OK, I hate things that start “me and my ___”. Like, “me and my crazy sense of humor.” Just add that to the list of things I do that I say I won’t do — like walking into the store Variazioni.
This is a small chain of clothing stores that may or may not be connected to the chain called “The New York Look,” but as far as I can see they’re one and the same. I certainly hate them the same. Every time I’ve gone into either, I’ve sworn not to go back in.
Why do I? Well, because I’m weak-willed, especially when I’m looking for something I want. This week, I read for the 3rd year in a row that this spring’s “must have” is a beige trench. I don’t even look very good in beige. But it’s depressing to wear a black trench, which I do own, on a sunny day. So, the other day, I set out on one of my missions.
Must. Have. Beige. Trench.
When I’m on a mission, I don’t like to rule out any possibilities. I almost did. I walked passed Variazioni on 8th street, thinking, “Ew, I hate that store.” And then I thought, “What if my perfect trench is in there?” It’s like looking for a soulmate. You suck it up and go to the party you’re dreading, on the off chance that The One just might be there.
So. New York Look/ Variazioni: If you live in New York and shop for women’s clothing, you know these stores. They sell good stuff – a lot of the same clothing you’d find at better department stores (I’ve always loved that phrase) but without the pleasant shopping experience and easy return policy.
The owners and staff are all from somewhere I can’t place. Somewhere Middle-Eastern/Eastern-European/Mediterranean. I want to say Israel, but I have many cousins there so I won’t.
Whatever land the store people come from, I know these things about it:
1) It’s a place where the men love weapons-grade cologne, open shirts and, no doubt, the discoteque.
2) The women dye their hair red, except it’s not red, it’s purple. In this land of theirs, they only have single-process hair color.
3) Gipsy Kings must be played around the clock. It’s played at meal time, bed time, funeral marches, to babies in the womb. They pipe it through speakers on the streets. “Bamboleo” is the national anthem. All stereos and radios are only Gipsy-Kings-capable. If you get caught playing anything but Gipsy Kings, you are shot on site. But the gun they shoot you with doesn’t make a gunfire sound. Instead, it plays Gipsy Kings.
4) In their language, there is no word for “refund.”
5) There is also no exact word for “customer service.” They call it “customer assault.” It’s not a thing you learn on the job. They have training camps in the desert, where they teach the special retail ambush technique that sets the store apart from any other.
This, #5, is what always makes me vow not to return.
In most stores, either they ignore you – which is fine with me – or offer, “Let me know if you need any help.” And leave it at that.
Here, what you get when you step though the door is: “What are you looking for today? I’ll help you find it.”
A short “Nothing particular, thanks” is code for “You and your purple hair can stay over there.” But they don’t speak that code. Ms. Purple Hair persists.
“Maybe I can help you. We have everything. All the latest styles. How about some fantastic denim?”
“No, I’d rather just browse, thanks.”
“OK.” She acts like she’s accepted your need for independence. But soon as you touch an item of clothing, this person’s an inch from your face. You’ve never seen someone move so quickly, except the vampires on True Blood.
“These pants look so great on.”
Really? On whom? What does that mean, “so great on”? Everything looks better hanging on the rack. That’s why all fashion models are built like clothes hangers. What pants look good on everyone? Are these the Traveling Pants?
If she sold those pants, girlfriend wouldn’t be minding a store on 8th Street. She’d be dancing to Gipsy Kings in her own private discoteque on her own private island.
This is your last chance to leave. Because here’s what happens if you decide to try on these magic pants:
You squeeze into them in the dressing room, and have a feeling, since you can’t snap them and they only go halfway over your butt, that they don’t fit. They don’t feel “so great on.” But part of you believes they really might look “so great on,” and wants to check the mirror. Here’s where they’ve got you. The mirror is outside the dressing room. So you slip out to take a quick look, which confirms that the pants make your ass look like a pillow stuck halfway down a vacuum hose.
You’re about to bolt back into the dressing room, but guess who’s standing there blocking your way.
“These are fantastic. I have a jacket that goes great with these pants.”
“No, that’s OK, they really don’t fit. They’re way too tight.”
“No, this is how these are supposed to fit, nice and tight. This is the style, this is sexy.”
Now she grabs you by the belt loops and yanks the pants down another inch. You’ve got so much crack showing, a plumber would laugh at you.
“Yeah,” you say, “I’m not comfortable wearing them like that. They’re not flattering.”
“Are you kidding? This is so nice, this fit. Ephraim!” She calls to her male coworker, who’s behind the register eating something pungently Asian from a deli salad bar container. He looks up. “What do you think of these pants on her?”
Ephraim shakes his head like you can’t even imagine the sexual uproar these pants would create in the discotheque. “From a man? These are nice. Let me tell you, all the girls are buying these pants.”
Purple Hair sees you’re not convinced. “Let me get you the jacket, it covers the whole butt, you’ll love it.”
“No, that’s OK.”
You retreat to the dressing room. You’re about to pull your own pants back on when the door opens on you. A hand is thrusting a jacket into your face.
“Excuse me!” you scream, trying to cover yourself. “I’m in here!”
“I know,” Purple Hair says. “Calm down, I’m giving you the jacket.”
To make her go away you grab it, then finish getting dressed, and emerge with your bag on your shoulder. You’re done.
Ephraim and Purple Hair look at you with their palms up in a bewildered “WTF” gesture — like you’re leaving their wedding before the chicken has even been served.
“What happened with the jacket?”
“You don’t like the jeans?”
“We have more sizes.”
“Did you see the sale rack? Thirty percent off.”
No, thank you, you have to get going, you tell them.
They shrug. “Goodbye,” they say, like this is a breakup. One you’ll regret. But you’ll be back.
And in my case, they’re right.
This weekend, when I wandered in, I was on full alert. I examined a beige coat on a rack near the front, trying to keep out of view. But sure enough:
“This coat looks so nice on!”
The saleswoman advanced.
“That’s OK,” I told her. “I really don’t need any help. I just want to look on my own.”
She stared at me like I’d drawn a gun on her.
“I wasn’t going to help you, I was just going to open this door.”
And then she clicked past me in her heels and opened the front door. I know this was just for show, because after I left, I saw her come back out and close it.
Which is fine, because I won’t be back.