I went out and bought four dresses. Not for me. For Donna. She decided that, while her leg is in a cast, it would be easier to get dressed and undressed if she wore a dress. It would keep her from getting her knickers in a twist.
I suggested that she could go on-line and order a couple of inexpensive cotton dresses. Instead, Donna sent me to Gudrun Sjoden.
Gudrun Sjoden is not a store I would normally shop in. It is full of bright-colored, loose, flowing, and artsy Scandinavian women’s clothing. The clothes come in bold stripes and flowered patterns. They are meant to be worn in layers. It is a look that one either likes or loathes. Other than some striped socks, there is nothing in the store that I would consider wearing. While I wouldn’t wear the clothes, I am attracted to the kind of woman who does. It is Donna’s favorite store.
I arrived in blue jeans, a black turtleneck, a black Patagonia fleece pullover, and hiking boots. I brought along a flowered red tunic, from last winter’s collection. Donna wanted something just like it, but longer. All the other shoppers, and the sales staff, were wearing Gudrun Sjoden outfits. I felt uneasy; I knew I didn’t belong there.
I approached a salesperson, and asked for help. I told her that my partner broke her ankle, is wearing a cast, and wants to get a couple of dresses. The dresses should be loose, stretchy, and long, but not too long. Preferably in red, maroon, or purple; preferably striped or flowered. I showed her the tunic. She nodded and we looked at every dress in the shop. She picked out an armload of dresses that might work.
Then I remembered the last time someone handed me an armload of dresses. I was thirteen. I had already stopped wearing girl’s clothing. My father died, suddenly, unexpectedly. I was too heavy to fit in my old dresses or my mother’s. I didn’t have anything to wear to his funeral.
In the midst of mourning, my mother dragged me to S. Klein’s on Union Square. Klein’s was a slightly seedy discount fashion store. I hated it because it had communal dressing rooms. They were full of women bulging out of their undergarments. I agreed to let my mother pick out the dresses. I agreed that I would take the first one that fit and didn’t need shortening. For once, I did not make an argument. She came back with an armload. I tried each one on.
I was embarrassed to get undressed in front of those women. I was afraid to look at their bodies. I didn’t want them looking at mine. I didn’t care how fat or how ugly I looked in each dress, I just wanted to get it over with. I can picture the dress we selected, a royal blue and white horizontal stripe short-sleeved knit, but I have no memory of wearing it.
I selected four dresses for Donna from the pile and took them home. Donna decided to keep two. I returned the others. The same salesperson helped me with the return. I still felt like an interloper.
On my way home, I stopped in at the Patagonia store. It is up the block from Gudrun Sjoden. I’d been thinking about buying a new jacket to layer under my Gore-Tex shell. I tried on a few of the men’s jackets, but the smalls were too long and too tight around my hips. The mediums were too big everywhere else. Discouraged, I reluctantly tried on the women’s jackets. They “fit” but I had a dysphoric reaction to the jacket’s contours (feminine) and how I looked in them. I felt myself start to panic. The salesperson suggested that I try on the boys’ XXL (size 18). I had tried the boys’ down sweater on last year, before top surgery, and thought it was too small. This time, it fit just right. And it came in black. And it was cheaper than the adult version. I bought it as the antidote to shopping at Gudrun Sjoden, and went back to being me.
Notes: To get a more critical viewpoint on the design aesthetic of Gudrun Sjoden, you can read the article “Glinda Would Be at Ease” from the New York Times. Donna fits into category “a” – the empathic therapist.