We finished up the last few crumbs of our cupcake, put on our game faces and headed out of the Stage Door Deli. This was no small matter. Our destination was straight ahead on the left. Century 21. We were both oddly quiet – a combination of being full to the brim and pondering visions of wonders that may behold us once inside the imposing huge double black doors. I wasn’t sure what to expect inside those hallowed halls. I had seen an episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy where they went to a Century 21 once – it had a beautiful grand staircase right in the middle of the building and was rows and rows of beauty. As we opened the imposing heavy doors and our eyes adjusted to the florescence I realized … this was not that place.
Ok I dunno where they were in that episode of QEftSG, but it wasn’t here. This place was like a bit like a mule in a horse’s harness. The outside of the building was wonderful and beautiful. The inside was like JC Penny’s from the 70’s. Everything was beige – beige walls, worn beige carpets, dropped ceiling tiles, fluorescent light… not exactly couture. We discovered that women’s clothing was on the third floor and headed up the escalator (figuring we’d hit kids, mens and shoes as we headed back down). As more and more of the women’s floor came into view, the more I was a mish mash of sudden concern and yet excited awe. The giant floor was absolutely filled with racks upon racks of … everything. There were round racks, waterfall racks, straight racks, wall racks. On each rack - topped with a black and white paper print out saying things such as “European Couture” or “3.1 Phillip Lim” or “Cashmere” - was a packed explosion of color and fabric. I quickly realized that a lot of what was here were “one off” items – meaning: if it ain’t your size, you’re SOL. That also meant that it was almost overwhelming to think of clawing through rack after rack trying to find that just right piece in your just right size.
Second only to my awe at the sheer hodge podge of stuff around was my sudden sinking realization of what we’d have to face to even dig through said racks. People. Lots and lots of people. People who were apparently much more adept at this than we were. I just stood off to the side of the escalator for a moment and looked around. I saw women jockeying for position around racks. I saw women with arms full of items clinging to them with possessive gleams in their eyes, I heard voices speaking in every language imaginable calling to sisters, cousins, friends telling them to come look at some item or other, and at least once I saw women literally elbow each other out of the way to get to an item. I looked to my left and noticed the line for the one set of fitting rooms – it was at least 30 people long – no exaggeration and filled with a mix of women - young giddy girls, hollow eyed shock victims, and narrow eyed fighters. Wow. I’m not sure I’m up for this.
Though we started out together, Sarah and I quickly realized that if we were going to make any headway we’d have to divide and conquer. Of course being able to ever find each other again without the use of cell phones was in question, but these were trivialities – we had couture waiting for us to find it. I picked a tall, straight rack and started rummaging through it. Most of what I saw was horrid – but some things were delicious like the amazing Save the Queen skirt that was in my size (originally $490 down to $120)! I quickly pulled it out from the rack and clung to it. If I had noticed anything it was that if you even thought you may want something you’d better take it and hold onto it. I was halfway through the rack when I heard a woman’s voice behind me scoldingly say “You can’t be here”. I turned around to see the curly haired young woman with the sour look on her face and the nametag on her shirt. “I’m sorry?” I asked. She simply pelted me with “I have to work here!” Apparently this was the rack where they hung up items that needed to be sorted and put back out in their rightful places. This seemed like an odd exercise in futility from what I’d seen, and I certainly didn’t appreciate her tone, but rather than get into an altercation within the first 10 minutes of my arrival I simply looked at her, said nothing, and walked away.
Not a great start. But knowing what could be here, in this very store… my perfect, trophy dress or skirt or outfit was here somewhere waiting for me, I just had to find it… I shook off my frustration and set out to look for more…
… to be continued.