I went out to buy a skirt.

June 15, 2009 | 38 comments

by Simcha Fisher
Simcha writes at Aleteia and is the author of The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning. She also wrote the foreword to Jennifer’s collection of humor essays, Like Living Among Scorpions.


Some women speak of “retail therapy” — shopping to lift one’s mood, or to reward or compensate oneself for some trauma.

For me, shopping is the trauma.

Here’s how the day goes: Before leaving the house, I prepare myself to shop. I take a shower and do that special fluffing thing to my hair. I wear my most helpful undergarments, and when I walk into the store, I use a deliberately confident stride.

I start out at my favorite store, which has nice clothes, good sales, and dressing room attendants who don’t look likely to wilt under the weight of a pair of size 16 pants.

Like a ranch hand guiding a nervous filly through a pen of rattle snakes, I murmur gently to myself as I browse the shelves. What a lot of nice stuff! I breathe encouragingly. You should wear more colors! You’re really pretty young, and you have every right to be shopping in any part of the store. You have money in your pocket, don’t you? So let’s do this.

I take a deep breath and step away from the maternity section (after noting bitterly that now, now, of course, they’re selling pretty maternity clothes. As soon as I get pregnant, though, they’ll take them all away and start showing clown outfits again).

The mistakes began right away.

First, I try to repair thirty-three years of dressing timidly…with a single purchase. I begin to hunt for something completely opposite from my usual taste, because, after all, this one needs to count! If I’m going to take the radical step of actually picking something out, instead of just mysteriously finding it in my closet, it might as well be interesting, right?

Bristling with confidence and imagination, I rapidly choose four shirts, two skirts, and even a dress, even though I’m still nursing the baby all the time. Everything I pick is clingy, ruffly, and has straps in unusual places. There are unexpected diagonals, and even patterns.

I beam at the attendant and proudly announce that I have seven items! She seems puzzled at my pride, but hands me a plastic “7” tag. I step into the fitting room, with all the mirrors and lights, and I take off my clothes.

I was prepared…and yet I was not prepared.

Congress is still debating whether it actually constitutes torture to confront one’s fully illuminated bottom in a public space. I can tell you one thing: the process does not encourage the victim (that’s me, not my bottom) to give up good information.

My mental state slams into disaster mode. My eyes cross, my vision blurs. I feel unworthy, angry, and giddy all at once, at the same time as trying to get a grip. This is only the first store, and I can’t go home yet! I think of how annoyed at myself I will be if the day of the special occasion comes, and I have to assemble an outfit out of the stained, pilled rags and bags I already have at home. So I begin to try things on.

I draw the following conclusions:

  • “XL” does not mean what it used to mean;
  • Peasant blouses do not flatter the forms of people who are actually descended from actual peasants;
  • And yes, there is a reason I have never before tried on a cherry-red blouse made out of two layers of sheer seersucker.

It’s still so early in the game, though. I’m fine, I’m fine. I take the circus costumes off, put my real clothes on again, and look myself sternly in the eye. I fish my emergency lipstick out of a secret pocket in my purse (my regular lipstick is in the medicine chest. It is a decoy, so the kids have something to bite). With lipstick on, at least one part of me is in well-defined. No more nonsense, now.

I march myself back out to the suitably named racks. This time, I firmly choose four items in various shades of black. I pick out sizes so enormous that I could comfortably wear them to the delivery room. Let’s see me look silly now!

The dressing room lady gives me another plastic tag and a sympathetic smile. The heck with the mirrors this time; I’m just going to do this by feel. I skin off my clothes, skin the new ones on. Cautiously, I check myself out.

Well, except for the clean carpet, I might as well be at home. I have managed to find four outfits which are exactly like what I already own, only bigger. And anyway, I can’t wear black to a baptism! People will think I don’t like babies, and why would they think that? I giggle to myself, and my belly jiggles. Okay.

Once more, I head out. I check out the junior section. I check out the plus-size section. I check out the shoe section. I wander, I dilly-dally, I deny. I think about whether we need more ipecac syrup. I pick up a few things we need for the house, and then head back to the clothes. Determined to come away with something, I grab a coat off the clearance rack. It’s a really good deal, and I sort of need a coat, kind of, and it certainly fits me. It would fit anyone — it’s basically a slipcover with shoulders. But only $14! I buy it, and try the next store.

This time, when someone asks if I need help, I confess that I do. “I am looking, ” I explain, “for a long skirt.”

The saleslady actually laughs.

She shows me what they do have, which is some kind of apparatus made of streamers and elastic, with tasteful iridescent sequins in the shape of sea horses. And there are also some tops, which were designed to be worn by — well, what did the designer have in mind, exactly? Prostitutes, certainly, but there is also some hint of the world of toddlers. And Elizabethan England, plus gymnastics class.

Still trying to pretend that I’m not wasting my time, I choose two skirts. They’re not long, but they’re not too short, and they are the best of the lot, because they don’t look like some unholy hybrid of two different pieces of clothing.

This time in the fitting room, I’m only interested in speed. I know I’m not going to buy anything, but I’m forging ahead, as Daffy Duck would say, out of sheer honesty. These are supposed to be clothes, eh? Okay, I’ll put ’em on. Joke’s on you!

Next store. This is a store I’ve never even been in before. I wasn’t even sure, by the name, if they sold clothes. It turns out they do…sort of. What they sell mostly is things in the “baby doll” style. Seeing as I’m shopping in a rare window of time when I am neither traveling with nor gestating a baby, I pass.

Whom I’m angry at, I can’t really say, but by this time, I am nearly shaking with righteous indignation. Oh, and hunger. I left the house right before lunch, and now it’s an hour after lunch, and I will not be suckered into spending money on a quarter pounder with cheese, which doesn’t go well with any skirt in any size. Next!

Next is really the last possible store I can manage to go into. There are other clothing stores in town, but I am already only minutes away from passing out from hunger and frustration, and I’d rather not die behind the wheel just because I’m not at peace with my hips.

One final door. I enter.

Oh yes: the reason I saved this store for last. Lights glare in a frantic shade of pink. The music howls. The aisles between the racks are so narrow, I have to push back a jungle of slithery garments with both hips as I walk, and I’m walking sideways. All the salesgirls are fourteen years old, and they each wear their dyed black hair in a theatrically extreme side part, revealing one burning eye smeared with kohl. There is a muffled babble of thrilled voices as the pseudo-prepubescent boychild girl customers exclaim into the blue glow of their cellphones.

I’ve been in and out of overheated stores and wintry parking lots so many times by now that my nose is running magnificently, my appendages are pulsing, and I feel that I am putting off steam. One raven-haired acolyte detaches herself from a shimmering wall display and asks, with some alarm, if I need help finding anything.

My child, you have no idea.

I say (and this is a direct quote): “I am at the end of my rope. I can’t think anymore. I need some help.”

Is it really just coincidence that the outfit that comes to her mind is off in a dark alcove at the back? Or am I really making her store look that bad? Either way, the garment she shows me is nonsense, just nonsense. I don’t even know what it is. I think it’s sideways, or maybe not.

I stumble back to the car. The car turns itself on and anxiously steers me, all by itself, back to one of the stores I had already tried and found wanting. Unseen hands gently shove me, shattered, back to a rack of skirts.

There is a blue and white one there, with a pattern only a bit laughable, of a length just barely insulting to my calves, in a size only a few numbers off, in a price only slightly offensive. I buy it. I go back to the car, and I go back home.

My husband says he thought I must have run over an old man, I looked so stricken. I buried my face on his chest and had to be soothed for several minutes before I was ready to reveal what had happened to me today:

I bought myself a skirt.


  1. Donella

    Oh geez this sounds like my shopping excursions. I thought I was the only woman on the planet who doesn't enjoy shopping or getting her hair done. Wait, I take that back. I LOVE shopping on the internet. But yeah…shopping for clothes in stores is a nightmare and a half. I don't even have kids yet to make the trips even more fun! 😉

    BTW, been reading your blog for umm…a week or two and I'm almost at year 2008. I love it; it was just what I needed and I didn't even know it.

  2. Elise

    Thanks so much! I have tears running down my face from laughing so hard. Just the therapy I needed!!

  3. Mandy

    I'll add a hearty "amen" to that one! Clothes shopping is the bane of my existence, and she captures the experience so well. Thanks for sharing. 🙂 No doubt I'll remember that every time I go out shopping for clothes now too.

  4. the Fish

    I remember reading this the first time. It's still true.

  5. Elizabeth

    This is why I mostly shop at thrift stores! The dressing rooms are dark, the clothes could be "anysize" and I can usually find a skirl longer then a glorified belt!

    Thanks for the link to insidecatholic…she is a riot!

  6. Veronica Mitchell

    Ah yes. This is why I shop at Goodwill.

  7. Dawn

    Oh I can so relate to the part about trying on clothes just like the others you already have in your closet. It's taken me only until the last two years or so to actually cultivate the savvy for buying somewhat stylish clothes that don't make me look like I'm trying to be a teenager.

    For many years, though, my husband would say,"You went to buy something new because you didn't like any of your old clothes but you came back with stuff exactly like your old clothes!"

  8. Pharmgirl

    This was hilarious! Thanks for posting!

    Oh and Simcha, you do NOT need more ipecac syrup. NOBODY needs more ipecac syrup! That stuff actually does more harm than good. This has been a public service announcement from your friendly neighborhood pharmacist. 🙂

  9. Anonymous

    Oh I haven't laughed this hard
    in such a long time.

    I have to send this to anyone who needs a wonderful laugh ( everyone!)
    p.s.since the food addiction epiphany of December I wear size 10
    down from XL…however, everything she says brings up " the memories".
    Thank you Padre Pio..my excellent intercessor in matters of food.

  10. Jolyn

    Oh my. Must. Breathe.

  11. Karen

    This is exactly how my shopping trips tend to go. I start out all positive and then I remember why I HATE clothes shopping. Why can't I just buy books or craft stuff instead, that is way more fun!

  12. Ginkgo100

    Oh, what a great post… I miss "I Have to Sit Down" too. Thanks Simcha and Jen!

    @Veronica Mitchell, I shop at Goodwill too, but that has mostly to do with the fact that I am extraordinarily cheap when it comes to clothes. This comes of being raised as one of eight children. I swoon at the thought of paying over $10 for a top.

    As for Simcha's shopping experience, I don't experience that when I go looking for clothes. I experience that when I go looking for shoes.

    The problem is that my feet are not shaped the same as those of other humans. I have the feet of a giant duck. They are narrow at the heel and wide at the toes, able to fit only into those shoes that are so terribly designed for actual human feet that designers try to warn people away by making them hideous. But then you have to add in the fact that I wear Size Boat, and typically shoemakers just don't cater to women with boat-sized feet. (I've had to resort to men's sizes more than once. And that's not what you would call cute footwear.)

    The final insult is that pathological cheapness I mentioned. If I finally find something that fits, I am overwhelmed by deeply conditioned outrage if I am asked to pay a reasonable price. I just can't bring myself to buy even the perfect pair of shoes if it's not already marked down twice.

    I never got why so many ladies seem to love shoe shopping! Oh, and the last time I wore high heels? My wedding ten years ago. And I never plan to wear them ever, ever again.

  13. Connie

    hilarious! because if we didn't laugh we'd have to cry

    this is why I've started sewing again

  14. JoAnna

    I can relate! (I have to admit that I can usually find good stuff on the Lane Bryant clearance racks, though).

    I've often thought that those of us above a size 12 should stage a coup of the fashion industry.

  15. Herb of Grace

    This is an absolutely WONDERFUL post. I think every woman size 10 and up can relate…

  16. dianonymous

    This is why God invented e-commerce. Yeah, I know, Al Gore says he invented it, but it was actually God.

    BTW, did you know that all dressing-room mirrors come from those fun houses at your local carnival? I am not making this up. Well, yes, I am, but it *could* be true.

    — Diane, who writes e-commerce copy for a living, actually, and never shops at brick-and-mortar stores if she can possibly help it

  17. Anonymous

    I can't even laugh. This is too much like my own experience of shopping.

  18. 'Becca

    Thanks for the re-run! It's not just weight gain that's made clothes shopping more horrible in the past few years–I've never been overweight, but shopping for new clothes has gone from a favorite hobby to a dreaded ordeal for me. It's as if clothing designers have agreed that for each garment they will ignore the existence of one randomly-selected body part and imagine the need to accomodate one randomly-selected non-human body part, for example, "no left shoulder; fins on the hips." I recently spent seven hours shopping for a dress to wear to my brother's wedding and wound up settling for one from the petite section, and I am 5'8"; I had to pretend it's a knee-length dress with empire waist.

  19. Elena

    Oh, how I sympathise. Nothing like shopping to completely deflate one's balloon and convince oneself that one's thighs are the true measure of self worth.

  20. Jeanne

    Please ask her if you can post the one she wrote about going to the doctor's office with her children – and what happened in the waiting room. She also had a beautiful post that I think was called "Everything Good Comes from God." Thank you for letting us know she is still writing.

  21. cheryl

    Same here.

    Actually, I've had similar problems since I hit puberty and the world decided to go "grunge". It's hard enough finding a decent dress, never mind if I like the style or not. I'd come home from shopping ready to cry. I have finally had enough and am teaching myself to sew.

  22. Headless Mom

    Oh my. I love her. And you for re-posting this. This is every-woman, is it not?

  23. Kat

    My brother is getting married this summer, and I have twice panicked about what to wear, then realized with relief that I am in the wedding party and have a dress picked out for me. I do, however, own the dress in two different sizes so that I can see when the time comes which one will fit my 3-months-post-partum body.

  24. eulogos

    Land's End? Overstocks?

    Also Sierra Trading, more varied, but some good stuff marked down. I really like "Orvis" stuff. My father always wanted an "Orvis" fly rod so the very name makes me feel rich. But the stuff is usually conservatively styled and well made, and at Sierra Trading the prices come down into what for me is the very expensive but can be justified on rare occasions category.

    Before that I used to shop only at thrift stores. Our local one is Open Door Mission, and there are Sallies in nearby towns. I accumulated quite a number of Land's End and LL Bean and Woolrich Woman garments without paying more than $5 for any one of them.

    Your story was very funny though.

  25. eulogos

    Oh, I see someone else wrote it. Well SHE is very funny but ought to order from Land's End, then.

  26. NC Sue

    Wonderful! Absolutely wonderful!!!

  27. Catholic Bibliophagist

    Thanks for telling us where Simcha went. Here blog was one of my favorites and I was so sorry when it ended.

    Except for the fact that I am not plus-sized, her shopping experiences are exactly like mine! NOTHING, ABOSLUTELY NOTHING FITS!!!!! And the rest looks weird, trashy, or inappropriate for a 57 year old woman.

    Shopping is so depressing that I have to take someone with me to keep me from running out of the stores screaming.

    Thrift stores aren't too bad because the clothes are sufficiently out of style that they don't shock the horses, and at least they're cheap. And if you wear denim dresses, thrift stores are about the only places you can find them.

  28. mamajuliana

    Oh so funny…and oh so true!!!


  29. asv

    I laughed so hard my ears hurt!!!

  30. KimP

    This is one of the reasons I learned to sew! And why I encourage others to sew. I even offer lessons to my friends. Once we get past the initial pillowcases and pillows to practice, the first thing I have them learn how to do it make a skirt. You can pick the color, the fabric, and how long you want to make it. Nothing fancy, just an elastic waist. It is amazing how thrilled they are, and it isn't hard to do! The biggest obstacle is convincing them they can do it – like sewing is some mysterious hocus pocus! But a 100 years ago nearly everyone woman sewed. Most of them without a high school diploma. Many couldn't read. I tell my friends all the time, "You have a college degree. You can do this."

  31. Angela

    found you thru Charming the Birds…this is so hilarious and so very much like my life! this is one big reason why i 1)shop at thrift stores and 2)sew my own skirts!!

    thanks for a great laugh with my morning coffee.

  32. Anonymous

    I don't think I find this funny. I guess that it just hit too close to home lately. My ever expanding waistline (no, I am not pregnant, thank you very much checkout lady) seems to no find anything that fits. Everything that I do put on just rolls up until it reaches my bra strap where it sits until I pull it down for the hundredth time in a day. I have been getting into the vintage 40's look. Did you know that it does not look so good on a 30 something mom who is 250 something pounds? Yeah, I'm angry. At myself for letting it get this far out of hand. And to think I used to think I was fat at 150 pounds. What a idiot I must have been then.

    Mrs. Damian (Ouida) Garcia

  33. Lindsay

    Awesome!!! I was just telling some friends day before yesterday about this post and lamenting that I couldn't share it with them. Now I can. Her blog was hysterical!

  34. Michelle

    WOW. She's an amazing writer. thanks for sharing this!

  35. Laurie

    Thanks for passing this one on. It's truth is tragic. I remember my first non-maternity shopping trip after four straight years of maternity clothes… I honestly felt that in motherhood I had lost my identity – my style – my sense of self. But it turned out the stores had simply lost their taste.

  36. Tom

    And now I understand my wife better. Funny blog.

  37. Diane

    I work in a retail store that sells clothing. I agree that most of it looks like something out of a horror show. We even had a customer who wrote a letter to our local newspapers that the lighting and mirrors were sponsored by Weight Watchers to make everyone think they look awful and thus inspire us all to join. Yes, we have skirts that could pass for belts, curtains, bedskirts etc. Fashion is not meant for “real women”. I too, had to shop extensively to find a suitable outfit for my grandson’s Baptism. My husband just bought a new tie for it. Good luck, and God bless.

  38. Elisa | blissfulE

    I have been breastfeeding every day for the last five years and gave birth to my fourth child five months ago. I long to wear dresses. I will however settle for skirts that fit and are flattering. Although I have outfits for different stages: “maternity”, “getting-my-body-back” and “a different shape than I used to be but not pregnant”, I still have very few things to wear at any given moment. My body is constantly in flux. It may seem unbearably shallow, but I can see why many women cut off the possibility of bearing further children based on this issue alone.

    My current plans are: learn to sew, and buy off Etsy. I am nervous because any measurements I make of my body will surely have changed by the time I either finish sewing something or receive my order from an Etsy seller. Then I will hate having spent the money. So I keep plodding along with what I have…


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