You know I hate the mall. I don’t go often. And when I do, all sorts of unfortunate things happen, like I start to hyperventilate in Sephora. But tonight M asked if we could please, please go to the mall sometime soon before her Fifth Grade Moving Up Ceremony so that she could get a new dress. This was a mom fumble on my part: even though M’s been anti-dress for years, I should have guessed that the intense chatter among all the fifth-graders about their wardrobe choices would get even my dress-up averse M a little cranked up about what to wear. I’d considered asking about it recently, then blew it off when M resisted dress-wearing for a recent church service. But this is completely different. I’ll bet almost all of lunch was devoted to the Dress Question. The trouble was that the moving up ceremony is Thursday. Tomorrow is M’s birthday, she’s invited two friends over for after school, and then there’s soccer practice. Wednesday we’ve got one of J’s friends coming over, then J’s gymnastics and a soccer game for M. That left tonight. Cute W was heading out with guys, and it would be a late-ish night. But the last week of school isn’t exactly challenging, anyway. So off to the mall we went.
Apparently M had been checking things out online, and she had a list of prospective dresses. She specifically requested Crossgates because the stores she wanted to check out were Aeropostale (she liked the belted dots dress) and American Eagle (she liked the denim corset dress). Both stores were a bust. M’s at that age where she’s outgrown the kids’ clothes and hasn’t quite grown into the juniors’ clothes. Things didn’t fit, and she was discouraged. J was losing steam quickly. I’d had high hopes for H&M, but what the hell happened to H&M while I wasn’t looking? They’re in a new, smaller, squishy space, and it used to be lovely and now the whole place looks cheap and trashy. There may have still been cute stuff, but I couldn’t get M to pause long enough to look, so I have no idea. By the time we’d gotten through it, M was a good ten paces ahead of me, walking quickly and scowling deeply, while J was twelve paces behind me, alternating between skip-running to catch up and stopping to look at something or just. . . drifting along.
Then we went into Hollister, my first time ever. That felt strangely like a Disney World attraction: we could see cute little dresses up ahead, but actually reaching them was impossible without squeezing between props, and the music was so loud I felt like Cute W’s Grandma, who used to ostentatiously stick her fingers in her ears at what seemed to me fifteen years ago to be the slightest provocation. We’d noticed many dresses which looked adorable online or from a distance, but then up close they suffered from a combination of low front/short skirt/spaghetti straps/back cutouts. Dress after dress seemed disconcertingly short, as if it were a design mistake, until we began to notice that all the young women who worked in the stores looked like they were wearing nighties or beach cover-ups. And I’ll admit it–I’m getting old. Yes, there was a time when I could fit one of my entire going-out-dancing dresses into a coffee mug. But at least with the miracle of Spandex, those clothes were firmly tethered to flesh. Everyone at the mall was wearing skirts that seemed one twirl away from a free peep show. At this rate, I’m fully expecting the next trend to be ruffled underpants. At Hollister, the salesgirl who helped us wore an unflattering short denim dress with a triangular cutout at her belly–her belly–that was so unsightly that it was awkward to try to speak with her. As I waited outside M’s dressing room I overheard a teen girl ask, “Are these dresses or shirts?” (answer: dresses). Here M found a dress that was very cute except that it was a little low and a little high. We thought that a camisole and some workout shorts might make it acceptable until we noticed how bare the back was. I mean, it was ridiculous (I can’t find it on the site). By this time M was getting stressed, and we wandered the mall looking at windows or entering stores for a 60-second entrance-and-U-turn. J was dragging.
And then we passed Abercrombie & Fitch. This was a problem. M had heard about the controversial comments about how the store was for cool kids only, and she thought it was awful. And this is from the girl who’s refused to set foot into JC Penney ever since that whole “I’m too pretty to do homework” kerfuffle. But Abercrombie is more tempting than JC Penney. And she was getting desperate. She stood outside the store, wavering. “Let’s go in just to look. I’m just going to go in. We’re not buying anything,” M said. “If you really don’t want to buy anything, you shouldn’t even look,” I said. “What if you see something adorable? But just to be clear: I’m willing to buy you a dress here, or I’m fine with staying away.” Yes, I know. It’s terrible. It’s a sucky company. But my daughter was miserable on her birthday-eve, and she’d tried several dresses already, and J and I were toast. So we went in. And of course that’s where we found an acceptable dress.
The skirt is still teensy enough that we’re going to get some shorts so that she can move freely, but it’s got sleeves and full torso coverage. Plus it’s cute. We decided that she could go up a size for a little more length and just add a safety pin where the tag is in back so that the neckline isn’t gaping open. So, yes, we’re feeding the Evil Corporate Machine that’s trying to Crush the Spirits of Non-Aesthetically-Optimal Adolescents Everywhere. But I was pretty much ready to sell my soul to get out of that mall and head for home.
As we walked out of the store, J remarked, “I have shorts longer than these dresses.” True, my dear. The next 8 or 10 years may be long, indeed.