad with a pompom on your head, maybe attractive for fifteen year old models but not MAW.  (I could do a whole separate blog on hats.)   Oh, and because it is Canada, boots are an essential item – practical boots, $62 with a $10 gift card (oh what suckers we are), at Marks Work Wearhouse 50% off sale, black suede with fur trim, mid calf, good for snowdrifts and shoveling the driveway, not so good for walking in, but they probably need to be broken in…did I mention it’s been too cold to walk lately?

         On the days when it’s so cold, you don’t even feel like getting dressed, pajamas are important, so two sets, both navy, one plain navy with white piping, (I call them my Rosemary Clooney White Christmas pajamas only hers were red), and one with a thin-striped navy top and navy bottoms, both from Winners.    I find I am spending more time sleeping, nine hours a night, (for the first time in my life people tell me I look good….what they mean is I don’t look tired), and they are both great for lounging around in the evening.  Both are very soft cotton material, although a bit warm for the winter nights when it’s minus thirty below and I have the heat cranked up so the pipes don’t freeze.  Then I wear my summer PJ’s.

             Before Sears closed I bought a navy blue with white trim (I sense a nautical theme here), designer one piece bathing suit for 60% percent off, at $25, a real bargain.   It was for those water aerobics classes at the sports complex, but I have yet to wear it.   It’s too cold to go to the arena but I’m sure my bone density test will love it someday.   My last purchase was a new rose/brown sweater, again end of season half price $42, for wearing with jeans or black pants for lunches/dinners out.     And there you have it….retirement wardrobe covered, total cost, approx. $400.    I could use a few more casual tops for the sweats, but before you know it,  spring will be here, and I can switch to t-shirts and start my annual hunt for Capri pants that fit.   Is there anything more enticing than stores full of colorful spring clothes in the last dregs of winter – such promise of summer days ahead.   Or maybe next winter, I’ll just skip the whole thing and wear that bathing suit down south. 

         I wrote this wardrobe update summary the first year of my retirement, but in the year since then I have bought even less, (three more pairs of black Hyba pants, two summer tops, and a mint green Columbia spring windbreaker jacket), so obviously I am not the typical consumer the CBS based their poll on.  It does seem excessive to buy so much, not to mention expensive.   I remember spending more money on clothes in my younger years because I loved to shop and people dressed up more back then.  (see vintage blog)   Maybe younger people are happy with the available Fast Fashion.   But I am older and fussier now too – it must be of good quality, fit well, look good, be comfortable, practical, needed, a reasonable price and also bring me joy – a tall order for any poor garment.   No wonder I am buying less.  I have been reading about all things Parisian for future blogs, and the French seem to be perfectionists when it comes to clothing, which may be why they have such great personal style.   A French woman will shop for months for the perfect article of clothing.  I think I would do well there.  Vive la France!  

(Disclaimer:  I do not own this Paris picture, it was from a box of note cards but it is so elegant I just had to share it.) 

Postscript:   The snowdrops are out, the first sign of spring. Snowdrops