Thursday, April 22, 2004

Okay, after all the cheeriness of the last few entries, it's time for a good rant.

I have a few occasions coming up this spring and summer that require, at the very least, modified business attire. My best "interview suit" is not up to the task, for the simple reason that it's a winter suit. If I try to give a professional presentation in that suit, during spring or summer anywhere between the Arctic and Antarctic Circles, I'll wind up doing an impression of Albert Brooks's character on the air in "Broadcast News".

The challenge is to properly clothe a woman who is:

* Short.
* Considerably past age 14 and considerably under age 88.
* Unable to fit into the same size jacket and skirt or dress.
* Not planning to enter a Paris Hilton dress-alike contest.

I have absolutely no problem with clothing stores that cater to the high-school crowd. There were stores that served this purpose well when I was sixteen, and there are plenty of them now. But what in the hell are people thinking when they take a perfectly serviceable dark blue suit, one that is sold in the actual suit section of a mainstream department store, and stick flower-embroidered chiffon ruffles and frills on the bottom of the skirt? No one is going to wear this to an interview or conference presentation, and no one is going to wear it to the senior prom, either. It has all the esthetic and practical appeal of fuzzy pink plush bunnies on a pair of hiking boots. (Hmmm, I'd like a pair of those. You know, to wear when I go swimming.)

Petite separates are no better. Given sufficient patience, one can actually find practical suit separates among the dreck in what's called the Misses section. (Translation: If you're under 5'8", don't bother.) There used to be a few stores around that actually sold adult clothing for shorter women. No more. Most of the clothing I found this time would be very cute when worn by a toddler, or else by a middle-school kid who has watched too much reality TV. The fact that the woman behind the counter in one of these places was tall, about 25 years younger than me, and kept calling me "dear" only added to the pre-school ambience. As for the suit separates: I'm admittedly impressed by this season's spring colors. I've seen fashions in Clotted Mustard, Baby Aspirin, and Warmed-Over School Lunchroom Gravy. (The latter would go very well with another popular color, Undercooked Hamburger, although the combination probably comes with warnings to not take these items internally.)

In fairness, not every petite department carries loud or infantile clothing. The petite department in the nearest major department store chain (I won't name it, although its initials are M.F. and it's mentioned at the end of "Silver Streak"), carries the dowdiest "coordinates" I've seen this side of my own childhood. Every year, they trot out suits and separates in the same colors but with mildly altered designs. I think their "designer" bought bolts of cloth the size of the Sears Tower, and won't be able to use them up during any of our lifetimes. There's very little undercooked hamburger on their racks, but if you want colors like Grass Stain or Grandma's Hair Dye, you can find them here in huge quantities. Eyelets, embroidered flowers, the whole mess, and all of it cut to be unflattering whether you're slim, heavy, or somewhere in the middle.

All I want is a spring suit in either gray or medium-blue. Or, barring that, a gray or medium-blue jacket that will match a plain black skirt. I don't want to dress for the first day of second grade, nor for a tryout for "America's Skankiest Models", nor like Sue Ann Nivens on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show". I don't want to look like a spilled milkshake. Oh, and did I mention that, with current fabric technologies, there's no reason to give even an inexpensively made polyester jacket the surface look and feel of a slightly used dish sponge? (Or to charge $140 for it, for that matter? You already know that the laborers who are compelled to churn out this stuff are lucky to see a hundredth of that amount.)

Someone -- and it's not some poor girl spending over twelve hours a day at a sewing machine in an overseas factory -- must be making a lot of money selling us this crap. These decisions must be made by someone in a front office somewhere. And, when I think about these people, I wonder what it is they wear to work.


Thanks to Maribeth (see comment below), my problem is now solved, by exactly the same establishment where she had such success.

Oh, and one other tip to short women who do not wish to wear skirts as short as the ones that are now popping up on department-store racks everywhere: With luck and persistence, you can match a petite jacket to a regular-length skirt.


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