HOME PLACE - Wardrobe mistress turns out to be a taskmaster

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"So, Sheila," I say to myself.

Yes?

"You really should try to dress a little better."

What? Are you whining about the lack of wardrobe again?

"Your three shirts and two pairs of pants are not exactly top tier for a workplace collection, you have to admit."

Go away.

This conversation between Sheila the Shopaphobic and Sheila the Reporter takes place every fall. School shopping with my girls is a trigger, apparently. All those sweaters and tights and new book bags unleash my inner student. A much smaller-sized student, but still.

So can I just say something? Finding attractive clothing in my size and budget is not happening very often in my universe, hence the sparse wardrobe. Add in that I loathe shopping for myself, generally -- the proof is in the faded twill pants and fraying buttonholes.

Absolutely, I have found some wonderful sales and taken advantage of them. And I shop Goodwill and places like TJ Maxx, Marshall's and Ross as time and travel allows.

It's desperately hit and miss, however, and a real challenge to look put together.

This summer, my friend Ann encouraged me (well, if by "encouraged," we mean she wore new clothes) to try out a relatively fancy-schmancy clothing company. One that has "collections" and "boutiques."

And stuff that actually fits.

So I sat down with the catalog and had a little talk with myself. I said soothing things, such as "You need to spend a little moola to look professional." I assured myself I could still make the house payment if I bought a new dress and I could survive a little cyber shopping, if not the real thing.

Myself listened. I ordered four top thingies, three of them on sale. It seemed like a lot of money, but I figured I was investing in not looking like a clown.

Wrong.

When the box arrived, I was nearly giddy. Real clothes without real shopping. I pulled apart the white paper and dove in, ready to immerse myself in a sea of "collections."

First I tried on the pintuck white dress shirt, the one I thought would dress up any pair of black pants. As I buttoned it up, I was amazed at the way it felt all floaty. In my size nothing feels all floaty, as a rule.

Turns out it felt that way because it was actually a circus tent posing as a shirt. Three Sheilas could have fit inside that shirt, along with a chair for one of them to sit down.

I called the company right away, having learned a thing or two along with way when ordering online -- you want to alert someone to a problem right away, so it will take six weeks to resolve instead of 12.

The customer service person said I certainly could return it, just use the shipping label that came in the box. "We supply those for $6.95, Mrs. Hagar."

Let me think for minute ... you're going to charge me $7 to return this shirt?

" Six ninety five. Yes, ma'am."

I could feel my eyes rolling. "But this shirt is huge. Noah could have used one of these on the ark for a sail. And you want me to pay you for the privilege of shipping it back?"

She came to see the light when I said it like that. Although, I will tell you, when I checked my bank account a week later, there was a $6.95 charge on it from this company. That was another little cyber squabble to deal with.

But I was ready to move on. So I had two shirts and vest left, all very pretty.

Past tense. The more summery shirt was a sort of stylized tee (no boutique calls it a T-shirt, it's just a "tee." Lowercase, 'cuz that's cooler). I loved the deep apricot color.

I wore it once, all was great. I wore it twice, still fine.

By the fifth wearing -- and YES, I followed the washing instructions -- it, too, looked like I had pulled it over a Sumo suit. I walked, it followed at about half a block behind.

Again I made the call. This time there was no talk of charging me for a shipping label, but there was a distinct tone of displeasure on the other end.

Now I'm down to two special magical pieces of boutique-y clothing. The remaining shirt looks no more special than the one I recently got on sale at one of the local 'marts, no matter how it is spelled.

I do love the vest, however. I've worn it at least a dozen times, washed it maybe thrice. So, of course, it makes sense that the fabric is beginning to pill a little bit. I mean, what do I expect for $70?

Which, I understand, is nothing to some of you. For me, it's a whole day at the zoo with my family, plus snacks. It's four new board games for a more relevant "collection" -- maybe six if there's a sale.

My next conversation with my wardrobe coordinator is going to go a little differently, I can tell.

"Sheila, you look like an orphan. And could you own more than one dress, for Pete's sake?"

Shut up.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom or by calling 509-526-8322.

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