I cannot vouch for how men’s minds work in relation to their physical appearance, but I do know something about women. As Billy Crystal’s fictional talk show host, Fernando, used to say, “It is better to look good than to feel good, darling. And you look marvelous.” Every day, women of all ages go to great lengths to be fashionable while maintaining some level of comfort. They commute in sneakers and tote their high heels to change into at the office; they shop for outfits that can make the transition from workplace to date night without a trip home in between; they struggle to incorporate current trends into existing wardrobes without annihilating their budgets. And sometimes they employ magical thinking when it comes to fitting their size 14 thighs into skinny jeans designed with size 4 in mind. It’s times like these when egos are the most fragile and the herd mentality is driven front and center; times when the communal dressing room can become an arena of madness in search of a designer deal.
I recently volunteered to assist at the three-day POSH Fashion Sale to benefit the Lighthouse for the Blind. This is a famous event now in it’s 40th year, and still drawing a crowd that could fill a stadium. To prepare for it, a dedicated committee of volunteers canvasses designers, manufacturers, and the closets of the wealthy and well-dressed for donations year-round. Items are examined, sized, and priced with color-coded tags to make it easier for the scores of volunteers to get the clothing back onto the racks from the dressing room. And the minute the sale is over, the work begins anew for the next year. I’m told that there have been times over the years when the line to enter the building trailed down the block between Lexington and Park, and admission was $10. For the times when the event is held at the Plaza Hotel, a whole new level of posh comes into play.
But it’s posh with charity in mind. All proceeds go to serving the blind and visually impaired, and an air of excitement and communality permeates the event. The clothes are sublime, the deals extraordinary, and the shoppers hungrier than vegans at a bean farm. I worked like a maniac for three days. Schlepping heavy wool suits and overcoats from the dressing room back onto the floor tortured my shoulder muscles to the point of drowning out the leg cramps. The average load toted in to be tried on was about a dozen items per woman. Hundreds upon hundreds of women filed past that dressing room curtain with their arms piled so high they could barely see where they were going. It was up to the volunteers to get all the discards back onto the floor as fast as possible so they could be tried on again and ultimately purchased. Hundreds times dozens times three days: you do the math.
I found the psychic element even more challenging than the physical one. Women want to look great in their fashion finds, but sometimes the mirror refuses to agree. So they turn to the volunteers in the green aprons for a second opinion. An opinion other than what the mirror says. One woman in an Armani jacket a size too small asked me, “Can I get away with this?” I gave her an honest answer as kindly as possible.
OSV: It seems snug.
WOMAN: But can I get away with it?
I figured maybe I was misinterpreting her question.
OSV: What do you mean by ‘get away with it’?”
WOMAN: Does it fit?
OSV: Well, the sleeves don’t reach your wrist, it pulls across the back, and it doesn’t close.
WOMAN: That’s the way I wear my jackets.
OSV: Then this one’s a keeper.
Apparently, a $40 price tag on an Armani jacket induces insanity. Another woman asked me if I thought the Givenchy dress I was putting back on the rack was a true size 8. I’m an 8, and she was four inches shorter than me and about thirty pounds heavier, so I assumed she was hoping I would say it ran large.
OSV: (holding evening gown away from rack) I’m 5′ 5″ and a size 8 and this looks like it would fit me, so yeah, I’m thinking it’s a true size 8.
WOMAN: (grabbing it from my hand) Oh, good! That’s my size!
I don’t have endings to these vignettes, like whether the women actually bought the items or not, but the sanest words were spoken by a shopper in the dressing room who turned around and asked me if the Ralph Lauren stretch jeans she had on made her butt look big. She followed this loaded question with the remark, “Tell me really because a steal isn’t a steal if it stays in your closet.” I took a deep breath and said, “Ralph isn’t celebrating your butt here.” She turned around slowly and I braced myself for the inevitable river of denial. Instead, she flashed me a big smile. “Thank you,” she said, with a knowing wink. “Really, thank you.”
Daughter’s Fotos record her summer in India’s Sadhana Forest, a volunteer community dedicated to reforestation and environmental awareness