Oh Topshop. If not the absolute best thing to ever come out of England, you are certainly the best thing to come out of Kate Moss’s double zero brain. You are the happy lovechild of Urban Outfitters and Forever 21, with all the former’s flair for the outrageous, prevented from plumbing the depths of their grinding faddishness by the latter’s commitment to budget chic. When I walk in, I see leather shorts everywhere—leather shorts with high waists and billowing blousy Peter Pan collar shirts to tuck inside them, and this is a beautiful thing. I will never buy these leather shorts, Topshop, because American money is different, and twenty quid is too much to spend on something I can wear in approximately two percent of social situations, but they still make me happy. When the craving becomes too strong, I will tear myself away and wander over to the detachable collars instead.
Oh detachable collars. The Clark Kent of accessories. You look like a lowly bib bravely decked out in beading or tiny pearls, but really, you’re a superhero. Step off the rack and into your metaphorical telephone booth, and it’s a bird! It’s a plane! No! It’s a no-fuss and infinitely adaptable statement piece! You swoop -in and save blouses and wool sweaters from an existential drabness, from living their lives as fuzzy and staid concessions to bad weather and dress codes. And even if things never work out between you and that spunky journalistic chambray, you know you have a higher mission. You bring the sparkle to jersey and merino, the high-stepping to the buttoned -up. You make me excited to wear black crew-neck sweaters. Or at least you would if I let you, because just as I am envisioning how nicely you would go with my bright yellow wool pullover, I remember that I am still traveling, still on the kind of diet where you drink as much beer as nice strangers will buy you because it’s the best way to stave off hunger pangs till your budget lets you buy food again, and still need to buy shoes for tonight’s ball. (Yes, I go to balls but run out of food money.)
The song playing over the PA system is too hip and British for me to recognize it, and too loud and upbeat for me to get down to business and just find these shoes, so I continue flitting and pawing my way through the sale section. Neon pants, no, denim vest, no, ladylike dress whimsified with absurd lace configuration, no, aqua blue sequins, no, floral crop top what? Aqua blue sequins? Where? Goodbye, apologetic I-don’t-have-money-I’m-just-browsing-please-don’t-pay-attention-to-me demeanor, it was nice knowing you, but I have seen my bright blue and incandescent Eurydice, and there is no netherworld through which I will not chase her. When I emerge from deep inside the confusion of an overcrowded clothes rack clutching the garment, I seem to have made enemies out of several waify English and Japanese schoolgirls. Whatever. That’s what you get for trying to intimidate me with your fifteen friends and premature familiarity with heavy eye shadow.
Topshop, can I just tell you how grateful I am for your dressing rooms? The flattering mirrors, the soft, warm, lighting, the three way visibility make you second only to Anthopologie in terms of fitting room Nirvana. This is really what you’re selling, isn’t? Not quality clothes, (although Anthro feints that way) not chic, (since you can’t really buy it) not even primarily the cool factor of new and exciting drapery—no, what you are selling is that blissful moment after you grit your teeth, shed your clothes, and turn to face your gleaming enemy. He’s betrayed you at Target, under their weird light that turns everything beige, and in in the harsh glare of your local thrift store. He fools you with a sick travesty of intimacy—the person looking back at you with loathing is someone you know, and love, and generally assume is right about everything, and she seems to have suddenly espoused every lie about how much better you would be skinnier, smoother, more generic and invisible, that two minutes ago you repudiated with every fiber of your baptized and liberated body.
We cannot get away from the male gaze and the advertising gaze even in one of our most private and vulnerable moments, because they co-opt our own reflections as their mouthpieces. Attempts to analyze our bodies can only mean willing self-subjection to outside analysis and the breaking down of any boundary between our minds and Madison Avenue’s, between judge and judged, purveyor and commodity. When we look at ourselves objectively, their conquest is complete. I’m telling you, vanity is a fraught vice. But Topshop, you make that teeth-gritting moment a small eucatasrophe. In your dressing rooms, I turn to face the gleaming enemy and think, damn, I look good. Yes, you still invite to me to scrutinize myself, you still tell me that I only exist as long as I’m slender and young and nubile, but at least you keep up your end of the fool’s bargain. At least you sweeten the deal as I check myself out in the threeway and sink into contentment under that magical soft lighting.
But Topshop, why? Why must you make this dress so short? I love this dress. It is bright, bright blue, something between Cookie-Monster’s fur and the ocean in cartoons, and entirely made of shimmering sequins. It is sleeveless, and charmingly unfitted, with a bateau neckline, and full swingy skirt descending from a natural waist. The problem is, it doesn’t descend very far. Now, as our president likes to say, let me be clear. The problem is not that this dress makes me look like I perform at the circus on tightrope or flying trapeze. In my book, looking like a trapeze artist is no evil. In fact, and Christine and other guardians of good taste might beg to differ on this, looking like a trapeze artist is always and everywhere an unqualified good. But Topshop, I’m tall. Tall and clumsy, and there is no way for tall clumsy girls to wear a dress this short without living in constant fear of wardrobe malfunction. I’m not asking for knee length (like I said, I like being mistaken for a tightrope walker), but an extra inch or two would make a world of difference.
Dear Topshop, and please pass this along to Forever 21, H&M, and the rest of your ilk: this may surprise you, but not all women walk the catwalk, and we are not all built exactly the same. There is a whole world of tall, clumsy girls out there who want to wear scintillating mermaid dresses while we can still get away with it, and we need a few extra inches to do it. Give us the inches, and we will love you forever. Fail to do so, and let’s just say I have friends in high places– the European Court of Human Rights, to be specific.
Someday I will forgive you for that doomed and sequined love affair, Topshop, especially since I did get my shoes (and you really do shine in the cheap and elegant ballet flats department.) But I still have to ask, as I pass the kitsch display on my way out—what is it with the Kate Moss paper dolls? Are you trying to say she’s three dimensional in real life?