The fashion Olympics

by Debbie Carini


My husband and I met at Macy’s in Herald Square, right in the heart of Manhattan. We didn’t meet cute, like bumping into one another while comparing blenders. We actually worked at Macy’s, in advertising, writing copy that would entice people to buy blenders.

I mention this because I often wonder if, by virtue of osmosis, something like a retail gene can be passed from parent to child. My husband’s father was in the shoe business; my husband also did a stint selling kid’s shoes.

On my side are champion shoppers: people who have purchased extra luggage to lug home acquisitions, devotees who’ve stood in the blazing sun to be the first at a popular Swedish multinational retail-clothing company when it finally opened a branch in Pasadena, and bargain hunters who are not afraid to follow a sketchy-looking guy up some stairs to a “back room” where there are “real” Gucci purses, wallets and belts for sale.

Somehow, this gene has been dormant in me. I was more than happy to wear a maroon uniform and saddle shoes every day to Catholic school. The only kind of shopping I’ve ever really enjoyed is grocery shopping. I can see that eggplant, those breadcrumbs, that mozzarella and sauce coming together to be something edible. I can never see an outfit coming together in my head in any way other than a crime scene photo of color, pattern and frightfully out-of-date or inappropriate choices.

But my daughter got the gene. It has been active in her bloodstream since birth (aided greatly by a paternal grandmother who believed that all baby girls should sport large hair bows and bejeweled overalls).

In fact, where other mothers could determine their children’s progress by the typical developmental measures like crawling, walking and cognitive play, I had different milestones. For dexterity—the first time she reached in her own hair, pulled out one of those gigantic bows and threw it to the floor—or for name recognition—the first time she uttered two words together; she was speaking retail when she said “Home Depot.” She recognized the sign from our many trips there when we were living in a 1920s-built Dutch colonial in much need of repair; she very quickly graduated to knowing the names of stores where shoes and dresses were accessible.

She’s a young lady now, but every time we go shopping together I am reminded of her laser-focus. While I’m standing in the clearance section considering an oversized, floral-printed blouse that looks like it could easily be repurposed as curtains in a tea shop, she is amassing a pile of smart, chic pieces that she will pull together effortlessly and wear in her distinctive way.

I base most of my clothing choices on two criteria: will it itch? and does it have an elastic waist? But I can take pride in having given birth to a child who once won an academic award and was complimented by the principal for her ability to navigate the walk across the stage to accept said prize in perilously high heels (she was in 8th grade, wearing the party shoes from her bat mitzvah). Self-confidence is the smartest look, and she wears it well.



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