You know Dante - he wrote about the circles of hell. In modern terms, if waiting in line for the flu shot is the easiest circle of eternal torment, then the ladies dressing room of any clothing store is at least three quarters of the way to complete and utter misery (trying to get customer service from an automated telephone menu)
Not even Catharine Zeta Jones relishes the idea of clothes shopping, I'm sure of it. She probably has clothes made to measure, specifically and perfectly just for her. She has hired someone of her exact proportions and colouring to first try it all on for drape and colour. The items not rejected are then sent to her home, where she is able to try them on at her leisure... after eating some chocolate to soothe her soul, and by candle light - because every woman looks her best by candle light. Her private dressing room has a mirror that can only flatter, but has not even one pesky, intrusive sales clerk asking "How are we doing in there? Did we manage to get those pants on? I just knew puce was Madam's colour, and polyester is always so comfortable, isn't it?"
For those of us who are not Catharine Zeta Jones, we must brave the scores of racks in countless stores packed with clothes made for other people. People who are not short-waisted, or pear shaped, or slope-shouldered, or super tall, or bountifully busted... or whatever your clothing-related nemesis may be. Off the rack apparel doesn't seem to be made for real world women.
Purveyors of women's fashion don't really understand what clothes shopping is like for the average woman. We don't like being on display to the passing world as we sort through bins of unmentionables, or hold slacks against ourselves to judge if they'd fit, thereby bypassing the necessity of braving The Mirror. We speed through racks of tops and tees with the hopes of not attracting the attention of The Sales Assistant, because if there's anything worse than The Mirror, it's The Sales Assistant.
When we are fortunate enough to have made a hopeful selection, dodging the offers of 'help' from at least two store employees, we enter the dressing room... or step behind the curtain that doesn't close all the way. These areas are brightly lit with florescent bulbs, just to make sure no detail goes overlooked. Some shops provide two mirrors in the cubicle to enhance the sensation of there being a whole lot of you in the room, while other stores prefer their customers to peek through the curtain to make sure no one else is around before darting out to stand in front of the mirror which is helpfully placed in the main shopping area - in the black cocktail dress we're hoping fits ok and doesn't wash us out but it's hard to tell because of the florescent lights... and the striped socks with a hole in the toe and the legs we didn't shave that morning, not realizing that public humiliation was on the agenda for the day.
Hardly ever does it end with one trip to The Mirror. We make our initial dream selection with the hope that this time, everything will fit perfectly. We shed our street clothes (ie. the clothes we already own) and wiggle, hop, shimmy, squirm, spin, and tug our way into potential new ensemble. All with constant knocking on the changing room door and bright chirping inquiries from the sales staff. Invariably we must reverse the above procedure, go back out to the sales floor and make yet another selection (second best options, hope is fading) and do the whole thing over again. And so on, until either we give up, or are at last successful.
Finally we make it up to the cash, worn out and rumpled. Big smile in place, the clerk asks brightly, "Did you find everything you were looking for?" to which I always lie and say yes, though I'm tempted to tell her the truth: that no, I didn't find thinner thighs, or Johnny Depp; but I found a pair of jeans that fit and I'd like to go home now please.