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'Rashomon' in the Junior Department

A mother and daughter record their accounts of shopping for a mutually agreeable teen outfit.


Catherine: The invitation arrives, a summons to a mother-daughter tea. I like these events. I make a mental note to ask my daughter Erin if she has any suitable clothes and post the invitation on the family bulletin board.

Erin: Uh-oh. Tea. Time to argue over "appropriate" outfits again. Maybe if I don't say anything we won't have time to shop. I have plenty of clothes. I'll ignore the invitation.

When I next look at the invitation, I realize the tea is tomorrow. I'll pick Erin up from dance this afternoon and we'll go to the mall. She is so lucky, this 15-year-old girl of mine. I never request that she look "wholesome," as my mother did. All I want is that she look "nice," especially when we are going to a special event. We have fun shopping together.

I plop down in the car, sweating, finally resting my legs after six hours at the dance studio, and Mom asks, in a way-too-cheery voice, if I want to go shopping? The tea! No! No! No!

"I'm a little tired," I say.

She says I need new clothes.

"I have no money," I say, pleased with myself for coming up with a responsible excuse.

"I'll buy," she says.

"Fine," I say because I know I am done for.

It seems fair to pay for these "protocol" clothes rather than expecting her allowance to cover them.

"All you have to do," I say, "is find something to wear tomorrow, and then we can do some fun shopping."

I'm scared. "Fun shopping" is shopping with friends and flirting with cute guys. "Fun shopping" is trying on mini-skirts, no matter how short. "Fun shopping" is stopping in at my favorite stores.

I pass my reflection in the plate-glass window of Silhouette. Who is that old hag, I wonder. I'm not sure if I look tired because I really am, or if I'm stale in black Old Navy capris compared with the leopard print pants, marabou sweaters and slinky dresses in the window. What does she think she will find in here? Oh, that rack has some cute skirts on it.

Silhouette revives me until Mom holds up a '60s-looking skirt and tells me how cute I will look in it. I gag inside but politely tell Mom it's the ugliest skirt I've ever seen. She shrugs and keeps it while trying to find a shirt to go with this costume. I roll my eyes and start eyeing cute Hawaiian sundresses. I ask if these meet her approval and she says no and gives me that look. Great, I think. Here we go. I will pick something, she will say no, she will pick something, I will say no and so on and so forth until I end up buying something I wear once. We leave Silhouette after I try on her skirt and insist I don't like it.

Here we go. Why are these shopping excursions such a chore? She has such an easy figure to dress, my budget is reasonable, this should be fast. Why can't she acknowledge her feminine, dancer side and pick something pretty that doesn't look all hoochie-mama? Not that there's much to pick from. Who designs these clothes? Am I the only mother who is aghast to see my child near naked? When did these micro-minis and tube tops come back in? Oh, this isn't happening. Time warp and I am 15 again shopping with my mother. She forbids me to wear tube tops. I am naughty. I buy them when she isn't around, leave the house with a touch of spandex showing beneath a demure blouse. Once out the door, off comes the blouse and my shoulders are free. Did I look that smutty? Oh, Mother. Maybe you were right.

To Wet Seal we go. I start looking at the mini-skirts, telling Mom that everyone wears them. Not to a mother-daughter tea, she replies. I count to 10 before walking to the rack where she stands. Her hand lies upon a dress that looks like it could be from the Von Trapp family. I make a face and am told that it is not a nice face. I think it is pretty nice considering the circumstances.

I start to sound like the mothers I hate. Sarcastic. Czarish. I almost tell her if she's so good at picking clothes, why hasn't she found anything yet. I want to call her ungrateful for not whooping at this opportunity to get new clothes. I almost tell her to just stand still, I'll pick her outfit, she'll wear it no matter what and that's that! It's was so easy when she was a baby, she always looked nice. We trudge on. I bite my lip and draw blood. It's time for a cup of tea. She gets a watermelon ice.

There's really nothing to say to her right now, so it's a good thing I'm eating. I bet she wishes she could still dress me. She shows me those baby pictures. Polka dots. Ruffles. Hair sticking up in one big curl. Yikes! She's not getting me into any more of those goofy clothes even if she is paying.

Maybe a department store will have better choices. Here's the junior department. No music is blasting. Few people. Obviously not a hip place. I'll probably love the clothes. She'll hate them. Hmmm. Look at this rack of dresses over here.

Hello? This looks like a fashion nightmare. I'll run through the racks just to act like I'm trying. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.


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