Memories Made in The Dressing Room

And potentially lost in the valley of an e-commerce culture


Lately I’ve been feeling nostalgic for the golden days of offline shopping. I imagine this is the way Generation X looks back at Studio 54. Gone are the afternoons spent moseying from store to store. For me at least. Instead, most of my purchases are made from behind a screen, in between checking the news and responding to emails. It’s not so much the trying on or purchasing components of shopping that I miss, but the ceremony around them, and the stories and relationships cultivated along the way.

Some of my most vivid memories took place in dressing rooms: the disappointment I felt when my mom rejected the idea of me wearing a very expensive beach cover-up as my prom dress; the stomach ache from laughing too hard when my best friend got herself caught in a built-in-bra-tank top; my grandmother agreeing to buy me a scrunchie made of the exact fabric of the Limited Too bathing suit I got for my birthday. These interactions probably wouldn’t take place in front of a computer screen, so for future generations they may not take place at all.

I was not raised in a home where consumption was encouraged. For example, on a father-daughter trip to Italy during high school, I took my dad to the Prada outlet where I asked him to buy me a pair of Prada pants for 25 Euro. His reaction was “but you already own pants.” I tried explaining to him (to no avail) that owning pants didn’t make me want these ones any less. I will never forget or stop cherishing that story, but had the pants landed in my closet without any fuss, they most certainly would have been forgotten about within months.

In hindsight, it wasn’t buying or owning items that mattered; it was all of the stuff that emerged while spotting, trying on, negotiating for, and saying hello or goodbye to those things. Shopping actually taught me a lot about life. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is not just a Rolling Stones song when you’re at Bloomingdales with a $25 allowance. I can’t remember any of the clothes that were vetoed along the way, but I have many fond memories of the conversations and emotions that surrounded making — or accepting — those choices.

The lessons shopping taught me seem less poignant nowadays. Understanding what it means to “love” a dress but not be able to own it isn’t the same when you’re a click away and the fabric isn’t nestled in between your fingers. Deliberating “do I need this?” is less fun when you’re opening an ASOS box the delivery man just handed to you, as opposed to standing in a cramped dressing room with a best friend convincing yourself that you’d wear leather pants at least four days a week year-round and thus they are a sensible purchase.

Also diminished is “the hunt.” Finding a deal used to be a euphoric experience – often shared with a loved one. I’ve never been to Ibiza, but I imagine its nightclubs offer a similar experience to finding a dress 50% off that fits you like a glove. There is nothing like finding that one item in your size and price range among a sea of clothing, but part of the joy comes from a feeling that fate or luck brought you to that piece: in the entire world of clearance racks, it ended up in your discount store of choice. That just doesn’t exist online.

I’ve always said that there is no relief quite like trying on something you can’t afford only to find out it doesn’t fit. Shopping is a roller coaster of emotion, a symphony of affirmations and rejections based on size, price and style. To remove the social and tactile components of that experience make it no more than a series of acquisitions. And anyone who has ever rolled over laughing or crying in a fitting room knows that’s the most meaningful part of being a buyer — compared to that, ownership is pretty anticlimactic.

Image Shot by Simone Guidarelli for Vanity Fair Italy

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  • Hanna

    Feel the SAME way!! Just posted on the rise of E-Commerce on my blog, Lillian & Dot.

  • Laura

    Prada pants for 25EUR?

    • Amelia Diamond

      outlets, man!!!

  • Can we also talk about dressing room mirrors? Who needs to pay for a facial when you have a dressing room? I spent 20% of my time trying on clothes and 80% of my time picking at my face. We all do that, right??

  • Alexandra Puffer

    I prefer to shop alone, especially in Western Massachusetts where the things I love and that are city appropriate are made fun of/hissed at. I adore the internet for making fashion accessible and a community with bloggers & micro-bloggers. I wouldn’t have felt so alone and foreign in junior high/high school – the only reassurance I had about my taste was my monthly issue of Nylon. I still love popping into my mall’s H&M & Banana/Gap to find hidden gems – but am so grateful for e-commerce.

    Warm regards,

    • Jade

      I feel for you. I grew up in Western Massachusetts. Nobody made fun of my clothes, though. Are you in the Berkshires? I used to cover a sales territory there. I was only from Northampton but they used to look at my suit and say things like, “So, you’re from New York?”
      There was also a woman who thought I was a nun based on this one business suit, so who knows.

  • Nat Way

    I absolutely agree with your notion that online shopping and owning often ends up being nothing but an anticlimactic “series of acquisitions” without any real emotion. That “oh hell yes!” feeling that occurs in the dressing room after finding something that is a. stylish, b. looks great on, and c. is within your price range is pretty hard to beat. But I’ve also become the type of shopper that uses e-commerce to “shop around” for the best price for a particular item. If it’s one-of-a-kind or something I really want, I’ll go for it and buy it in the store. But if it’s something I think I can find in another store (or the online store), I’ll hunt for the deal. Guess that is kind of the difference between shopping now and shopping ten years ago when all I wanted were those Abercrombie polos.

  • I loved this, Sophie! This is kind of why I cherish thrift stores. It’s impossible to buy the stuff online, of course, so there will always be that hunt, and that challenge of trying things on without a dressing room. At one of my favorite thrift stores, I strip down behind the shelf of porcelain knick-knacks. If you are caught, at least it’s just an old lady….no threat at all.

  • You are right lots of things are missing in e commerce shopping but i still believe i never buy dresses online, it can shoes or sandles but the dresses.

  • On-line shopping can’t ever replace the senses for retail therapy! I love touching fabrics and seeing how they move. trying things on and being inspired but not always having to buy!
    Great post. Thanks Sophie.

  • Lena Sgambati

    Once again your posts make me laugh and smile! I loved this piece!!! If ever there was an argument that could take the guilt out of shopping it would be this post! I will refer to it always

  • Brittany

    I used to kinda miss the hemming and hawing of going shopping, but recently had to take my mother in-law to the local mall for the Black Friday sales. We were out of there after 10 minutes in the Gap dressing rooms…. no people, just no. Oh and if you need tips on shopping online, check out my most recent:

    Chasing Delicious Style

  • ShanIsRad

    I feel the same way. While I love shopping online (buying clothes from my bed at 2am is always a great idea), there is nothing better than finding something amazing in stores, for a great price! I love outlets, I remember finding a Dior wallet for $75 at the Woodbury Commons outlet. That was my first major designer purchase, and I was so proud of myself. It was from the Hardcore/Punk line (2005ish), that I was in love with, so I was so happy that I found it, and I was able to afford it.

  • Patricia Mello

    And that’s why I never shop online. I make a very big deal to go out and search for the perect piece of clothes, meeting with the atendent and she handing me the bag in a perfect condition.

  • cristin

    I love this post and agree-lots of Precious Memories in dressing rooms. I love shopping in actual shops by myself, but there’s something incomparable about shopping with a girlfriend. (one tiny point, though: Generation Xers = mostly too young to go to Studio 54. I know, as I am one)

  • There really is something magical about trying on something you can’t afford only to find out it doesn’t fit. Couldn’t agree more.
    x, Amanda
    Behind the Mirror Beauty

  • I love love love that pic and the post. I agree there is nothing like the physical act of shopping. I may be one of the only one’s left, but I often actually go to the stores and shop. Especially hidden gem boutiques I can’t get enough of them. Stay Beautiful xoxo Erin

  • Tracy

    I feel exactly the same, must admit I am addicted to online shopping!