Shopping and the Y Chromosome

5 March 2011

We take a break from microfinance, the Middle East, Yunus’ troubles to take on a topic which is weekend-friendly but no less controversial than the aforementioned: Why Men Hate Shopping.

The obvious reason is evolutional: most men, myself included, have assimilated ourselves at best grudgingly to the forces of civilization, and highest on our long list of grievances is an aversion to having our animals and plants slain, harvested, processed and made ready for us in a grocery store, versus chasing them down with spears.

Buying clothes in the post Stone Age epoch is likewise devoid of pleasure for most men. Visiting a large department store to purchase something to cover our nakedness, as opposed to lovingly curing animal skins amidst paleolithic drawings of their former owners, or, better still, tearing them off the backs of other cave men in single combat, just doesn’t do it for us.

We make no effort to conceal our disenchantment with this state of affairs. In my own case, my wife and daughters never take me shopping with them because, in their words “Dad ruins it”. They are referring to that fact, no sooner am I through the doors of Lord & Taylor, Macy’s , or — God forbid — Saks or Nieman Marcus — than I begin wearing my “shopping face”. This is where the corners of my mouth droop disconsolately, and my eyes take on a pathetic ‘Can we go home now?’ aspect.

So I rarely go. When I do, I try to move quickly through the sections with terrifying names like “Louis Vuitton” and “Versace” and “Pierre Cardin” . To me, these bear the same message: “Buy me and overpay by 400%!”

I had to overcome my phobia last weekend as I had underpacked and needed a pair of business attire trousers. So I struck out for Baker street, the throbbing heart of London’s shopping district. I moved confidently past Selfridges and The French Connection with it’s baffling “Are you Man?” and “Are you Woman?” signage, until my eyes settled on Marks & Spenser, a stolidly middle class purveyor of reasonably priced raiment where someone of my parsimonious bent could transact his business swiftly and without taking out a second mortgage — or so I had been led o believe.

I had rummaged through several racks of trousers purporting to be “inspired by” some Italian designer I didn’t recognize — what the hell does that mean, anyway? Can we look forward to milk “inspired by a cow”? — when I noticed something disturbing: whereas I could find trousers sized 36 waist, 31 length or 33 length, the metric I was seeking — 36 waist, 32 length — was nowhere to be found. A quick consultation with the sales clerk confirmed my fears: their trousers only came in odd sizes. Some “suit” in the back office had come up with a brilliant idea: “Hey, we can save money on inventory if we force our customers to wear trousers that either drag on the ground (a serious problem in London, where, occasionally, I’m told, it rains) or are hiked up ridiculously to expose one’s calves.

An idea, so brilliant, in fact, that I left the store, having purchased nothing.

Tomorrow: Rupert goes shopping for shoes

Rupert Scofield


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