Stein Mart is my favorite place to shop for clothes. I never let a decade go by without a visit. The General Assembly is in a couple of weeks and Cheryl felt strongly I needed some clothes so we went shopping.
I first encountered Stein Mart about thirty years ago when we moved to Louisville, Kentucky. I knew from the outset it was going to be my place to shop. The stores are always clean, well lit, and well organized. They offer quality clothing at discount prices and getting a bargain is what shopping is all about, isn’t it. They usually have my sizes in the items I like. As a discount store their styles are usually on the back side of the trends and that’s just the way I like it; there’s no need to stand out in the crowd and God forbid anyone might label me “Metro.”
Other than the prices, my real preference for this chain lies in several practical areas. First, is location. These stores are in a strip mall. You can park close, enter and exit without being seen. There is no food court in which you are forced to play “dodge the dripping ketchup.” Most importantly, there are no other stores hypnotically wooing Cheryl like Sirens on the shore of retail. Like most men I have an aversion to shopping with my wife. My nausea is amplified by tortuous memories of having to take my mother shopping.
In 1969 Mom had major surgery (died on the table, went to heaven, sent back to serve kind of surgery). The first thing she wanted to do when she was able to get out of the house was shop for clothes that would fit her emaciated frame. She had to look good for church didn’t she? Shirley and I took Mom to J.C. Penney’s. It was close to the house and in a strip mall making it convenient for her to get in an out. Going in was easy enough; dragging her out was another matter. She was weak when we entered and growing weaker by every sales rack. I was literally holding her up while she looked at dress after dress. Keep in mind, I was 5’11’’ at the time and weighed a whopping 145 pounds. We must have looked like a guide wire bracing a telephone pole.
Another attraction to this chain has to do with the size and order of the stores. They are small. The men’s section can be spotted as soon as you enter. Straight in, straight out -- with no need for a compass to navigate through ladies lingerie and baby clothes and kitchen utensils before getting to the goods. On a good day, like today, I can pick out a couple of sports coats, pants, dress shirts, and ties to match in twenty minutes. In spite of Cheryl’s hints I avoided the dressing room all together. “I’m sure they’ll fit.”
There’s just something unnatural about a man standing around eyeing apparel as if color really mattered. What’s the problem? Ignore the bright colors and pass over the pastels; everything in between is just fine. Who cares about the “cut” as long as the pants have pleats and don’t cut off the blood circulation? Haven’t you ever noticed the people who take their time shopping for clothes? They take something off the rack and hold it up. Pretending to stare at it, they glance around the room to see if anyone is looking at them. They’re looking for some sign of approval from the herd. If caught, the onlookers always nod with an approving smile as if to say “You are a masterful shopper.” Then as you look away and back at the item, they roll their eyes as if to say to other onlookers “I can’t believe she thinks that would look good on her.” There are some things that just should be done in private but only the rich can afford that.
My approach to this ritual of social grandstanding is to go straight to the discounted rack of coats and find one in my size Cheryl seems to like. It’s usually the one she is holding up to my torso. I quickly offer “that’s real nice, let’s see if it fits.” One coat down: one to go.
Then I grab a couple of pairs of standard sized pants from the sale rack, one that complements each of the coats. With luck I don’t even have to break a stride as I grab a couple of ties, each respectively having the colors of the pant and coat sets. I just love shopping.
Cheryl always manages to wonder off to the women’s or children’s sections while I pay for my items. (They should go ahead and name it “Grand-children’s Section.”) But that is Okay; the Stein Mart is small enough I can spot her right away. With careful planning all I have to do is remind her of her appointment and we’re out of there. Men of the world, never go shopping with you wife without a game plan that includes a “must be somewhere” component.
July 8, 2010