Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Shanna vs. Ann, Round One

This post will likely have nothing to do with writing. It's about shopping, which I suppose is appropriate for this time of year and totally in character for an author of chick lit, even if it is chick lit with magic in it.

I spent a good part of yesterday shopping. I needed to find a birthday present for my mom, and I was looking for something to wear during my New York trip when I meet with my editor and agent. Yeah, they've both met me, they both know what I look like, but I still would like to maintain a certain image when I enter the hallowed halls of Random House.

I tend to do most of my clothing shopping at Ann Taylor Loft. Their clothes are generally reasonably priced, they usually have good sales, the clothing fits my personal style and it fits me.

Or, it did. They recently seem to have done the size inflation thing, where suddenly you wear a size smaller, without any diet or exercise. That's great. I'm as susceptible to being flattered and excited when the next smaller size fits perfectly as the next woman is. There's just one problem: they don't seem to have adjusted the number of items in each size that they stock accordingly. I wear a size that's a little smaller than average, but with the size inflation thing, I'm now in a size they don't usually stock in all items. They might get in one or two pieces in that size, which one clerk told me are gone as soon as they go on display.

Ann had taunted me with the advertising mailer she sent me, showing all the really cute winter clothes. I had my outfit planned. A couple of those pieces were just what I needed to fit in with clothes I already had and update those older pieces. But some of those items weren't actually in stock in either of the two stores I visited, and what they did have wasn't in my size.

So I visited the store's web site. They have a nifty feature where if you find an item you like, it will search to see which store near you has it in stock in your size. It turns out that one of the items I wanted isn't actually being sold in stores. It's only available online. Now, I know that some people are really into online shopping, but I can't do it for clothes. I already have about half a dozen sizes in my closet from the same store, and they all fit me about the same. I wear one size for pants, another size for skirts, depending on the cut. Another size for dresses, another size for a woven top, another size for knit tops that are relatively low-cut. But at least I'd figured out generally what size I'd wear in each kind of thing. Now they've monkeyed around with the sizing, so I'd have no idea what size to order online. To make things even more fun, the sizing guide they have online to help you order has no relationship with reality. Just for fun, I took my measurements. According to their size guide, I should be wearing two to three sizes larger than all of the items in my closet. Yesterday I tried things on that were one to two sizes smaller than the sizes they'd recommended, and the things that were one size smaller than recommended hung off me, while the things two sizes smaller fit pretty well.

In order to find clothes that fit and look good, I generally have to take two or three different sizes into the dressing room. Then I can tell which one fits best, and I can also see how the fabric drapes, whether or not the fabric is itchy (I have problems with some wools), whether the color is good on me. Ordering online, I can only get one size (unless I want to pay for two items and then try to return the one that doesn't fit). If it's something I want to wear to a particular event (like, say, on a trip to New York), I'd have to hope it fit because there wouldn't be time to return it and get another size, unless I started online shopping weeks before the event.

So I'm distressed in multiple ways -- they've changed the sizes around, they aren't adjusting the quantities in stores, they're going more and more to "only available online."

And that's not even getting into the lifestyle envy. They had some seriously cute party clothes (I'm not sure if they had them in my size), for the kinds of parties I won't be attending because nobody throws dressy parties these days (at least, not in my social circle). The only formal office holiday party I've ever been to was a "flashback prom," so I wore a dress from a college formal circa 1988 (there was a lot of chiffon involved). My friends tend to have parties where a sweater and slacks might be overdressing.

But on the bright side, I did find my book reward black dressy boots as I was traveling between malls. The heels weren't as high as I'd originally planned, but they're still a spiky heel and very comfortable. I also saw my book in a used bookstore for the first time. I was tempted to buy it because I'm going to need more copies for contest entries and it was in good condition, plus that takes a used copy out of circulation, but then I remembered the number of authors I've discovered because I found a copy of their book in a used bookstore and then got so hooked I bought everything else they wrote new. That book is an advertising tool for the next book, so I left it there.

Back to the Ann Taylor Loft issue ... I fired off a polite but strongly worded e-mail. We'll see what response I get.

And I really don't think that starting a major crusade against a retail chain is a form of procrastination. Really. I haven't at all spent valuable writing time trying to determine from the web site what clothes they might actually have stocked in any stores anywhere near me.

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