The other day a friend accused me of having become a "mallie." Nothing could be further from the truth, but I had to admit that over the years my attitude toward shopping had changed from loathing to tolerance.
A few years back, my children used to hate the occasions when we had to search for shoes and clothing. I was impatient, irritable and constantly looking at price tags -- measuring the cost of the changing fads they inevitably wanted against the cost of the mortgage and the car notes.
When they became old enough to go shopping alone, they said they felt they had been emancipated. The feeling would be rivaled only when they learned to drive a car several years later. While a psychiatrist might trace my reactions to some childhood trauma, I thought my dour attitude toward mall prowling was dictated by practical economics.
But I have to admit that the recent occasion that prompted my friend to laughingly label me a "mallie" almost warranted some appellation, although it began as a purely practical jaunt. I needed certain items for vacation and asked her to go shopping with me.
Since I was nearing what I considered a well-earned vacation, I approached the task with a certain lightness of heart. This wasn't like the chore of going to the Safeway on a Saturday morning or dashing into a department store to buy hosiery, while grumpily wondering if anyone would ever invent a pair of stockings that didn't run the minute I left home.
No, this was a little like getting ready for New Year's Eve -- a celebration of having fulfilled all obligations for another year, feeling good and happy with myself and wanting to look as nice as possible. Preparing for a few weeks off, I was looking forward to that summer recess -- not to go to expensive or exotic climes, but to relax and get a little change of scenery.
On my shopping list were such difficult items as a bathing suit, such fun things as a tennis skirt and practical needs like T-shirts and socks. I have known the friend who accompanied me for more than 20 years, and shopping evoked unexpected memories. As we flipped through the bathing suits, hurrying wistfully past the bikinis, monokinis and the dental floss suits, we laughed as we recalled days when we might have at least given a bikini a try.
"Thank heavens the swimsuit manufacturers still have the good economic sense to make 60 percent of their line in one-piece suits," I said. Ever encouraging, she answered, "Listen kid, the hourglass figure is in this year."
I purchased a blue swimsuit with a hint of a drape, only to learn three days later that they would be out of style by 1988.
The next item on the list was a tennis outfit. But the traditional tennis whites struck me as too conservative for a vacation tennis skirt. "I think I want a red one to contrast with a white shirt," I said.
Turning a corner of the Mazza Gallerie into a women's tennis store, I was startled to see what seemed to be hordes of giggling high school girls who were buying tennis outfits to wear as summer miniskirts. But there, on the rack straight ahead, was a row of red tennis skirts. I grabbed several and tried them on, purchased one and left.
Our shopping spree took perhaps two or three hours, much of it spent making practical purchases and admiring things we could not afford. But I had a surprisingly good time. And it struck me that part of the reason was that it was also an experience of sisterhood -- women enjoying one of the acts of being women, getting dressed up and escaping from the serious, heavy issues we often grapple with in our work.
I am still a rather poor and reluctant shopper; in fact, I attribute whatever coherence that might exist in my professional wardrobe to a wonderful personal shopper and clothes coordinator named Helen Moody.
But a jaunt through a mall for vacation items on a recent sunny Saturday turned into an enjoyable afternoon. And now it's time to don the blue swimsuit and red tennis skirt and see you in a few weeks. I'm on vacation now.