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…