Reporter's Notebook

Trip to the mall wears on her

This mom thought she was buying herself a skirt. Turns out it’s a sundress for a teen.

(Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
By Bella English
Globe Staff / July 21, 2011

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Recently, I went into an American Eagle store on an errand for my daughter. She wanted a pair of moccasins like her old ones that had fallen apart. She is 10,000 miles away, working in Vietnam, so I was happy to buy and send them.

Not so fast. It was summer, and the moccasins were out of season, I was told. But I’d spotted a “sale’’ rack and went over to look. I was raised by a mother whose bedtime ritual included, “Goodnight, honey, and remember, never pay full price.’’

I pawed through the items on the circular rack and spotted my deal. It was a skirt, not too short, not too long, in a pretty blue pattern. The price was right. I held it up to me. It fit. That’s how I try on clothes.

I gave the young clerk my credit card and, as she was ringing me up, asked her what kind of shirt she’d suggest I wear with it. “Do you mean over it?’’ she asked.

Uh, yeah. I don’t mean under it.

I could wear either long or short sleeves, she said. And added: “But you don’t have to wear anything with it.’’

Say what?

And then it occurred to me. My favorite new skirt is actually a dress. It’s one of those strapless sundresses with a 3-inch elasticized back, the better to hold your breasts in place. And this, I had thought, was a waist band. From across the world, I could hear my daughter killing herself laughing.

It’s true, the other items on the rack were sundresses, but they all had straps of some sort. My skirt, or dress if you must, had no straps at all.

My fashion faux pas is but one reason women of a certain age should not go into these teen shops without a daughter, niece, or granddaughter. You know the places I’m talking about. The ones with scantily clad mannequins in the latest denim micro-shorts that look more like undies. The ones where you have to shout at the clerk to be heard over the blasting music. The ones where it’s so dark you have to put on your reading glasses to see the price tags.

I went to South Shore Plaza to check out a couple such shops. At Hollister, groovy surfing sister to Abercrombie & Fitch, I sat in a chair opposite the cash registers for several minutes. Each and every customer - mostly moms, paying - had to lean in and ask the cashier just across the counter what he or she had said. And they were barely a foot apart.

Jean Rubicine of East Bridgewater was there with her two nieces and her 76-year-old mother. “I like the look of it,’’ Rubicine said. “But between the music and the darkness, it’s overwhelming.’’ Added her mom: “I wish they’d lower the music some.’’

Jean suggested I check out Abercrombie. I think she mentioned the word “smell’’ or “odor.’’ As soon as I walked in, it hit me. The odor, that is. It’s as if they had Martha Stewart come in and fumigate the entire place with really strong, obnoxious perfume. It was overpowering. I didn’t want to be rude by holding my nose, so I turned and left, eyes watering.

Which marketing genius thought that one up?

I’ve worn my new skirt several times, and always get compliments on it. I recently went back into American Eagle to see if they had any similar ones left. At least there’s light in there, and the music isn’t turned up to “deafening.’’

One teenage girl pulled some short shorts off a rack. Her mother firmly shook her head no. The shorts went back on the rack. This is another reason moms should accompany daughters into clothing stores.

Some of the stores carry clothes in size 00. To my mind, that would be an invisible item. Note to manufacturers: bad message to send adolescent girls.

As I was leaving American Eagle, a prominent display rack caught my eye. There was a long skirt with a pretty pattern and buttons down the front of it. I really liked it, and the price was right: $49.50.

Alas, it, too, turned out to be a sundress. This time, I asked. And this time, I did not buy.

Bella English can be reached at

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