The problem of how to deal with men in women's departments used to vex department stores greatly. It probably still does. Look around next time you're in the women's shoe department at a department store. There will probably be many more comfortable chairs than in the men's shoe department.
Obviously these chairs are now not just for men accompanying their wives. Back in the early twentieth century trade magazines told department store managers to put in comfortable chairs as a respite from shopping for easily tired ladies, and a place a husband unfortunate enough to have to go shopping with his wife could sit aside from the feminine pursuit of shopping.
In any case I have my own Mr-Awkward-in-the-Lingerie-Department story. Just after I'd finished my thesis on New Zealand department stores I was wandering up the stairs at Kirkcaldie & Stains, Wellington's premiere department store. It was the first day of their annual February sale, and I was on my way to kitchenware on the 3nd floor.
The stairs took me past the lingerie department, and as I passed I noted the throngs of women standing at the sale bins, scrabbling for bargains, and jostling for the best position to grab that slip or bra. I paused and watched, and reflected on the early twentieth century newspaper articles that used to breathlessly report on how thousands of women pushed down plate glass windows they were so eager to get a bargain at a department store sale, at the stories of women fainting in the crowds on the first morning of a sale.
You can find these stories in papers all over the English-speaking world. The details change from year to year and place to place, but the trope is the same. Women are born shoppers, and they are quite unladylike when they sense a bargain.
Perhaps that "pausing" and "watching" turned into staring, for two woman looked up and did not see me reflecting on the social history of department stores, but saw me staring at women choosing lingerie. They glared. I looked away. I wanted to say "It's research! And I was just on my way to kitchenwares, anyway!" But I didn't. You know, women and the animal spirits that get a hold of them when they see a bargain ... You wouldn't want to be chased down and attacked with a hairpin and parasol.
I just turned tail, climbed the stairs, and found a cheap corkscrew to replace the one that had gone missing last we'd had a party at the flat. And took the front stairs past the toy department on the way out.Posted by robe0419 at May 25, 2005 12:35 AM