I parked my car on a quiet side road off Main Street, a half block away from my destination. This could go horribly wrong. Was I ready? Yes. I had what I needed and I had a clear objective. I took a deep breath. I’ve done other things that I once thought were impossible, like run an ultra-marathon, bike-camped solo through the Greek Islands, started my own business and confronted an armed robbery suspect. But this was different. I was about to walk into a situation that would increase my heart rate and hurl me out of my comfort zone. But I was ready. Ready for my first shopping party.
In 2008, Seonaid Robinson and her mother, Margaret, opened Bottoms Up Clothing Co. on Bowen Island and re-located to Vancouver in 2010. I discovered their shop when I got re-acquainted with Main Street a few weeks ago. I love to support owner-operated businesses and especially, mother-daughter partnerships.
“I hate shopping” I said. “Wait. That’s not true. I’m working on this. So let’s say, I’m open to learning how to love shopping again”.
“Well, we’re having a private party in a few weeks if you’d like to join us?” asked Seonaid.
“Uh, okay,” I said. And before I could chicken out, I handed her my business card for the invitation list.
The lure of free wine helped me say yes, and also knowing that Winston would be there as the Official Bottoms Up Greeter. Winston was a large, laid-back three-year-old mixed-breed dog who sat in front of the floor length mirror while wearing a lime green satin tie. This was my kind of place.
When did I start to hate, uh, get scared of shopping? I used to love clothes! As a teenager I was into the Mod scene and it was all about looking cool in smart British fashions. Standing-out and being different was the whole point. Up to my mid-20’s, I had a closet full of fun clothes, earrings for every outfit and bracelets of every colour.
It started to change in my late-20’s, when I became a police officer. I started on street patrol and wore the issued black uniform. Sameness was in and being different was out. I then worked “plainclothes” for five years and my uniform was dark jeans and oversized black or grey t-shirts to cover my bullet-proof vest. My hair was safely contained under a dark baseball cap. No earrings, no rings. The whole purpose of plainclothes was to blend into a crowd. When I left policing in my late-30’s and started my own dog training company, I wore dog-appropriate work clothes that were equally dark and boring.
Fashion makes you stand out. I was no longer comfortable with that and I wanted that back. I wanted my love of colour, my love of uniqueness and my love of funky clothes, back. But it had been so long that I didn’t know how to do it anymore. About a year ago I started to make baby steps. A pink scarf here, a silver ring there. I had the desire to change and the vision of what I wanted. Now I just wanted somebody to help with the "how-to". I think Seonaid was my girl.
I walked into the Bottoms Up party and was greeted by Winston. Thank God. Hi Winston! A few minutes with him and my heart rate slowed. Good boy, Winston.
“Winston, you are my official retail therapy assistance dog tonight,” I said as I glanced around the 900 or so square foot shop. “I made it, I’m here, and I just need to do half an hour,” I chuckled. “Winston, stay close.”
“Hi, welcome, thanks for coming,” said Seonaid. “What flavour of white wine would you like?”
“Anything, thank you,” I said. A dog, and a glass of wine. This shopping thing might be fun.
I had two fifty dollar bills in my pocket. A small amount for a shopping party but an amount I found challenging to spend. I know I have a few beliefs that add to my shopping resistance. How can I possibly enjoy a hundred dollar pair of jeans while there are children starving in Somalia? I’m still working through this, but I have recently accepted that whether or not I help the world’s hungry is independent of the type of cloth that covers my butt. Oh god. Winston, where are you?
“Ok, so how does this party work?” I asked.
“You can just shop or you can tell me what you are looking for,” says Seonaid.
“Ok, I’m definitely going to need your help, please. I need tops. Don’t let me leave without one or two tops. No t-shirts. I would like something nicer, but still casual. And I’d love to try them on with a pair of jeans too.” I said.
“Ok, do you want short or long-sleeves?” she asked as she glanced at my lower body and pulled a pair of dark denim off the shelf.
“Short, please. And feminine, without being frilly. No sweaters.” I said. “It would really help me if you could just bring me a bunch of stuff to try on.”
“Okay, let’s get you set up in a change room.” she said.
I glanced at the jean label and almost called out for her when I saw the size. “She’s way off, size 29, no way, I’ll have to put my pants back on now, go get another pair,” I muttered. I thought of Winston. “Ok, stop it, slow down, be open, just say yes, put them on,” I counter-argued. They fit perfectly. She’s good.
“How do you do that?” I laughed.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, sixteen years, and well, I’m pretty good at it” she said with a smile.
As I settled into the change room, glass of wine in hand, Seonaid brought me a variety of tops and fine-tuned the selection after asking questions of what I liked and didn’t like. She checked in often and her timing was perfect. I finally chose a fitted, teal top with flared short-sleeves from a Canadian company called Orb. I bought an identical one in purple. Baby steps.
Fortunately, I like to explore and laugh at my quirky little fears that I’m knocking off my list. I was inspired by Seonaid because not only did she find fashion fun, she found it easy. It would seem that one person’s hesitation is another person’s strength. “You’ve done it” becomes “I can do it too”. We just need to connect with somebody who thinks it’s fun and easy. Wow, how awesome would everyone become?
And a dog wearing a neck tie always helps too.
© 2011 Michelle Sevigny. www.michellesevigny.com. Reprint permission granted with full copyright intact.
Photo by Nina Matthews Photography