I’ve written before about the terrors of women’s try-on rooms in department stores. (See “Does This Teacher Make My Butt Look Big?” for the gory details.)
But I’d like to revisit that territory today because I was, once again, in a store fitting room confronting my image in the mirror. This time was a bit more pleasant because I actually was successful (!) in my quest to find something I liked that seemed to fit and didn’t cause me too much anguish in the process.
However, the lady in the room next to me had to have been experiencing a more trying situation. (They don’t call it the try-on room for nothing. You try and try and if you get lucky, something might fit.) Time and again I heard the clack of a hanger being put back on one of those metal hooks, accompanied by a defeated sigh that sounded like a combination of frustration and despair. The first time I heard it, I just attributed it to possibly fatigue on the part of the lady. But it continued with one article of clothing after another.
I certainly felt sympathy toward whomever was in the cramped room next to me, but I also had to smile because it reminded me of a shopping excursion with my mother when I was probably around twelve or thirteen.
I don’t remember which store we were in, but memory (such as it is) seems to indicate it wasn’t exactly what you’d call a “high end” department store.
Back in the late fifties, our usual haunt was the Stonewood Shopping Center in Downey, California. It could be considered a pre-cursor to the big indoor malls that everyone is familiar with now. In those days it was just a collection of separate stores under one roof and not enclosed like today’s malls.
I think we were in one of the “cheapo” stores like Woolworth’s, but I can’t imagine why we would be in the dressing room there unless they were having a real good bargain on training bras or something. At that age, I hardly needed one, with a bra size of 28AAA—which translates to “barely discernible to the naked eye.”
But, in the tween-ager, hope—and hopefully, breast buds—spring eternal.
At any rate, we were crammed together in a little dressing room which was quite warm and littered with straight pins and cardboard collar inserts. A woman and at least two little kids were in the room next to us. Apparently the adorable tykes were acting up that day and most likely had just had a head-banging fit in Ladies’ Foundations. The poor woman was attempting to try on some clothes but the combination of unruly kids and ill-fitting clothing just got the better of her.
The kids were wailing and fighting, and in between the tussling we would hear their mother’s running dialogue, mainly consisting of the words “Weell, shee-it-uh!“ in a kind of whine. (My mother and I marveled at the way she could draw out that one syllable word into three distinct parts.) The woman had a twangy accent so the “Weell” started out in a higher register than rest of the epithet, and the final “uh” sort of dropped off a breathy precipice.
She continued to talk over the din of the kiddies. “Here ah jest wonted tuh trah on sum clothes, and you jest…” and then she would be overcome with frustration and interject “Weell, shee-it-uh!” when words failed her. This went on the whole time we were in our dressing room until we finally decided to leave before we all came out of our rooms at the same time. A situation my mother thought might be embarrassing for our embattled neighbor. But then, maybe not.
It’s not that we didn’t feel sorry for her and her plight, but it all seemed so funny at the time. When I became a mother, I ruefully came to appreciate her suffering.
Karmic payback can be ironic that way.
Anyway, the lady’s lament went on to become a catch-phrase between my mother and me. Whenever things were going wrong or something got out of hand, we would say “Weell, shee-it-uh!“ and there would be instant understanding between us.