Shabby chic vs. just plain shabby

Once, when we lived in Washington, D.C., we stopped at a department store on our way to a formal party. My husband wore his dress uniform, the military equivalent of a tux, and I wore a long dress and a long cape with a white satin lining. And a crown. This was back in the days when tiaras were popular and I wore one every chance I got. 

Though severely overdressed for shopping, we went into the store because my panty hose kept falling down so that the crotch was at my knees. Of course no one could see that under a long dress, but it dramatically affected the way I walked.

When we opened the doors to that store, employees gasped and rushed up to us asking if they could help. The store manager introduced himself, led us to women’s “dainties,” found my size and personally rang up the 69-cent sale (this was that long ago!). He then escorted us back to the doors and held them open! I think he may have even bowed as we exited.

On the way to our car, we chuckled over the VIP treatment; after all, we were just regular people dressed in fancy clothes. Plus a crown. 

I remember that incident any time I’m in a store and experience the reverse of the royal treatment, which happened in a popular discount appliance store in Riverhead where I’d gone to buy stereo speakers. 

I was not wearing a long dress or a satin-lined cape, just my regular good-enough-to-wear-for-Saturday-chores clothes: old jeans, stretched out, paint-spattered sweat-shirt and the shoes with the duct tape (that’s hardly noticeable). 

Other than glancing in my direction, then away, the store employees paid no attention to me. Most of the salespeople were watching a football game while I, it seemed, was invisible. And this was one of the places where you had to have help because the price of an item depended on the mood of the salesperson. Finally I made eye contact with a salesman who suddenly became occupied with a hangnail. So I decided to leave. 

On my way out, I stopped long enough to inform an employee near the door that I had intended to purchase three wall-size flat screen plasma televisions, plus extended, outrageously expensive service contracts, but since no one cared to assist me, I would take my business and my credit card to the competition up the road.

One person, the guy with the hang nail, made a half-hearted attempt to stop me. “Wait, stop,” he mumbled while chewing on the loose skin, “I can help you.” 

I had reason to doubt his sincerity, and I couldn’t accept a ho-hum response because I didn’t want to buy three flat-screened televisions and stopping would have ruined my great exit scene.

So I went to the other store where all of the salespeople were watching the same football game. But there someone did ask, “Need help?” and when I said “stereo speakers,” pointed toward the back of the store but did not move from in front of his screen. 

Here we go again! I was mumbling, which probably added to the whole bag-lady vibe I was radiating. That was when I remembered the time I was all dressed up in fancy clothes and treated like royalty and here I was, the same woman, just minus one crown, getting treated like doggy-do.

I considered going into my huff routine but the number of appliance stores one can huff out of is limited. Eventually I got the attention of a man who couldn’t help because “stereo” wasn’t his department. So where’s the stereo guy, I wanted to know, and was told that he’d be back “probably tomorrow.”

I flew into my huff thing (and it was one of my better huffs, not that anyone noticed). As I left the store I glimpsed my reflection in the window. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone shopping looking so shabby, because by then the duct tape on my shoe was starting to flap.

That humiliating experience taught me an important lesson and if I could do it all over I certainly would do things differently. 

I would remember to wear a crown.