It was only after trying on a dozen pairs of blue jeans that my small shopping companion decided she was deformed. Clearly, her legs were too long for the size of her waist, or her waist was too small for the length of her legs.
She was, she decided, a hopeless freak, destined to go through life held together by a belt or with frost-bitten ankles.
This sudden, and unusual, plunge in self-confidence was hardly aided by the frustrated saleslady who finally suggested, ever so helpfully, that, "There are doctors, you know, who help children gain weight."
At that point in the evening, I suppressed a strong urge to slug the woman right in her midriff bulge and managed to say benignly, that, "Yes, indeed, there are also doctors who will amputate her ankles."
The girl survived this night of the short pants, or plight of the long legs, with her ego more or less intact, although her wardrobe still had a few holes. But it occurred to me that she had been initiated at the tender age of 11 into one of the more laughable aspects of American life: Ready-to-Wear Clothing.
In my own experience, ready-to-wear refers to the person and not the clothing. Moreover, it is now the customer who is supposed to fit, not the clothes.
Let me say, first of all, that my shopping companion comes by her problems honorably, or rather, biologically. I have spent a good deal of my life out on a limb or two. My arms are longer than their sleeves: my knees are lower than their hems.
The same salesperson who starts out enthusiastically saying "You're tall, you can carry it," ends up declaring "Well, you are taller than average." It is my fault -- the sin of the eternal misfit.
Clothing is, I am sure, manufactured for average-sized women. Average-sized women, I am equally sure, exist as a mathematical fact, like the average-sized family.
However, I do not know many people who actually have 2.3 children. Nor do I know many who have perfect size 8, 10, 12 bodies with matching tops and bottoms, arms and legs.
Nevertheless, if we are good citizens with respect for the problems of mass industries, we are all supposed to be ready to wear what is ready to be sold. Women's clothing manufacturers regard misfits as antisocial, vaguely subversive types, who have brought their problems down upon themselves by poor genetic counseling. Blame the victim.
Over the years, it seems to me, these same manufacturers -- with an utterly clear conscience -- have proceeded to make fewer and fewer sizes. I have a friend who wears a size 10AAA shoe. In the best of times, it was hard for her to find a shoe without a prescription. But when she went in recently for a refill, she was told that the store no longer carried 10AAA.
What do you do when your feet are no longer carried? What does one do when they have become extinct? Apply for an Environmental Protection Agency shoe grant?
At the same time, anyone who does not fit into the range between a size 8 and a size 14 is instantly relegated to the netherworld of half-sizes, the never-never land of teens or the Singer Sewing Company.
As if it weren't bad enough with all the health fiends telling us to get in shape, we have the clothing people telling us to get in their shape. Anyone whose body is not proportioned in the Seventh Avenue prescribed numbers in this year of the slim skirt is referred to a surgeon to get her hips done.
I have a feeling that it is all part of a vague conspiracy. Slowly, they will keep narrowing the numbers game, marketing more and more to the statistical average.
After all, if one size never fits all, well then, all of us must be made to fit one size.
There is nothing more dangerous in my business than making a list. Name any names and you are bound to leave someone out, and irate. In a recent column on the Playboy bunnies, I made the mistake of listing the Ivy League schools and neglecting the University of Pennsylvania. Let me inform you that the University of Pennsylvania alumni are alive, well, literate and angry -- at least my 112 pen pals are. To them I extend an olive branch and a fine and healthy ivy.