This sounds silly but it actually isn't. I have embarked on a quest for the perfect spring jacket a few months ago, and have encountered such monsters as the brainwashing to conform to consumerism, the lies of the marketing and the advertisement, the objectifying of women, the dogma of beauty, the discrimination according to body size, boob shape, ass shape, etc., poor craftsmanship, bad design, careless customer service, and finally, no notion that women might actually have a very specific idea about what they want—women are told what to wear, and if they don't like what they can buy, tough shit. There isn't anything else available.
For those of you who don't know, my mother is a fashion designer, and I therefore grew up with particular sensibilities when it comes to clothes and style (this will come out in my book Seamstress). The clothes in Soviet Union were ugly, utilitarian, and often fit badly, therefore women made the clothes themselves. The women in my family made beautiful clothes by sewing, knitting, crocheting, and altering, for as long as I can remember. So when I finally made enough money this year to set aside for a clothes budget, I started carefully planning the list of things I need and the list of things I want. The needs were a must (I was out of panties and the padding in my biking shorts died). The wants were a luxury. I have by now satisfied most of my needs, and as a way of learning to make time for myself and to enjoy something I usually don't let myself enjoy (always work, work, work), I have gleefully decided to buy two things I really really wanted for a long long time: red flats and a nice spring jacket.
Red flats were easy (my first pair I got at 14 when I made money gathering strawberries and blew it on gray sneakers and red patent flats with a bow—and I wanted a new pair since then). I did extensive research online, realized I really want this pair but can't afford it, found the cheaper one (but comparable), walked into a store, tried them on, bought them. They're still sitting in my closet, waiting for me to wear them on a special occasion (I'm so afraid to wear them, it's ridiculous—they seem such a luxury and so precious!).
Now, to the jacket.
The jacket I wanted was a classic trench coat that was either normal length or cropped, you know, so I could wear it with jeans (but not a sporty jacket, rather a nice dressy jacket, on a casual side). Just like with red ballet flats, I had a very clear picture in my mind of what I wanted. I started looking, and boy, was I in for a surprise.
Number one, I couldn't find the color I wanted: a clean off-white or a dark navy. The colors were either screaming "I'm a prepubescent girl! I love pink! And blue! And neon yellow!" or they were muted, "I'm an outdoorsy type woman, and I'm getting old," or they were this brownish tan that made my white skin look gray, or they had garish patterns that one brand copied from another, because what if they're smarter and know better what they're doing?
Number two, I couldn't find the fabric I wanted: heavy, polished cotton or twill or canvas (jean-type), with the sleeves lined. It was either something synthetic, or it was too stiff, or too soft (and therefore shapeless), or it had too many accents and buttons and weird zippers in weird places. Like, can it be simple, pretty please? I don't need it to look like it was painstakingly designed. Thanks.
Number three, I couldn't find a jacket with normal pockets. It's like women don't have the same pocket-needs as men do. We need pockets too. Normal pockets, normal pocket-size. The pockets were either artificial, or too small, or sat too high, or were decorative and not very usable. My big iPhone didn't fit in them, and that was a turnoff.
Number four, I couldn't find the length I wanted: the jackets were either cropped too high, to reveal my supposedly sexy midriff and bum, or they were hitting me at the wrong place, in the middle of my thighs, and that made me look boxy. Or they were exceptionally weird, like they had slits at the side, or the hem was rounded. I want it straight, dammit! Is it so hard to make the hem of a trench coat straight?
Number five, I couldn't find the silhouette I wanted. Most trench coats were cinched at the waist. I don't want my fucking waist cinched! Or tailored! Or fitted! I don't need to advertise to the world that I'm a woman and am in possession of a waist! Men have waists too. Are any of their trench coats fitted? They used to be. Now men have a choice of fitted versus straight. But women have only the fitted choice. No straight for us. Nope. Gotta show we have boobs and a butt. I did find some straight jackets (the minimalist type, some of those oversized cocoon coats), but the shape was wrong, too roomy for my frame. And I don't mean the size, I mean the actual cut. It was never exactly right. It was always someone else's idea on how I should look in the jacket, not how the jacket should look on me.
Number six, I couldn't find the maintenance I wanted. I don't want to dry clean the bloody thing. I want to be able to wash it. Not happening. I'd have to not only invest into a jacket, I'd have to also invest in dry cleaning it for the next several years (if it lasts this long). So it's the cost of the jacket plus the cost of dry cleaning.
Number seven, I couldn't find the right price. I budgeted $100 maximum. That should be enough for a spring jacket, I figured. But no, it's far from enough. If I want the right color and fabric and style, I have to pay premium for the brand's name, whereas the price of the jacket itself is minuscule (marked up to pay the overhead for marketing and retail space rent and so on). All right. I went to boutiques. Like Burberry, for example. It was always my dream (can't remember why now) to have a Burberry jacket. Well, I tried most of what they had and none fit my criteria. And they didn't look good on me, either. I was a bit shocked. One dream down the drain (not like it was worth obsessing over, anyway). I have another dream, a Chanel jacket, but after the Burberry fiasco I wasn't in the mood to go and try some on.
Number eight, I kept tripping over the size when ordering online. In some stores I was size zero. Zero! I'm skinny, but I'm not zero. So the brands want me to think I'm skinnier than I am. Great. I'm supposed to believe this the-skinnier-the-more-attractive bullshit. I can't imagine what it's like to shop for women of normal size, not a stick like me, with normal size boobs and ass (I was always athletic and skinny). It must be horrific.
Number nine, I couldn't find a jacket that I knew was produced not in a sweatshop and not overseas, but here, in America. Yes, I tried American Giant (they don't have trench coats) and I tried Everlane (their clothes are produced overseas, but some are in America) and other brands that promised transparency and corporate responsibility and environmental awareness and so on. And yes, I looked at BetaBrand and Etsy, for handmade options. But none of these places allowed me to trace the production of my jacket from where to cotton was picked (American Giant does this) to where it was produced and under what conditions, to where it finally was sold. I guess I can dream on.
And number ten, I couldn't stand wasting so much time on looking for one bloody jacket. I want to write. I don't want to shop. I hate shopping. I want to walk into a store, buy exactly what I need, and walk out. Done.
So I gave up.
After having bought and returned close to twenty jackets, from big brands like Nordstrom and J.Crew to specialized brands like London Fog to online retailers like Amazon to handmade coats on Etsy to second hand shops on Broadway and University way, I gave up because I don't have any more time to spend on this. Forget the jacket. I'll just buy a cardigan and call it good. In fact, I did, and it's not quite the right color, but fuck it, it's good enough. It was cheaper, too—$40 from my $100 budget. But I still have this dream of a nice crisp jacket that would be great to wear with jeans and with a skirt, and that would last me years, and that I would love. Right.
Not so silly anymore, is it? This quest for the perfect jacket? Didn't think so.
What made me write all this was the horror of realization that we women are told that shopping is fun. We women are encouraged to shop and pick and try on and look at ourselves in the mirror, when we could be spending the same time doing what we love without a care in the world about how we look—write, paint, draw, dance, sing, sculpt, garden, sew, play soccer, whatever—SPEND OUR TIME ON THE DREAM OF OUR LIFE, NOT ON SHOPPING.
Here is what happens when we want to dress up. Instead of being able to find what we want instantly, we have to waste hours and hours on searching. Unless we go to a tailor like in the olden times and have an item of clothing custom-made (if we can afford it), or unless we make it ourselves (if we have the tools and the skills), we're reduced to picking out clothes that someone else decided look good on us. So we're basically fucked. We're told what to wear. We're told when to wear it. We're told when we look beautiful and when we don't. We're told we're the wrong size, or shape, or height. We'd dress in pajamas every day, but could we show up like this at a work meeting and be taken seriously? No.
Looking good is reserved for the privileged, the class with money. It's not difficult to make a simple garment that fits and looks good, but class system won't permit it. So women got smart and learned how to shop for cheap things and still make them look good. But there is another trap in that.
When we buy things that are cheap and badly made, they fall apart so fast, we're forced to shop again, and again, and again. We're the rats in the wheel of capitalism, running, running, making it spin. You see, I would've paid $500 for a jacket if I knew it would fit my criteria exactly and it would last me a long time. I would've waited and saved, so I could afford it. But I'm afraid to buy expensive clothes because I'm not sure of the quality. I don't trust brands anymore. Will the jacket last me? It's too much of a bargain to make, to buy it and start wearing it and then discover it's no good after all.
So at this point my quest is over. I'm back to buying sport clothes because I know they're made well, they will endure lots of sweating and washing, and they have all kinds of pockets, and they are straight or fitted, and sometimes I can even trace them to the sheep whose wool they were made from. And maybe one I will start making my own clothes. I was thinking of getting a sewing machine to do research for Seamstress. Hell, maybe I'll start using it for real. Unless by then some new quest will entrench me in its clutches, so God help me. Fuck shopping. Back to writing I go.