Thursday, October 4, 2012

Olena of Brooks Brothers

If there were something like an autism spectrum that could be used to describe people’s approach to clothes shopping, I know where I would stand – at the place where eye contact is avoided, where there is an inability to speak, as well as a compelling desire to flee. I only barely fall short of rocking back and forth, and smacking my face. I usually retreat to a bookstore for safety. My friends know this about me. It often takes a posse of them to get me tarted up for a special event.

Years ago, I expressed panic about this handicap to some friends at my book club. I knew that I needed to look swish, maybe even attractive, for a friend’s wedding. The supporting troops rallied. Four of us headed out on the train to Vancouver from Mission. Now, you have to promise us, one of them said, no bookstores today. Meekly, I complied.

God knows how many women’s clothes stores we went into, all around Georgia and Granville, and up and down Robson Street. The one I remember best was Holt Renfrew. My book-club friend, Pam, who often dressed with an eye to brand consciousness, leaned across the counter while Colleen and I riffled through dresses. I overheard her as she stage whispered to the clerk, My friend – a nod towards me – needs help. She lives on a mountain – a second look towards me – and she composts.

True, that pretty well summed me up, at least when it came to dress shopping. As the nattily attired clerk at Holt Renfrew clicked her high heels over towards me, I felt like a deer in the headlights. The next thing I knew I was in my bra and panties in a change room, while one item after another was being thrown over the transom. I came out in one outfit, and was told: red looks good. Another dress had spaghetti straps, not my kind of thing, and later, wearing another, I emerged to gusts of laughter from my friends: migawd, she has hooters.

Things were not looking promising. Hours later, we had exhausted downtown, and were now resorting to the shops on Tenth Avenue, but it was getting late. When we arrived at the last store, I had my hand on the handle at the same time as the clerk inside had just put her hand on it in order to lock up for the day. Even so, she let us in. Fifteen minutes later, we had the perfect outfit, plus shoes to match. We rewarded ourselves with pastries from Bon Tons to eat on the way home.

All of this is a long introduction to Olena. Last weekend, I went to Vancouver on another clothes shopping mission. Colleen, a dear friend who continues to have my back on such matters, was at that very moment on a flight to Mexico. Not very convenient. This meant that this day, I was flying solo. Try Brooks Brothers, she had said. I had confessed to her that I needed to ditch my Roberts Creek T-shirts, fleece vests and yoga pants for something more upscale for an upcoming jaunt to Hong Kong. It was as a result of Colleen’s advice that I met Olena.

I could see at a glance that Brooks Brothers was not going to be in my usual price range (cheap). I was also apprehensive that their size selection might not be up to the challenges of my current level of upholstery, but I bravely stepped forth. Olena greeted me with an outstretched hand: It would be my honour to help you. She was about ten feet tall, dressed like a model, and knew how to glide. Me, I schlumped along in her wake with my backpack holding all my portable computer gear lashed onto a trolley (I could explain, but I won’t), and with an ungainly bag on my shoulder which contained a huge round of bread I had just baked along with various other essentials. In short, I was loaded down with all the detritus that one should not have in tow when clothes shopping.

Olena didn’t blinch. You will need a lightweight outfit, one that won’t wrinkle when you travel. I mentioned to her that I had been told by someone who knew such things I should also have a blazer. I explained that I was going to be giving a speech in Hong Kong. Then a blouse too, yes? And a skirt or ... Slacks, I told her, I am not much of a skirts kinda gal, although ... This blouse here? This will be verra nice on you.

What can I say? The blouse was perfect, so were the slacks which Olena chose for me. Also, the price was fair. The blazer, well, it was a bit too much on the executive side for me, but how could Olena know? Later in the day, I did find a Bianca Nygaard jacket at The Bay, which I think will do the trick, although Kinga thinks I can still go one better because it is too casual. It has a zipper. What the heck. I also have a shawl I can resort to in a pinch.

My recent experience made me think of Jane Jacobs, the world famous city planning visionary, who was often nagged by her mother about her lack of fashion sense. It was one of the set pieces between them, but Jane had her ultimate revenge when it was she, not her natty mother, who was featured on the front cover of Vogue.

Me, I will never get on the front cover of Vogue, and that is OK, but I did get a letter from Olena, and while I know this kind of note is a business thing, I also wanted this blog piece to be a thank you to her, and to all the sales clerks who take people like me in hand, and most importantly, don’t judge. 

Olena – Thank you.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sharon

    A cousin from Toronto solved my similar dilemma most satisfactorily. There is a line of clothing called Flax. Should be a sales outlet in Vancouver but it is available on line as well. Not everything suits but there are enough selections that I ve found a wonderful dress, that fits beautifully and is very forgiving of ladies of a certain age and values, lovely colours, if not this season, then next, comfortable, economical, environmentally correct, tailorable, classic, simple, just everything great! Highly recommend you check it out!
    Beverley from Halifax