My secret shame? I think I have a shopping addiction. It’s not that I love throwing money around or acquiring new stuff, I think I just love stores. I love the displays and the new stuff smells and the packaging and just being surrounded by pretty things. Only, retail is an addiction that I almost never indulge- restraint is my only virtue. However, I probably am just the littlest bit too virtuous. Even more shameful than my fully-functioning consumerbot programming, is the fact that I am ridiculously miserly.
Example: I only own one pair of work pants that are suitable for winter, and only one wool skirt. During the cold months, I alternate between the two. Literally, for 5 months out of the year I alternate them every other day: pants, skirt, pants, skirt. Each article of biz cas clothing is over 6 years old, and only recently have they started to show signs of wear: The bottoms of the pants are starting to fray, and the zipper is starting to come apart from the skirt (I will probably sew it back on next weekend). Impressed though I am with the quality and construction of these items (I bought them at the Limited in 2002-ish), I need to get some new goddamn clothes.
So, with an actual neccessity in mind, I went shopping. The office lady chatter and newspaper circulars painted a picture of dramatically low-low prices, but when I actually got to the mall I was a bit shocked…OK, so NPR keeps reporting on the ever-declining financial health of this country, and they’ve lately taken up focus on the retail industry. Apparently, retailers are expecting things to get even worse for Americans come Christmas time, so they’re trotting out their ads and slashing prices in order to compete for your dollars early. These retail companies, on average, are on a fourth-quarter decline, making this Holiday season crucial to keeping afloat. Which means, at least for now, these companies should be doing all they can to get your asses in the stores buying shit. However, my experience this past weekend is that they really are not trying hard enough. Sure, the mall was crammed solid with people, and even those annoying Lebanese people hawking flat irons out of kiosks ramped up their manpower and dialed up their already unreal sales pitch aggression. But… Nobody was buying. Why? Because nobody was selling. Not really. I went to EVERY store in the mall that sells clothing for adult women. Here’s the worth-your-business roundup:

 Banana Republic: This store has never really been sales-friendly. Every BR store I’ve been in has a set amount of sales racks, and they never really expand upon them- they just cram on-sale clothes onto teeny racks like Jenna Jameson crams collagen and Restalyn into insufficient lip tissue (Uh, both kinds). Sure, there was tons of great stuff on sale, but getting to it was a nightmare. I couldn’t shift the stuff around on the racks to check sizes and prices on the tags, and on more than one occasion my desired item only looked to be a good deal- I was looking at the wrong tag. Average work pants cost: $60 on sale. For BR, it’s a good price, but in general? BOO! The breaking point was the other bargain hunters literally closing in on me from all sides, all of us looking for a deal in a 4 x 8′ space. I had a mini panic attack and flounced from the store with the quickness.
 The Limited: Hooooookay. There was indeed some decent-looking stuff in here. It was so very Serena Van der Woodsen, and I was intrigued. But, of course, that was all the new stuff. There were lots of work-appropriate pants on sale, but the stale 90s silhouettes (low-rise, fit & FLARE, flare, flare, flare) were not working for me. Then there was the fact that the pants were made of that cheap rayon material that does not keep you warm and looks like ass. Then there was the fact that said cheap-ass, tired-ass pants were on sale for $60. FAIL.



Don’t these pants look fucking cheap? Like, Victoria’s Secret catalog cheap. Ugh. 


Express: I loved this store in the 90s. Yes, it was always pricey, but back in the day it was a great place to get D&G and Prada knockoffs. But then, in the early part of the ’00s, it became Overpriced Spangley-Jean-and-Tank-Top Retailer, and I stopped going there. Just in the last three seasons, however, has Express begun to redeem itself with better merch. But, on my most recent jaunt to the store, I found myself lost in a sea of $60 fucking rayon pants. There were a few nice stretch-infused wools ($75), but it was not enough to get me to crack open my wallet. Will keep my eye out for the post-winter sale, though.


Macy’s: During the summer, I had to drag myself away from the INC section. They always had really great stuff- cute little mod dresses, cute little trenches, bright summer knits in great shapes. However, their winter crop is teh SUCK. Someone please tell me: what is with the rayon motherfucking pants? WHAT?! That’s all they had here. And in really crap shades like bright, near-primary chocolate brown. Y’all? Chocolate is supposed to be a deep, mutable, neutral color. It’s not supposed to actually look like a melted Hershey bar. Other than that, Macy’s was Matron Central. Normally you can tell the old-old lady section from the lady section from the teen section, but not this time. Everywhere I looked was the wardrobe locker for Golden Girls. Only less cool. What had happened, Macy?



 Ann Taylor: There were a few great deals to be had here, and I may even go back next week for the $40 wool skirts I cheapskated around but was too miserly to buy. The sale section was spacious, tidy, orderly, and all-around beautifully appointed. There was even a whole separate section for sale petites!!! The staff was gracious and helpful to me, even though I skipped the new stuff and made a beeline for the red tags. LOOOVE. Spend your money here, even if some of the knits are sub-standard & scratchy. They deserve your business.
 Gap: Y’all! I have hated the Gap for years and years, and I’m not alone. This store slid into a vortex of suckitude that has not let up until Gap hired some “maverick” or other CEO that began to fashion the brand more like Uniqlo. In some ways, it’s been great- the cuts are better, more variety is good. In some ways, it’s not been so successful- the quality of craftsmanship is more Old Navy than Gap lately, and Gap seems to be abandoning Petites in favor of cutting everything for unreal Nordic-type builds. Lemme tell you this: The average American woman is 5’4”. No amount of wishful thinking will turn us all into Brooke Sheilds-ish Amazons. Design for the rest of us, Gap, or fucking fold. Anyway, Gap wins this week because more than 1/2 of their store was devoted to Sale. It was well-organized and you didn’t have to wait for a fucking fitting room. Yesh! But, best of all was the prices. Oh. My. God. Fantastic!! I bought THREE pairs of pants. Granted, they are not the best looking or most flattering pants in the world, but for sub-$30 each, I’ll take it! If you need basics, get your ass to Gap, as they are the only store in the mall that seems to know the true meaning of SALE.


J Crew: OK, so I get that J Crew, like Banana Republic, is a kind of luxury retailer. Luxury for the average American, anyway. Cuz I know for damnsure I’ve never spent $180 on a sweater. Which does a great job explaining why I own no cashmere, but that’s beside the point. Suffice to say, J Crew is a tad out of reach (I’m loath to call them “overpriced”, because the few items I’ve splurged on from J Crew have been impeccably crafted with fine materials). I think this company gets it that most people can’t afford their preppy-luxe clothes, and yet like all retailers they’re hurting, so (shock me, shock me!) J Crew is meeting you in the middle. They want your business. Bad. Every week I get at least 2 emails advertising a new sale, usually touting “take 40% off what’s already on sale!” Still out of reach? Yes. Less hurty on your wallet? Yes, actually. So, if you really, really want some cashmere to console you through the long, hard depression ahead, go to J Crew. They really are trying. Right now they’ve got 50% off all their Fall stuff. Some of it is gorgeous, and there are plenty of good deals to be had online.  


Honorable Mention:

 Macy’s: I know Macy’s just lost big on the clothing front, but they get marks for outerwear do-goodery. Currently, this department store is having a 40% off sale on all coats and boots. Unheard of! A retailer actually putting in-season stuff on sale! I needed boots, so I came here. It was SWAMPED with shoppers, but the shoe staff was organized and did their best to get you out of there, boots in hand, in a timely fashion. I splurged on a pair of grey leather Steve Madden slouch boots ($140):


 Yaaaay! They are well-made, comfortable, and WARM. I am a happy shopper.


  **Now, I know that retail chain stores vary by location, and it’ll be hard to use this as a guide in the event you need help shopping. However, I really feel that some companies are more invested in the customer (or, rather, the customer’s money) than others, and it shows. I went to a few different locations of these stores around my city over the last few weeks, and the results have been consistent across the board. Any of you have reports from the retail front-lines? Leave ’em in the comments!