August 8, 2004


So, as I said, I was down in the outskirts of Chicago yesterday shopping. I can't help it, but I like the Oakbrook Center, with its nice mix of stores, including an Apple Store, an Eileen Fisher, a Sephora, Crate and Barrel, a Restoration Hardware, Tiffany's, Brooks Brothers, that sort of thing. It's a non-enclosed mall, with outdoor plazas and walkways, with flowers and fountains. Too pretty, if anything. Not gritty or at all hip. Upscale, modern .... I'm sorry, I like it. It's a serene promenade through tasteful merchandise. I don't really like to go shopping. Shopping is often confusing, physically uncomfortable, unaesthetic, and a waste of time. But at Oakbrook, we had a rational and efficient shopping experience, as well as a nice little lunch at Antico Posto.

The two hour drive is a minus, but that was offset by having my son John in the car reading to me the entire time. He likes to read out loud, and I'm happy driving a long time if I can hear something worth thinking about. John came with me because the main goal of the trip was to buy him a suit and various accessories at Brooks Brothers. Now this had loomed as a big chore, but the idea was that BB would simplify the task, and it did. Our saleswoman Helga, with 20 years of experience, can look at a customer and know what size he wears. She's very good at this, she says, but she gets it wrong in the case of her own children, because she sees them as smaller than the really are. Which I thought was sweet. She led us from jacket to pants to shoes to shirts to ties to socks. We put together the whole outfit as the decisions seemed to fall into place inevitably. There's something really rational and sensible about buying men's business clothes. And doesn't a man look fine in a suit? I find myself saying: why don't men wear suits all the time? It's such a simplified approach to personal appearance, and it makes you look great.

Helga got the tailor to do the alterations that afternoon. We went back out to shop around. and she called my cell phone within an hour to say the suit is ready. John tried it on, and I said again what I said when he first tried the jacket on: you look great! It's quite a pleasure to see your own son dressed perfectly in a nice suit!

I bought some soft sweaters at Eileen Fisher, which is as rational a women's clothing store as I have ever seen. And I wandered around Sephora for a while, which is surely less rational, but isn't it amusing to see all the unusual makeup displays, find the Philosophy products charming, try on six perfumes, and be waited on by numerous beautiful salespersons? Well, you can decide for yourself. I think it's a brilliantly designed store.

I noticed how many of the stores play Big Band music--not all, not Sephora. Is there something about Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald that enhances merchandise? I remember my father telling me so many times, back in the sixties, that Big Band music would come back. Oh, how wrong you are, old man--was my attitude at the time--rock and roll had forever conquered your square music! No, he thought rock was a transitory trend, a novelty. It would have to die. But "Rock and Roll Is Here To Stay," rock has been singing about itself since the fifties. I suppose that my father must have admitted to himself before he died that Big Band music was not coming back. But now, whenever I go shopping, piped into the sleek, fashionable environments of today is the music my parents loved, sounding eternally young and fresh and inevitable.

Ah, I suppose I also believed, back in the sixties, that men were about to toss aside their business suits for good! Didn't we, the know-it-all baby boomers, see the folly of those uptight clothes? Neckties: what were they for? No one would dress like that in the future. But now, I'm shopping for a suit with my son, respecting the rationality and clarity of the traditional men's store, and I'm genuinely impressed by how great a suit looks.

No comments: