Loitering in Lingerie

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Why do men insist on dawdling in ladies’ lingerie departments?

To me, the mark of a well-bred man is one who stays far away from these stores.

This model of decorum was perfected by my parents during our family back-to-school shopping trips. Every year, my mother would choreograph an elaborate outing to purchase clothes for my younger brother and me. At the shopping mall of choice, she, like a kind of shopping champion, powered through the clusters of stores, hurling pants, shirts, and shoes at her two children.

Mom would scurry between the clothing racks and dressing rooms, toting around options. She would then try to confirm if there were any outfits that year I found suitable, thereby allowing me to hold off on life as a nudist for another season.

After repeating this process with my younger brother, she would bustle up to the counter, collect her bags, and shoo us out the door.

And that’s when Dad’s role would take the limelight.

My father hates shopping. Beyond hates. It paralyzes him with fear, actually. Not a grocery store trip goes by without Dad calling Mom on the phone, facing a wall of canned beans, or a display of packaged cheese. He then describes every label he sees to her in great detail, attempting to find the specific object of desire for which she sent him out searching. Even then, he gets it wrong as often as he gets it right.

On the days my mother would designate for school shopping, he would cringe, and turn an ashen shade of grey. As Mom would shovel my brother and me through the stores, he would skulk behind and skiv newspapers out of bins. With his new treasures now collected, he would find a bench, sit down, and desperately try to distract himself.

At this point in the spree, my mother would deposit the bags on the bench beside my father. My brother would manfully take his position on the bench, and Mom would lead me off to buy underwear.

But we all learned a lesson the year my brother finally reached an age to be intrigued by the feminine form. He was curious about that inner sanctum known as Victoria’s Secret, and was reluctant to join my father on the bench. Mom informed him in no uncertain terms that never ever was my brother to be found in Victoria’s Secret. 

Dad looked up from his newspaper long enough to watch Mother and Brother squabble loudly before Brother sullenly took up his designated battle station. And, satisfied the men were consigned to their proper place, Mom led me off once more.

A man’s place in Victoria’s Secret is sitting on a bench far away from it.

This idea was further reinforced when I went off to summer camp in Washington D.C. I was seventeen and the camp consisted of male and female counselors in their twenties driving several hundred teenagers around the monuments for hours while lecturing them about history and dates of great importance. We would then be sent out of the bus into the swampy heat of July, and made to run for miles around the monuments.

One night, the counselors took pity on us. Our destination was a large outlet mall, in which we would be set loose for the evening.

The head male counselor seized the microphone to give us the rules for the outing. We had to travel in pairs and be back on the bus by nine o’clock.

“Boys!” he bellowed suddenly. “Do not let me catch you anywhere near Victoria’s Secret!”

This counselor was a superman. Looking back on the sad saps I’ve dated since then, I should have asked for his hand in marriage.

Walking through shopping malls today, I am sorely disappointed by the state of America. The lingerie departments are always so crowded, mainly with people who have no reason to be there. This is not helped by the fact thatdepartment stores have an inexplicable penchant for erecting their coffee carts directly across from the bras and panties.

But aside from this fatal design error, without fail, every time I need to buy new underwear, there is a man hanging about. Be they following their wives or girlfriends, or just lurking in the background, these men do not realize they are committing cardinal breaches of shopping mall etiquette. Where were their mothers? Where were their back-to-school shopping trips?

When I was a regular at Nordstrom and needed to complete underwear-related errands, I would make a beeline for the lingerie floor. With no desire to linger, I would attempt to accomplish my panty mission in the shortest time possible.

But alas. A man and his teenage son were forever magically leaning against the exact bra rack I needed to peruse.

I would walk up and down the nearby displays, hoping they would move along. They did not, and I was forced to rummage through bra sizes in their presence.

There is nothing quite so uncomfortable as attempting to find highly personal items under the curious stare of a complete stranger.

And then there are the drawer cabinets in Victoria’s Secret. These white islands are placed in the middle of the store. Drawers can be pulled out and appropriate panties selected.

And this is where the men congregate, leaning upon them. These ne’er-do-wells watch inquisitively as I open and close the drawers, rifling through the cotton underpants. One day, one of them will offer an opinion on my choice and I will fall dead away through the floor.

Where are the feminists on this issue? Women deserve the right to work through the rocket-science-level calculations of bra sizing on their own, unmolested by men who simply must skulk around. Why are they here? Why?

And then, as I am about to despair of shopping comfortably for underpants ever again, I spot a man and his son sitting bored on a bench, a respectful hundred paces away from Victoria’s Secret.

These men are heroes. Long may they reign.

Sarah Brown is a reluctant shopper and general curmudgeon. She can be reached at sarah@browns-close.com, and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

Author: Sarah Brown

Sarah Brown is the author of the Brown's Close blog!

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