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Shopping for phone skins and half-shirts

Published April 20, 2007


I used to wonder about people who shopped at malls.

The walkways seemed impossibly crowded, the prices otherworldly, and how many cell phone cases could one community require?

Then my daughter became an adolescent and I began to get it.

See, fashion is smarter than any of us mortals. It's like what they say about casinos. The mall always wins.

Take this year's scam, the half-a-shirt. Not the half-a-shirt from the 1990s, which had you baring your midriff even though you grew up on school food.

No, these are billowy blouses with the necklines so low that you need to buy a second shirt at, oh, another store at the other end of the mall.

Throw in an exhausted, over-extended mom.

You like this shirt? We'll buy it, and find another shirt for it later.

Or, if you're the kid:

I got something. Now I'm bored. Time to go throw this half-a-shirt on my closet floor.

We're becoming adept at this.

We prefer University Mall to Westfield Citrus Park because the clerks actually thank you for handing them a high-interest credit card without even looking at the price of the half-a-shirt. At Westfield it's like they're all impressed that they can pay someone to color their hair the same two shades as the next-door-neighbor.

As the only woman in Carrollwood who colors her own hair, I'm not trying to impress anyone.

Still, I wonder.

Are we all sheep? Or is it just too hard to find something that looks nice, doesn't require spare parts and is priced so you can actually look at the price tag?

By the looks of the merchandise, every female in Tampa is either:

1. Nicole Richie getting ready for a solid week of clubbing, or

2. A bank employee who weighs 300 pounds.

There's not a lot for a 50-year-old who works out once in a while or the young teen who still wears children's sizes.

So maybe that's part of the strategy.

It begins with the fashion industry, which has made a high art of planned obsolescence.

It continues on to the retailers, who load the racks with stuff so ugly that even if your kid were not infuriatingly fussy (I don't like blue. I can't wear green.) it would take hours to find something remotely attractive.

At which point you declare "hallelujah," and whip out the plastic without looking at the price.

Until you are so broke you have to color your own hair. And clip coupons for hair coloring products. And lose the coupons because you have driven yourself crazy trying to dress your child.

Still don't get the cell phone kiosks?

It helps when you know a kid who not only has a nicer phone than his parents', but dresses the phone better than his parents dress themselves.

Come on. Mine can't be the only one shopping for phone skins.

And that is how malls survive.

It's why there will always be a food court to employ students and people getting their first job in this country, why older people will have a climate-controlled walking path, why surveyors will offer to pay you to answer questions so you can say no even though in your position you are crazy to turn down money.

Sheep, or just worn down, we're doing our bit for the people in the half-shirts.

[Last modified April 19, 2007, 07:29:19]

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