Thursday, 1 March 2012

Abercrombie & Bitch

I look and feel like a tramp, no really I do. Recently I’ve noticed that my favourite clothes and shoes are starting to resemble a novelty colander, there’s so many holes in them that I look like a cartoon representation of Wile E. Coyote after he’s been savaged by a pack of hungry tigers. This means it’s time to go clothes shopping. Problem is I’m sure clothes shopping is supposed to be fun, after all I’m a gay man I’m supposed to find purchasing new garments at least 168% as much fun as throwing around a selection of scatter cushions in an artistic fashion. Sadly stereotypes aren’t always correct, though I do like a good scatter cushion.

Middle age must be beckoning, because now when I go around clothes shops I find myself saying horrendous comments that I believed only my parents were capable of uttering such as “These don’t look very practical”, or “They’ll be a bugger to iron.”. It’s all really quite upsetting, I blame modern fashion. How on earth are you supposed to wear jeans whose legs taper to an infinitesimally small point at your ankle, so that they only really fit the triangular Mr Rush from Roger Hargreaves’ Mr Men books? Or trousers that have a seam that spirals around your legs like a rampaging anaconda desperate on sucking the life force out of every vein your body. See they don’t look very practical, and they would be a bugger to iron.

Frustrated by my inability to find anything I like in my regular shopping haunts, which whilst boasting an impressively large shop floor space seem to be laid out much like an episode of Scooby Doo. In that if you run for long enough it turns out you’re just passing the same three T-shirts and one style of chino as that is all the animators could be bothered to draw. I decided to take the plunge and head to some more “designer” shops, shops that have been recommended by my friends, who whenever I meet them seem to be wearing clothes that look fashionable but not so outlandish fashionable, that they look like thye were dressed by a blind flamingo. So with expectations riding high, and a need to get some clothes that don’t make me look like I’ve been attacked by Edward Scissorhands I headed for the “designer” shops.

The first thing I notice upon entering such stores, is it’s not immediately obvious where the gender divide runs. Shops I’m used to like Next and River Island and even the department stores my mother used to take me to, are usually split with male and female departments on different floors. Which for men always means a trudge up and down a flight of stairs, I sometimes think it’s a miracle that disabled men actually own any clothes and don’t have to wheel around naked all the time. However in the new-fangled designer stores of my new fashionable lifestyle, it’s not to so obvious. An arbitrary wiggly line runs down the middle of the shop with all the definition of a hotly dispute international border. It’s easy to accidentally stray into hostile waters and find yourself looking at a T-shirt that looks really nice, except upon checking the price you realise it’s a Size 8. With disgust you throw back the T-shirt horrified that someone might have seen you and instantly presumed you’re a transvestite, rather than coming to the far more logical conclusion that you were shopping for someone else. Some shops make it even more complicated, Gap for example has pictures of androgynous models all around the store so you can’t be sure if their male or female pictures near the clothes you are looking at. They’re beautiful definitely, but every single model has a smooth face is clean shaven and sports suspiciously short hair. It takes just as long to judge their gender as it does to judge the gender of the clothes beneath them. Other stores go to more random extents, I’m sure my recent visit to Superdry was confused by them having a large men’s department surrounded by various satellites of ladieswear, with no clear frontiers between the two. The other problem with this kind of stylish fashion, is even the garments that look obviously feminine could be for men, perhaps plunge neck T-shirts have become fashionable for the man about town, or maybe Culottes are now a unisex item, you can never be sure.

Of course complex segregation of male and female stores isn’t the only potential pitfall for the unwary shopper. I recently visited a store called Abercrombie & Fitch for the first time, despite sounding like the name of two particularly ostentatious cats (“come down from the worktop Abercrombie”), it’s actually a high-end designer clothing store. On arrival you’re not met by the usual shop system that we’re used to, the one that’s served us well for the rest of our lives. No rather than being faced with the traditional door that you enter the shop through surrounded by windows displaying what the shop actually sells. You instead come face to face with a store with no windows, because it’s too exclusive to actually display its wares, and a queuing system that would make Chessington World of Adventures envious. Yep that’s right you have to queue outside the store just to make the store look more desirable so that more people join the queue, in a vicious cycle that couldn’t be more British unless whilst waiting you were served tea and scones and got to say something deeply xenophobic. In my mind this doesn’t make Abercrombie & Fitch look designer, it makes it look like the Post Office but with less old people.

Once you’ve meandered your way through the queuing system, there’s a veritable team of people to great you at the door. Firstly, in order to give you the entirely false impression that the store is actually a five-star hotel, a number of smartly dressed men open the doors for you. Because you are clearly too important to open the door for yourself, as an aside (and I don’t wish to do people out of jobs, especially in these tough economic times) but if not having to open the door is that important, why not just fit automatic doors – it works for Poundland. Up next there’s a woman employed solely to say “Hello”, that seems to be all she does, just says “Hello” – I could do that job…, if I was woman, wasn’t a grumpy s**t and didn’t have all the looks and charm of a rancid plate of semolina. Then there’s an unfeasibly attractive half dressed man, with a ripped torso who you can pose and take a photo with. If that is you’re mad. No one in their right mind gets their photo taken next to an unfeasibly attractive person, because in the resultant photo their beauty will make you like Quasimodo on a particularly unpleasant visit to the Burns unit. Upload that photo to Facebook and people won’t be thinking about how attractive the man looks, or how much of a fun time you’re having, but instead on how old you’re looking or that they didn’t realise you’d got fat. This is why sensible people only ever agree to get their photo taken with their ugly friends, because it makes them look that much better. And if you can’t work out who the ugly person in your group is, then it’s you. And before you make a smart a**e comment, I am fully away of my place in the food chain of looks, what can I say? I appreciate the plight of the plankton. Apparently you have to pay for the photos, again another connection between Abercrombie & Fitch and Thorpe Park, though at least in this photo you won’t look like you are vomiting your dinner up (sadly the same cannot be said about your friends viewing the photo making unfortunate comparisons between you and the model).

All this and you haven’t even entered the store properly, in fairness it has to be said Abercrombie & Fitch looks pretty plush. Where Primark at the end of a busy day looks like the aftermath of a particularly bloody explosion at a Bring and Buy sale, Abercrombie & Fitch still looks elegant and tidy. Primarily this is because the minute you do so much as even breathe in the direction of one of the display racks a team of highly trained professionals rush to rearrange all the tops lest you upset the karma of the store. The shop’s wears are, as you’d expect from a designer clothing label, perfectly bog standard t-shirts, hoddies and jumper swhere the inclusion of a designer logo has led to the decimal point, on the price ticket, jumping one place to the right. Aside from the clothes, the most bizarre thing I discovered in the store was a dance floor complete with dancers. No, not some professional dance act recruited in from a swanky London performing arts college, but actual members of staff, in the staff “uniform” dancing away. As if to show that working for this company is soooo amazing, all we get to do is dance all day because we’re that cool, and our lives our wonderful because we work for Abercrombie & Fitch and we’re only employed because we’re beautiful. All us mortals can do is hope that they all spend the work Christmas party crying in the corner because they realise just how fake all their work friends are, that they’ll be forced to wear a branded paper bag over their head the minute they hit 25 in case they make people wretch, and that their lives are meaningless pawns in a sea of commercialised bulls**t. As I say, all we can do is hope, because actually they’re having a great time. To**ers.

Despite the clear abundance of staff in the store, with enough spare people to dance next to the racks of clothes and fold out every micro-crinkle that the displaced air caused as you moved your fat body through the store. Despite all this, when I visited there was only one till open, and a massive queue. Would it have killed the brand image if for one moment the dance floor had been emptied and some people manned the tills? Apparently it would have. Unfortunately for some ridiculous reason the problem of the large queue was magnified by the fact that the till area was decked out with more mirrors than the average swanky hair salon. Resulting in thousands of copies of the same row of frustrated sand bored faces being visible on every surface wherever you looked, much like a Girls Aloud concert.

Obviously the big question is did I buy anything? Of course not, I was just confused by the array of unknown shopping experiences I hadn’t expected. Like Henry VIII wandering through a modern shopping centre for the first time, both appalled and intrigued at what I saw with equal measure. Which coincidentally is the same set of facial reactions you see if ever I’m forced to watch The Only Way is Essex. Instead I simply walked out of the store, empty handed only to pass the “Hello” lady again, except this time she said “Goodbye” – but in a tone that really said “I knew this shop wasn’t really for you, but I didn’t say anything as you came in.’

On that note I’ll bid you adjure, except to say you can now follow my tedious ramblings on Twitter just “connect with” @mattymatician #goonyouknowyouwantto – see look at me down with the kids. And incidentally if anyone has any decent second hand clothes they wish to send me, they’ll be welcome. The situation is getting quite desperate. I claim to be a size Small, but in reality unless it’s at least a big Medium, the fabric will be pulled across my body tighter than the skin on Anne Robinson’s face.