You know the scene in Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts goes into the fancy clothing store in some of her more tame hooker garb, and the sales ladies are very snooty to her because her appearance clearly indicates that she’s a dark lady of the night and then they ask her to leave? I had something very similar happen to me in a Prada store in Rome, and when I say “something very similar,” what I mean is that it was vaguely similar, and that it mostly just made me feel like hooker Julia Roberts.
Most of the time, I don’t give much of a hoot about fashion labels. And maybe it’s all of the Gossip Girl I’ve been watching lately, but I was surprised to discover that seeing the names of some of the world’s most recognizable names in high fashion on the storefronts of Rome’s main shopping street left me feeling something akin to starstruck. I generally don’t even go inside stores with such high-priced merchandise because it makes me nervous and sweaty and almost break out in hives to be around things that are so expensive, but there was something inside of me that wanted to touch real Italian leather and run my fingers over the shiny metal Prada labels on the purses and gaze wistfully at shoes I know I could never afford. I wanted, needed, to indulge my fantasies of living fabulously even if I could only look but not buy, and Nate, the good sport that he is, allowed me to drag him inside with me.
If you’ve ever been inside a Prada store or another comparable high fashion clothing store, you know that the places are immaculate and that the sales people take their jobs very seriously. They had a lady whose sole job duty was to open the door for people who were entering and exiting. For real. The second we walked inside the door, with my fingerless gloves and Nate’s knit cap and prodigious beard, I instantly felt like a beacon of Otherness. There would be no way of proving this empirically, and maybe it was just my own paranoia, but I could almost swear that everything, the quiet chatter and the pending transactions, stopped for a split second as every employee of the store became acutely aware of our presence in it. I could sense so many sets of eyes on us, so many minds wondering what we could possibly be doing there. I started shuffling through some of the garments on the racks, and being the clumsy nitwit that I am, I caused a dress to fall off of its hanger as I pulled it away from the rack to examine it. Realizing that this dress was probably worth more than I earn in a month, I bent hastily to pick it up and restore it to its rightful place hovering God-like above the ground, but before I could even lift it from the ground, an older sales lady was on the scene, retrieving the garment from my filthy mitts and hanging it back up herself with both subtlety and force, with a look on her face that wasn’t unkind, but that definitely told me I was in the wrong place. I got so flustered that I made a beeline for the exit.
Based on my smile, you can tell that this photo was taken before I went into Prada
You’re probably thinking “That’s not so bad, I don’t know what you’re complaining about,” and maybe you’re thinking that this was just an isolated incident and I need to chill out. Well, let me tell you: it wasn’t, and I don’t! We walked down the same street the next day on our way to the metro station, and we popped in Louis Vuitton very briefly to check out their light-up stairs (not as cool as it sounds). There was a security guy parked at the bottom of the stairs, and as we ascended, we could hear him radioing another guy upstairs about us. And sure enough, when we reached the second floor, the second security guy was waiting in the wings to watch our (and by “our,” I mean my bearded accomplice’s) every move. Like a hawk. Needless to say, we didn’t stay long.
Moral of the story: fashion is nice and all, but there is a dark side to it. Fashion, in a conceptual sense, is accessible to all walks of life, and, when a person uses ingenuity and innovation, it can have transcendent capabilities; I truly believe that. The reason high fashion leaves a bad taste in my mouth is because its aim is elitism and divisiveness, to separate the fashionable from the unfashionable, the worthy from the unworthy. True, Nate and I were not adorned in our finest linens, but what if we were actually royalty, or at least fabulously wealthy, and we just enjoy dressing like middle-class Pacific Northwesterners because we want to live a normal life? Those store people would feel pretty sheepish, that’s what. There’s a scene later on in Pretty Woman where Richard Gere is trying to coerce Julia Roberts to return with him to the same store where she was humiliated, and she protests by saying that the stores aren’t very nice to people, to which Richard replied “Stores are never nice to people. They’re nice to credit cards.” Isn’t that the truth. If, instead of walking out of Prada or Louis Vuitton empty-handed, we had dropped a grand on their merchandise, I bet they would have kissed my feet if I told them to. Okay, probably not, but still. I hate that we were treated as lesser patrons simply because we didn’t look the part of persons who would, or could afford to, buy things there. Institutionalized snobbery based on appearances is not endearing to me, and the moment I realized that is the moment that the enchantment of high fashion wore off for me. Look down on me if you like, but don’t you dare look down on that impressive beard if you want to retain my respect and admiration… that I simply will not stand for!