What It Feels Like To Try Something On: I Miss Shopping

December 11, 2020

18 East’s shop at 146 Elizabeth St, New York.

Men don’t often like to admit we enjoy shopping. Our reluctance is one of the reasons many men’s stores soft pedal the idea — shops are designed to be a good hang, or are modeled on clubs or art galleries. Sales associates offer you drinks; maybe the store is also a restaurant! Anything to let men believe they’re doing something other than browsing, considering, and buying. At least when it comes to clothes — we’ll shop for a car avidly for years.

But holy shit do I miss shopping — and I bet you do, too. In the 9 or so months since COVID forced us to cut out inessential away-from-home activity, I haven’t missed restaurants as much as I thought I would (yes, I order takeout; I miss food that I can’t make and I really miss not doing the dishes). I miss movie theaters a little, but I didn’t go to the movies for over a year when my kids were little and I survived. I miss live music, although mostly I feel bad for the bands/artists who have lost their main source of income. Really, I can cope without these things on my end. But I worry for the present and future of the people and places that provided them to me.

I was already doing most of my clothes purchasing online before the pandemic, and I’ve certainly continued to shop online. Online shopping has rendered accessible clothes and styles that used to be obscure or limited, and I’m a sucker for the obscure and limited — it wasn’t THAT long ago that you pretty much couldn’t buy Doc Martens in America, and that the convenient way of buying things you couldn’t get locally was to mail order them. As in, fill out a form, write a check, and put it in a stamped envelope and trust that someday you’d get what you saw in a single photo in a catalog, and that it would fit.

Pre-e-commerce ordering.

But I greatly underestimated how much in-person shopping mattered to me. What I wouldn’t give to nod at a sales associate and tell them I’m just looking today. What I wouldn’t give to discover that a J. Crew sweater just doesn’t in fact look good on me in M, L, or XL. What I wouldn’t give to feel the material on some cashmere-blend suits at a Polo store and then buy a $40 dad cap.

Looking back on the year before the pandemic, I realize that most of the things I bought that I’ve really incorporated into everyday wear? I bought them on one day, a free day I had in New York, when I lived a legit shopping montage. I hit a bunch of stores that aren’t as accessible online.

At 18 East, I went in looking for a cardigan/jacket and came out with brick corduroy pants. At Noah, I determined a leopard cord double-breasted blazer was awesome, but not for me — they also had some hair on hide Paraboots that I still covet (and never saw online). At the Nepenthes store, I handled Engineered Garments pieces I never saw online before or since.

I also checked out Dover Street Market and Opening Ceremony (which had already announced its stores were closing). I actually wish I’d done MORE shopping — I didn’t make it to the Armoury, and missed what would turn out to be my last chance to stop in at Kamakura or Brooks Brothers’ flagship. In DC, where I live, I used to be able to drop in to Sid Mashburn, or J. Press, or Maketto (which is, in fact, a store, coffee shop, bakery, and terrific restaurant). Whenever I traveled for work, I made a point to do some advance research and stop in at the recommended local shops.

Places like Dover Street Market present shopping experiences that can’t really be replicated online.

And I miss vintage shopping most of all. I’ve made several trips to Goodwill this fall, to donate — like many, being at home with all my stuff for months has made it painfully clear just how much stuff I have that I don’t need. And each time I want to go in and just do a quick flip through the racks, but my personal risk analysis won’t let me. (No judgment implied on people who feel they can shop safely, but I’m not there, myself.) The thrill of finding a perfect pair of old Levis and frantically checking to see if they’re your size? Irreplaceable. Through Instagram, I’ve continued to shop from my go-to vintage sellers, but nothing can replace rummaging through bins of perfectly beta-up military surplus and flannel shirts (like at Dr. K’s, shown below). Oh; the rummaging!

Dr. K at his vintage hideaway in DC.

So on the long list of post-pandemic to-dos, doing some casual browsing at my favorite stores is near the top. Maybe not above seeing my family. Maybe. But I can’t wait to have a beer with friends, I can’t wait to get kicked in the head at a Pup show, and I can’t wait to serendipitously stumble on a great find at a great store. Something I didn’t plan to buy, didn’t even know I needed, but fits like it was made for me. Those plans are going to have to keep me going over the next few months.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep shopping when I can afford to at the shops I care about, as the pandemic has closed too many already. Check out Derek’s terrific list of small businesses to support, and catch me furiously browsing in DC or NY as soon as I possibly can.

I can see videos filmed IN the Armoury, but it’s not the same.