Female empowerment, or maybe just me reading too much into things

I don’t know if this post is about gender equality, my own self-confidence, or the shoddy customer service at Macy’s. Okay, probably not the latter, because Macy’s Visit #1 was an unprecedented success. It’s just that today their service not awesome.

But let’s back it up a bit.

PROLOGUE: I, like most women, abhor, detest, dread, fear, and otherwise dislike pants shopping. Other kinds of shopping, the shopping that happens “just because” and not because you need something, can be fun. But pants shopping usually falls into the “need” category, which makes pants a hateful object to shop for.

Unfortunately, the time came (about two months ago) when I realized I needed new pants. The gray slacks I’d had since ninth grade are coming to the end of their time on this Earth. The hems have aggregated a smattering of wax spots from sorority ceremony candle drippings. The buttonhole at the waist is stretched out and clinging to the button for dear life. The pants themselves are now more pill than fabric. And even though it’s summer, I still wear pants constantly, because our office AC is always set to just above freezing. Conclusion: I needed new pants.

So the search began.

CHAPTER ONE: The search is practically impossible when you don’t know exactly what size you are, and when Kohl’s doesn’t carry clothing for any adult woman under size 8. I had no luck at Ross or TJ Maxx, either, even after multiple visits. At last I went to Macy’s (which I’d been avoiding thanks to some crummy inventory over the last year) and went resolutely to the Style & Co department, where I found a couple size 4 pants.

Which were too big at the waist. This wasn’t a huge surprise, but it was still frustrating, since I hadn’t seen any size 2 pants. Well, there’s always the petites section.

2P was too small; 4P was to short. Hang on. That’s just not fair.

I would probably have cried, were I a weaker woman. Luckily, a helpful salesgirl was nearby, and I went to her with my plight.

“Did you check the Alfanis?” she asked.

Well, no, I hadn’t, because “Alfani” sounds like “Armani,” which sounds expensive. But the girl darted over and whisked out a pair of size 2 slacks.

“Try these,” she said. “If they fit, we can call to another store and have more shipped.”

I hurried back to the fitting room, and tried on my last hope. They’re pretty cute pants, actually – dark gray with a very subtle dark purple pinstripe. And the stars aligned and these pants actually fit! The waist! It sits where a waist should sit! The bottom is neither VPL-inducing nor saggy! The legs do not resemble Charlie Chaplin’s!

And they were on sale for less than $25!

I have never been happier to get someone a commission. Yeah, okay, the slacks were maybe a bit long, but I was wearing flats and it was hard to tell. I was sure they’d be fine once I had heels on, and I tried the combination the next day.

Yep, okay, they’re too long. I had a couple options here. One was to hem them myself, which would probably require buying a sewing machine and teaching Kevin to pin the hems up. I could try doing it by hand, with a needle and thread, but then I would probably look like I’d hired a kindergartner to do it. Or I could plead with my mom to fix up another pair of pants, but she just mended some denim capris that had had a hole in the tush for God knows how long. Or – perhaps – Macy’s would have a hemming service.

Sure enough, they did, although they said it would be a week or so until I could get the pants back. “Just take them to the women’s suits section,” the guy on the phone said. “Or if no one’s there, take it to the men’s section. They’ll know what to do.”

The men’s section? Yeah, sure. I’ll just toddle in with my wax-coated pants and wait by the Kenneth Cole ties until some well-dressed salesman deigns to notice a female in his presence. No thanks.

CHAPTER TWO: I used my lunch break today to drive to the downtown Macy’s to send my pants in. This whole process made me feel very grown-up indeed. I was using my income to pay for a service I couldn’t complete myself, and it would lead to me looking respectable at work. I mean, I wasn’t wild about having to spend fifteen bucks, but it was probably my cheapest option at this point, and it would mean that in a week, I could retire my sad, pilly gray pants. (Or if someone crafty wants to “upcycle” them, we can work something out. They’re probably better off composting, though.)

I marched past three saleswomen and parked myself in front of the women’s suits, certain that they would have observed my arrival (or at least my big bright Macy’s bag) and come over to help me.

They did not.

I loitered for another few minutes, pretending to be interested in the sale section or the chocolates for sale at the counter. The women continued inventorying. All three of them. I looked pointedly up at the Customer Service sign overhead, as if it would light up joyously at the prospect of a customer to help. The women didn’t notice. I wandered around the racks, attempting to position myself in their sightlines. They did not look at me. I debated sitting on the counter or pretending to use their computer. One woman made an approach for the aisle, and I straightened up hopefully, but she turned a corner without even looking at me.

Well. Enough of this.

I took my pants and marched up to the men’s section.

Male chest mannequins were lined up on dark wood tables. A rainbow of fine silk ties were arrayed on the racks. The two salesmen were smartly dressed in dark suits, finishing up business with a portly, respectable gentleman who was purchasing a wallet. The customer didn’t notice me, but the two salesmen did, and both were naturally surprised and interested by my arrival. One of them sauntered over.

“Can I help you?”

I stood up straight. “Well, I need pants hemmed, and there’s no one in the women’s section to do it.”

“Oh, yeah, there probably isn’t anyone down there right now. If you can wait two minutes, he’ll be able to help you.”

“Great, thank you.”

So I perused the ties and the slightly unappealing shirt/tie combinations they’d chosen to display. (Lime green and plum? Really?) Portly Wallet Buyer still hadn’t noticed me, and the department was otherwise empty, but I still felt like I’d infiltrated a gentleman’s club or a cigar bar. I half-expected some guy with muttonchops and a monocle to barge out and order me away. And I would stand my ground because the women were refusing to assist me, and these men were interested in helping me. Because I was a lady.

Portly Wallet Buyer finally shuffled away, and the salesman came over. He was pretty young, but distractingly tall, so I had to sort of lean back to make eye contact.

“Did you need help?”

“Yes. I need pants hemmed, but there’s no one was in the women’s department, and they said I could come up here and you could help.”

“Sure.”

At this point, I suddenly thought that maybe I had done something wrong after all. Maybe I was upsetting the natural order of things by having my women’s pants altered in the men’s department. Maybe the guy on the phone had no concept of the gender divide and had given me awful instructions, resulting in me becoming a pariah, shamefully banned from that Macy’s for being That Girl Who Tried To Have Her Pants Hemmed By Men.

I tried to backpedal. “Or you could, like, call someone to help me downstairs, if that’s easier.”

“No, it’s no problem! Let me just make sure the fitting rooms are empty and we’ll get started.”

Hmm. Okay. Cool.

I have used a men’s restroom two or three times during cases of dire need, but it was still pretty weird to use a men’s fitting room. It’s partly because they look exactly the same – same white-slatted doors, same bland carpet. I shuffled out in my new slacks and watched about ninety seconds of Paula Dean gutting artichokes while the salesman marked a new hem.

(It’s cute how they chose a program a woman would like to watch while waiting for her companion to try on clothes. As if she’d be sitting there waiting for him and not raiding the sales racks herself.)

And just like that, I had broken my own glass ceiling. The information for my boot-leg lady’s slacks was written out on a claim check that said “MEN’S” at the top. I had been assisted by an employee in the wrong department, when members of my own gender couldn’t be bothered to help, and it had all worked out just fine. My pants were hung with care behind the counter and the salesman graciously gave me the claim check. And I made my triumphant exit with only the tiniest glance at the jewelry clearance table.

And I made it back to work on time.

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