From the moment we walk into a store, the flashy allure of American shopping culture tries desperately to impress us — expertly dressed mannequins line the entrance, beautifully composed color schemes catch our eyes and strategically placed signs remind us of that ubiquitous “20 percent off sale.” But what about the moment when we leave the sales floor and enter the dressing room? That seemingly small transition from public to private can end up feeling drastic. Like some carnival house of mirrors, the dressing room can warp our self-image, especially when we’re alone.
These minutes of privacy are contingent on the tiniest aspects. Even nuances in lighting can enhance or detract the overall mood. Hollister, for example, is known for its sultry, dimly lit fitting rooms. Their light bulbs are placed at the top rather than near the sides of the mirror to have a slimming effect, and the semi-darkness brings an aura of privacy, reminiscent of techniques used in clubs and bars, where the name of the game is flattery. Similar to this is the difference of a bolt-locked dressing room rather than just a tiny curtain between you and the crowds of other shoppers.
But when shopping by ourselves, regardless of the fitting room’s aesthetics, we’re confronted with nothing but a mirror that we sometimes can’t help but fill with judgments of ourselves.
“Why doesn’t this size fit me? Have I gained weight? What was I thinking picking this out? Could I really pull it off ? What will people think of me wearing this?”
We falter under pressure to blame our bodies for unfit clothing rather than the items themselves.
In these moments, shopping becomes a personal evaluation rather than a decision to buy.
Despite huge sizing disparities between stores, the uncertainty or even shame we often feel in asking for a different size can only indicate an alarming image of the society we live in — a society that tries to identify our bodies as uniform, numerical sizes.
We may be alone behind the veil of the lights, locks and mirrors, but the hidden stressors behind our consumerist culture and appearance-obsessed nation still surround all of us.
Companies’ attempts at breaking down this negative self-image often come off as cheap and impersonal.
“I feel like my personal space is stepped on when fitting room attendants hang around without giving me time to decide about clothes for myself,” Gallatin freshman Kim Wang said. For her, it comes off as a “thinly veiled sales pitch.”
However, the atmosphere improves significantly when we shop with friends. Time in the dressing room becomes a completely different experience — we receive genuine thoughts rather than just compliments from employees pressuring us to buy. Furthermore, when a dress or pair of jeans doesn’t fit as we intended, we have our friends to laugh with together at the absurdity of the design or the ridiculousness of the fabric.
We may be living in a society of store-bought superficiality and controlling sales tactics, but we can push back by sharing laughs with friends, feeling fearless in whatever we pick out to purchase, and remembering that we are capable of so much more than what a dressing room mirror shows.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Sept. 18 print edition. Hannah Treasure is a contributing writer. Email her at [email protected]