I’ve started compiling a list of Things It Is Easier To Shop For In The UK Than Anywhere Else I Have Ever Been. So far the list includes just two items: bras and trousers. However, if you really think about it, I think you’ll find these are two of the most crucial clothing bits a girl has to have—particularly the former, if you’ve got anything on your chest at all.
Until recently, my experience in the underwear department had generally gone something like this:
Flat-chested 5’11” Vogue Model in Victoria’s Secret: Can I help you?
Me (not flat-chested, not 5’11”, not a Vogue model—though to be fair, not exactly a monster, either): Um, sure, I guess I just…need a bra that…you know, fits.
Ms. Flat-Chest: Sure, of course, right this way…we’ve just gotten these state-of-the-art strapless-cupless-weightless-magic-makes-you-look-sexy-in-any-light bras in…Can I take your measurements? You’ve already been measured? You’re what size? Ah. No problem. For you, we have this fabulous line of bleak-makes-you-sag-at-any-age-granny-bras! Why don’t I give you a few in different colors so you can decide what you like? Say, white, grey, greyer, and black?
At which point I would embarrassedly buy a whole slew of the things, and then spend the next three months berating myself for not being able to find underwear that not only fit properly but—not that I would ever actually ask this of an undergarment and expect the wish to be granted—actually looked good.
And though most women probably won’t say so, I can’t imagine this is an utterly unique experience. Surely there are others out there who, like me, have spent years and years thinking it is a crime to have more complicated bra needs than your average American shop can fulfill. I’ve always wondered, for instance: who are the girls who can buy bras at places like Urban Outfitters and Abercrombie & Fitch? And, more importantly—who are the girls who can buy bras there and look good in them?????
Trouser shopping was similarly hopeless. Every time I found a pair of, say, jeans that hugged my bum and sat handsomely on my waist, they would inevitably flow past my toes, several feet longer than necessary. If I found a pair that were short enough, I couldn’t get them past my knees, they were so small. What’s a girl to do? I settled on wearing mostly skirts and dresses.
But a few weeks ago, I stepped into a department store in Oxford to examine the well-picked-over January sale stock and found myself in the lingerie section, surrounded, for once in my life, not by bras too small and frilly or too enormous and, well, girdle-like, but by garments that I not only wanted to wear, but could wear. The difficulty actually became not which of these makes me look least like I’m two hundred years old with tits down to my knees; but how many can I buy before my bank account runs dry?
And trousers too! I keep finding that my favorite shops actually offer trousers in a variety of lengths—extra-long, regular, short, for instance—but, unlike the Gap’s nebulous “ankle” length jeans, these ones don’t just look like they’ve been chopped off a few inches earlier than they were meant to be. They look like, well, real trousers. Moreover, there’s even a choice of colors, and cuts, and fabrics! Imagine!
So the UK is not only a place where I have found a great deal of deep-seated happiness. It is also a thrill on a far more superficial level. I finally feel like a girl who not only wants to shop but can shop, because the experience of buying things that I truly need isn’t so utterly humiliating that I can’t bring myself to do it anymore.
What does this all mean? Well, I don’t know that it means anything, exactly. Except that sometimes, as a girl, it’s satisfying to be able to shop, and do it properly. And if even an ounce of self-esteem is based on how you feel, then finding the country that makes things that fit is an important discovery. It also means–I’ll just say it–that basically, I feel sexier in the UK. So there you are.