Lifestyle & Retirement

Killing Me Softly with Size 1.5 (Chico’s Edition)

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Killing Me Softly with Size 1.5 (Chico's Edition)

In the old movie, Splash, Darryl Hannah as a not-so-little mermaid newly arrived on land, goes to acquire a wardrobe in Bloomingdale’s.  A stereotypical New York sales lady looks at her outfit, borrowed from Tom Hanks’ closet, and says “What.  Did you see “Annie Hall” too many times?  You’ve got a beautiful figure.  My daughter can wear anything.  She’s lucky.  She’s anorexic.”

As someone who had a serious eating disorder at one point in my life, that line always makes me cringe.  However, there is something to be said for a body devoid of fat, curves, and frankly anything that provides heat or body shape.  I do not recommend an eating disordered lifestyle to anyone, but a small part of me (tiny, infinitesimal) misses going into a clothing store and looking good in everything and never wandering beyond a size six on the racks.

t’s been a long, long time since I fit a six let alone a four, and my best efforts to regain that size, which my Wii suggests is the correct size and weight for someone of my height, seem futile.  Not diet, exercise, or thinking of myself in European clothing measures can get me back to my pre-pregnancy weight and, since my pregnancy was over 30 years ago, you know I’ve been trying a long time.

Which is why I used to love Chico’s.  If you don’t know Chico’s, it is a Florida-based women’s specialty clothes store that reinvented sizing for middle-aged women. You find brick-and-mortar stores in upscale malls catalogs in your mailbox every month, if you are a “Passport member” (meaning you spend a lot of money with the chain).  In my old Florida community (the one that recently developed a 50 ft. sinkhole next to someone’s $250,000 house), Chico’s was about the only game in town.  It is no exaggeration to say that, when they opened the first Chico’s in the Villages, women lined up around the block to force their money on cheerful sales women.  At High Holy Days services at my synagogue, you could look around the sizable chapel and assess the clothing as, “Chico’s, Chico’s, Chico’s, Chico’s.”  It brought back memories of the days when everyone in my high school wore Ladybug or Villager clothes, and woe to the person who showed up without the noteworthy red Ladybug pinned to her collar.  I will admit here that I did not buy Ladybug until college.  During high school, I would sneak into the local Villager store and crawl around on the floor collecting bug-adorned straight pins to wear on my Bobbie Brooks knock-offs.

Now, one of the top selling points of Chico’s is their sizing.  Smart people that they are or were, they knew that no woman wanted to admit to being larger than, say, a size 16 and so they converted their sizes to ones, twos, and threes.  I consistently wore a one, which sounded ever so much better than an eight or a ten. (Before you scream at me, I’m only 4 ft. 11 in. tall, so a ten for me is a very healthy size).  The larger ladies that I knew were ecstatic to be wearing threes, sizes they had probably not seen since they had worn swaddling clothes in that minute number.

All was well for me and Chico’s, even though they didn’t carry petites and I had to buy cropped pants and pretend that they were full length.  Then, a couple of years ago, their style model changed.  The human models in their catalogs got a lot younger.  I tried to rationalize that I was simply getting a lot older but it was clear that they were trying to appeal to a younger demographic, those pesky Gen Xers who were earning more money than we sixty-somethings.  Their clothes also went from being nicely tailored to flowing and tent sized.  Caftans on tall slender models look diaphanous; on short women they look like tablecloths; on heavy women they look like upholstery.

Along with this change in their mannequin, Chico’s changed their sizing to include size one and a half.  Despite assurances from their telephone service people, I was scared to order my usual one because their size chart said it was the equivalent of an eight (if you are a man, stop reading.  This is higher math that only a woman understands).  I knew that an eight seldom closed over my generous chest, a gift from my Ashkenazic foremothers.  But a one and a half?  Which boob would I have to give up?  Which leg?  Did that mean I had to give up my ego stroking ones that I had worn and loved and happily nestled in for so long?

the other day, after many months of contemplating catalog pictures, I ordered three tops from Chico’s.  The first, described in the catalog as a “color blocked T-shirt,” looked tent-like and had that awful longer rear tail designed for women who practice the new “half tuck” that makes you look like a kindergartener who just went to the bathroom and can’t redress herself.  The second shirt, with cunning laser cut-outs on the front, and described by other customers as “perfect for the theatre,” was made out of a polyester, a fabric that makes me itchy and uncomfortable. I refer to this as my “Yuppie” allergy.  There are not many upscale things about me, but never wearing polyester definitely sets me apart. I have been told that it is impossible to be allergic to polyester, but be it physical or mental, the stuff makes me break out in hives. The third shirt, in the hated size one and a half, flared from my body with enough extra fabric to make matching headbands and belts, if I was so inclined and crafty.  This morning, I instructed my husband to return the offending garments to the nearest store because I could not bring myself to enter the location of so many recent wardrobe malfunctions of the non-Janet Jackson type. I am only grateful that Chico’s hasn’t flagged my account, yet, for excessive returns.

the problem for me, now, is that I had a fallback position and that was to buy clothes from Coldwater Creek, a slightly less posh catalog company that has furnished me with years of tailored shirts, fitted pants, and above all, petite sizes.  Sadly, news came out, last month that Coldwater Creek had declared Chapter 11.  I turned to my husband with tears in my eyes and asked, “Is that the one where they reorganize or do they just go away?”  You probably know the answer.  They are just going away.

I suppose I could take the sunny mindset that, without places to buy clothes, I will be saving a lot of money and, face it, I have a very full closet of black pants, button front shirts, and many, many jeans, enough to carry me at least till Dystopia strikes and I have to start swapping clothes for dog food for my dog and possibly for myself.   However, had you asked me, a few years ago, what my hobby was, I would have said, “I have a black belt in shopping,” and now I feel like I’ve lost my belt and I don’t know what size pants to buy.

It is a conundrum.  I’ve fallen out of practice in mall shopping.  I lose my car in the parking lot and get discouraged in the cold, harsh lights of dressing rooms.  I got rid of my sewing machine many moves ago and, even if I had it, my products looked like someone’s addled seventh grade son had actually made them.

As with nature, shopping abhors a vacuum, so I assume some new catalog or brick and mortar store will rise up to take the place of my reliable clothing sources, but I doubt that I will ever return to my pastime with the same joie de vivre because if I have to be a 1.5 instead of a 1, well, I really no longer see the purpose.  I’m sure only another woman can understand my pain.

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