The shop assistant’s eyes were on me. They’d been on me for the last five minutes. I tried to ignore her bored gaze and come to my own conclusions about the dress I was trying on. She didn’t look like she, personally, liked how I looked in it. Twirling around in the mirror for the hundredth time, I wasn’t sure that I did either. Regardless of how very clearly she couldn’t care less about whether I bought the dress or not, it didn’t stop her from telling me that, ‘it’s made for you, honey,’ and, ‘you look like a model.’ I doubted her sincerity. The fact that there was no mirror inside the changing room made the decision making process all the more difficult, and I was beginning to sweat. Working out how you feel about a potential new addition to your wardrobe is quite a private task, as I’m sure you’ll agree. You need to have the freedom to stare at yourself in it, uninterrupted, for a good few minutes, then see what it looks like from the back for a similar amount of time, then move around in it to see how it feels (a lunge or two is always quite useful for this.) Once you’re sure that the piece of clothing in question has passed these initial tests you can then move on to trying your own jacket over the top of it, tying your hair up, or taking your hair down, depending on how you had it in the first place, and possibly taking a few pictures to send to your American friend (who has very similar tastes to you) for a second opinion, which will only come through once she wakes up, which is very often a few hours too late, but is always welcome nevertheless. Not only did my lack of privacy mean that I couldn’t subject the dress to all these essential trials, there was the added trouble that I’d already been in this shop twice this week to look at the same dress, and now I felt as though I really should commit in some way. If not to this particular garment, then at least to a garment. I couldn’t possibly leave empty handed again; it just wouldn’t be right. I’m not sure who dictates how many times it’s ‘right’ to go into a shop and not purchase anything, and in fact, I’m pretty sure that you could go into a shop 365 times in a row and nobody would be able to ask you to leave simply for browsing, but if we didn’t follow unwritten protocol then we’d all be cavemen, clubbing each other over the heads, with no real need to find the perfect dress anyway. My indecision rising to almost tangible levels, I tried to get the scowling assistant back on my side by shooting her a friendly look that said, ‘what am I like, ey?’ She chose to ignore it, and me, and moved over to another customer who seemed like they had some intention of actually spending their money. I smoothed the silky material (probably polyester moonlighting as silk) down over my hips, and got onto my tiptoes to get a look over my shoulder. It looked alright. It was in no way a head turner, it was in no way the Parisian LBD that I’d promised I’d find myself, and it was in no way worth the €95 price tag. But living in Paris since October, I've long since lost all concept of an item’s real worth.
I went back into the comfort of my changing room and drew the curtain, just to buy some time. I slowly got undressed, and hung the dress back on the hanger so I could get another look at it. I couldn’t stay in there for long, so I made a snap decision. It was definitely nothing special. I could find something better, I was sure of it. I wasn’t buying it. I instantly felt a sense of relief at having found the sensible solution. I climbed back into my jeans and jumper, and feeling like a frumpy fraud, made my way back into the shop, dress in hand. Heading towards the rail to replace the dress, I caught the shop assistant’s almost imperceptible I-knew-it look. Her stupid, smug face made me feel ashamed and vindictive in equal measures, which is a dangerous combination by anyone’s standards. Before I knew what I was doing I’d made a sharp 360 turn and was placing the unwanted dress on the till. I could always bring it back when there was a different assistant working.
‘We have a no returns, no refunds policy, madame,’ the assistant said, in perfect English, as she made her way over to the till. (I hate it when French people assume - quite rightly - that I’m English.)
‘Pas de problème,’ I replied, my heart sinking now that I knew I was stuck with this dress that I almost definitely didn’t even want.
‘That will be €125 please.’ (I hate it even more when you speak French to a French person and they reply in English. I’m trying; humour me!)
‘Errr... N'est-il pas à prix réduit? Je croyais que toutes les robes étaient à €95...’
‘Sorry madame, this dress is new season, it’s €125.’ (There she went again, answering me in English.)
‘Okay, great, I’ll take it.’ (And there I went again, giving in and answering in English, and spending money - that I didn’t really have going spare - just to save face.)
I can’t wait to wear my new dress (and by ‘wear’ I mean ‘put in the back of my wardrobe, and look at resentfully every now and then.’)
On my way home, the carrier bag containing my boring dress banged annoyingly against my shin, and I spotted the most beautiful black dress in the window of Zara. Against my better judgement, I stopped to look at the price. It was €45.
Hurrah for my polyester delusion dress.