Thursday, February 11, 2010

Texture of wealth and other odd consumer sensations

I went inside in flip-flops, one of those enormous, high-ceilinged shops, for rich people, with recessed lighting and odd displays with elements you might not expect to see in a shop - a disembodied tap with real running water, sepia photographs of somebody's brother and father, hands on hips, standing on a freshly mowed lawn, and in the window long, long strips of newspaper glued together from floor to ceiling. Every so often there were stuffed chairs made of printed canvas that you could sit in for a moment but which were also for sale, so in sitting you felt slightly guilty, as if you were breaking the rules, because the chair cost 1498 dollars.
Shirts with eyelets, pants costing $168 with ridiculously flared bottoms that you know will raise anyone, even you, up to the height of fashion, and tiny - just tiny - pairs of jeans, for girls who never have to ask you to scoot your chair closer to the table so they can squeeze by.
I try the lotion, I turn it upside down to see the price on the bottom, feeling painfully gauche - this is the sort of thing that goes on in other stores, but here, if you have to ask... It was only ten dollars, but smelled to me like somebody's rose-handed grandmother, loose skin, slow moving in the delicate morning in an empty house.
The dresses were all too small, and some designed so short they would barely cover a bottom, but this is the style now.
The textures are inviting - there are woven throws and wall-hangings, thick wool, like I've seen in South America (for less than five dollars U.S.) in muted greens and what here is probably called "creme."
I am drawn to a crinkled skirt, purple the color of raspberry sherbet - surprising but organic, brown undertones,  and I reach out for it, because it looks so soft, and it is - I can't stop touching, I try to look as though I'm browsing, as though I have a right to touch, but really I'm just captivated. I look at the price again - compulsion, apparently - and the skirt is $98. It seems to stand up on its own and I realize it must have a lining, maybe crinoline. I lift up the skirt, feeling as though I am invading its privacy, looking where I shouldn't, like a dirty old man checking out the goods, or a dirty old woman biting the coin with rotted tooth to be sure it's really gold.
The underskirt is soft linen with lace and I touch it too, imagining what it would feel like against my thighs - it would be like floating through the day, like skating. Some things are created for use, some for whimsy, often without regard for comfort, and it occurs to me that luxury is soft against your skin. This is why women pay 98 dollars for a skirt. Some women, but not me. I don't.
I watch the women who shop here. Some leave with very small bags, others come in with teenage daughters, younger children, and I - compulsion - begin to do the calculations in my head - one item for each child... Clothing perhaps as cheap as $50 for a thin, unbearably gossamer t-shirt - you can see your fingers through it - wearing would be like swimming in a cloud - would my whole demeanor change? Would my life be different if the clothing I bought were soft?
I see $6 mugs with the alphabet on them, consider buying one for my brother and one for his fiance, but I feel as if my hands and stomach are full already, with the smells and the canvas and the curtains, newspaper, bell-bottoms and the sweaters with knobby mustard-colored flowers tucked into a corner like a small country, going about its business, propagating its culture, thick and soft.