It happened to me: I aged out of my favourite clothing store | Deirdre Fidge

It happened to me: I aged out of my favourite clothing store | Deirdre Fidge

How long has it been since you visited a shopping centre? For some people that’s an extremely bizarre question: “Christmas was only a couple of months ago, of course I’ve been to a mall recently,” they might say. But for others, it may be an extremely bizarre question: “With online shopping, why the heck would I set foot in one of those artificially lit nightmares?”

These two attitudes make sense to me because I subscribe to both. I’ve never been a follower of trends but I have always been extremely lazy, so tend to shop where it’s most convenient. In recent years that’s been op-shops and online secondhand resellers, but occasionally I’ll venture into my local shopping centre. “It’s good to support physical retailers and local businesses,” I tell myself as I wander around chain stores owned by international corporations that may also manufacture weapons. (Always have a side hustle!)

While at the shops recently, I noticed a clothing store that used to be my favourite about 10 to 15 years ago. Forgetting about their potential involvement with the military I thought, “Oh I’m glad they’re still around!” and popped inside. It became clear that while the brand was familiar, nothing else was. Shop assistants no longer greeted me as their peer. When I was younger, they’d call me “babe” or “hon”, an overfamiliarity that used to make me deeply uncomfortable. Now, I’m greeted with a gentle, “Hi there, can I help you find anything?” like a kindly shepherd spotting a lost traveller in a new land, before giving me a yellowed map and a small bag of runes to further me along my journey. Oh, the runes I would sacrifice to hear a sexy infant call me babe again.

I gaze at them in wonder. I’m only one generation older but they seem so young and so small. Is it legal to hire babies? Was her last job a lovable chimney sweep? We’re exchanging the same look to one another, one of pity and protection. As thoughts of unions and workplace rights fill my mind she may have been thinking, “Ah, I must help this elder who has mistakenly wandered into this store instead of Sussan.” (No shade on Sussan, they know this goes with that!)

If you find yourself in the situation of feeling you’ve aged out of a store, just leave. Don’t do what I did, which is slowly pace around with the same look of faux-thoughtfulness I usually save for art installations I’m pretending to understand. Recognising low-waist pants, I’m reminded fashion is cyclical. Seeing asymmetrical tops, I’m reminded fashion is experimental. Grabbing a tube-like item and not understanding which body part it’s meant to be worn on, I’m reminded fashion is confusing. Blurting a “thanks” to the child, I skittered away like a pigeon who has become trapped in a 7-Eleven.

It’s true that style has no rules. People who look cool to me are either sticking to classic silhouettes or being bold and playful, deliberately deviating from norms. My own wardrobe resembles an op-shop, with men’s shirts and children’s jackets and a hat with a propeller on it (now that’s a classic). We can all agree the dated theory of “mutton dressed as lamb” is silly, gendered, and meaningless. “Ageing out” is a gift I’ll one day appreciate – in fact, I fantasise about being older because of the hope any remaining insecurities will be long gone. I’ll wear whatever I want. I dream of being like women I’ve seen who strut about in faux-fur coats at 10am or matching Minions tracksuit sets. Who cares? No rules, only freedom! Although that day at the shopping centre I did set one rule for myself: never go there again … or at least not for a while.

  • Deirdre Fidge is a writer and social worker who has written for ABC’s Get Krack!n, The Weekly with Charlie Pickering, and the BBC. Her work has appeared in ABC News, SBS, the Sydney Morning Herald and Frankie magazine