I was somewhat irritated to be asked by the young man serving my coffee on the early train to London if I was “Off somewhere nice today love – perhaps a spot of shopping?”
WTF! Had I tripped and accidentally fallen into the 1950’s? Setting aside the extraordinarily archaic form of patronising stereotype – the answer was ‘No! And why would that be nice?’ (Don’t worry dear reader – I didn’t rip his head off and stick it on a spike as a dreadful warning against the dangers of cliché and chauvinism. It wasn’t the right time of the month.) But it did make me wonder. Why is shopping supposed to be a treat?
Shopping for clothes is not a favoured form of relaxation for me. I have a ‘grab it and run’ approach to the business and the quest for the perfect jeans is not a happy one in my book. Not to be high minded about it – I do occasionally thrill to the excitement of a perfect dress or pair of shoes that just make you feel a little bit fabulous- but the shopping part is not the fun bit!
Where I am ambivalent towards shopping; for my husband it is akin to torture. At the point that it becomes entirely essential to replace his worn out clothing my presence is demanded (not for my superb taste and fine eye for detail) mostly just to defend him from chattily helpful staff and to ensure he doesn’t buy the first thing that he sees in navy blue.
His particular pet hate is ‘things changing’. He would like to go back to the same shop and buy his jumper and his trousers again forever. He doesn’t want different ones. The exact same style and fit are what he is after and anything other is plain wrong. It is positively scary how this replicates my father’s attitude to clothes, who in a phrase that has become family legend, when asked if he would like a nice new jumper responded “No, I have a jumper”. As I said. Scary!
Actually I have always felt terribly sorry for those poor men that one sees deposited on the special seats outside ladies’ changing rooms miserably fiddling with their phones or trying to read the newspaper. It puzzles me why some couples take the joint approach to the sartorial experience. The actual business of rapidly rising irritability pursuant to sweaty struggling in confined spaces combined with the incessant question of ‘does my bum look big in these, indistinguishable-from-the-other-million-plus-pairs-of-trousers-that-have-been-trialed-today?’ is surely the stuff of nightmares for the average male.
It seems that he is not alone in this selective approach to purchasing articles of female garb. In fact the local lingerie emporium has clocked this particular exception to the male anti-shopping prejudice and runs a Husband’s Christmas Special – Underwear shopping par excellence.
They have had the brilliant notion of offering an evening champagne reception for husbands and boyfriends of their customers. Women hoping to find prettily wrapped boxes full of silky, flimsy frippery under the tree simply needed to create a secret wish list with the shop and send their chaps along to be plied with champagne while viewing the pretty girls modelling the merchandise.
The risk that it might look rather different when modelled at home is lessened by the knowledge that the pieces selected would at least be the right size and fit because they have in fact been chosen by the recipient. I think this is brilliant marketing and shows a good understanding of the male of the species although they may have taken this mind reading too far. I was rather shocked when encouraged to put more than required on the list as, according to the clearly business savvy saleswoman, gentlemen usually buy one piece from a list of two but two or three from a longer list. A somewhat exploitative arrangement I felt.
Given that my husband’s view of this particular experience is similar to that of a boy in a sweet shop I have to restrain his generous tendencies if we at are not to be bankrupt. I had thought that this was the norm but apparently not. It seems that price tags on tiny wisps of lacy stuff send many husbands into a flat spin of horror.
All of which brings me back to the initial cliché of women maxing out their credit cards on recreational retail therapy and men only shopping on pain of their own threatened public nudity. I am sure that neither stereotype offers the real picture but I am equally sure that no one wants their personal taste in recreational activity, politics or anything else to be assumed based on their gender by the chap serving the coffee.