By: Tim Murray
I don’t quite fit the stereotype. Men, apparently, do not shop. They feel confined and restricted within shopping centres – these modern temples of worship to the god of consumerism – and much prefer to let their better halves pick their wardrobe. But I don’t mind a little shopping. I’m not about to grace the pages of GQ magazine or anything like that but a little wander around a shopping centre, perhaps a flat white from some nice little café and glance at some book shops is, in my opinion, not a bad way to spend a couple of hours every now and then.
However, sometimes the shopping experience is not all ‘buy one get one free’ and ‘I can’t believe this looks so good on me.’ Take for instance, a recent visit to my local. I’m now 33, which sits me in an awkward demographic when it comes to clothes. Some of my brethren have embraced adulthood with a sense of style and confidence; they have long abandoned runners and jeans as a combo and will wear for example, a classic James Dean-inspired ensemble of plain white tee, dark denim jeans and boots. Others still have a very tenuous grip on adolescence; the difference between their choice of clothing and those of your average 14 year-old is well…nothing. They’ll happily wear a baseball cap with a flat brim (angled perfectly to one side) with pants hanging off them like a cheap suit and skate shoes to complete the look. Others have abandoned style altogether for the ultimate of male pursuits: practicality. You’ll know these guys by their oversized Slazenger jumpers with comfortably sized denim pants and the aforementioned runners. But I digress.
The issue with shopping as a male at my age is that you’re generally between the worlds of General Pants and the men’s section of David Jones. And so you invariably visit each of these worlds from time to time, aware that 90% of the product in General Pants makes you shake your head in contempt like the waiter in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the knitted numbers in DJ’s, if you were to try them on, make you feel like you should still be living with your parents. What’s more, when you enter one of these hip establishments that cater to the teens and young twenty-something’s of today something like the following is not uncommon:
I walk into the store and am immediately assaulted by the sheer volume of the music. They’re playing some ultra-cool, independent artist’s latest release; there are four words in the song and they are repeated incessantly to a throbbing bass rhythm and synth instruments. The accompanying film clip plays on the screens on the wall and is dominated by chiaroscuro and lens flare. There is a silhouette of a girl with a bob-cut moving like a cat across the screen while a motif of black birds against a white sky fly past. If I were high it might mean something to me, but all I hear is the noise. The staff are scattered around the store like extras on a film set and like part-time “actors” they’re behavior is not entirely normal. By this I mean that they are all ridiculously happy and seem to be best friends, not only with each other, which I find implausible, but also with the strangers like me in the store.
One young, hip type of about 18 with a black singlet and ripped skinny jeans approaches me. He has the obligatory tattoos to show that he’s an individual, like the others in the store, the irony of which is completely lost on him. I try not to make eye contact because I know he’s going to ask if I need help, which I understand in terms of the rules of customer service, but there’s also a bit of me that feels a little insulted that I would need help buying jeans, as if it were some complex task that I would find impossible to navigate alone. I imagine the conversation:
Hip guy: Hey, do you need some help?
Me (standing in front of the row of denim): I’m just looking for some jeans.
Hip guy: Yeah, well they’re all just here on this row…and they’re in different sizes…(a lengthy pause)
Me: Thanks. (At this point I continue looking at the jeans).
Snapping out of my reverie, I notice he’s still heading in my direction after missing the social cue afforded him by my lack of eye contact. He gives me a big smile, as if I were some long lost friend, and begins: ‘Hey mate, how you goin?’
It’s a different opening than I had imagined but still I sigh inwardly, here we go, and reply, ‘Not bad.’
‘So, what’ve you been up to today?’ he asks as if we are two pals catching up. I stop myself from asking, ‘Do I know you?’ and politely respond ‘Just shopping for a few things.’
‘Yeah, cool man.’ He nods and smiles. ‘What are you up to for the rest of today?’ Why, do we have plans? Before I can reply a young girl wanders over; she’s clutching some coat hangers and is also sporting tattoos and ripped clothing, the whole look resembling something from the ‘Derelicte’ campaign of Zoolander. She flashes me a smile and exclaims, ‘Hey mate! How are ya?’ Again I’m left wondering how these people know me and why they, as teenagers, are referring to me, a 33 year-old man, as their friend. I half expect them to whip out their phones so we can grab a selfie together and post it to Instagram. Now I am longing for the ‘sir’ that I get at David Jones and the professional distance that their sales staff exhibit. I need jeans, I think to myself, not a friend.
But the charade continues. The music throbs; I wish that I had stayed out of this den of hipsters but I was lured in by the belief that I could still shop in a place like this. I can’t. While I am lost in thought they begin to groove to the beat and someone at the front desk raises their hands in the air like they’re in a nightclub. Another snaps a pic of the pair on their phone and I vaguely hear someone say ‘LOL’ before I make a beeline for the front door. As I step over the threshold I hear one of them call after me, ‘See ya mate – have a good one.’ I groan and press on towards DJ’s.