A Change in Fashion — A Short Story
I recently inherited a boutique. Well, inherited might be the wrong word. I’m simply employed here, and I’m not actually related to the owner — or any of my co-workers — but it feels like I’ve inherited the real spirit of this place, y‘know?
Why do I say that? A man just walked in and he said something to me that I’ve only heard once before; “I want to be beautiful.” And just like it did four years ago, something inside of me has welled in a way that’s unlike anything else.
Honestly, I don’t get the opportunity to help people much. People say “oh, no thank you!” when I offer assistance, and they’re there to look and browse or already have their style in mind, but a young man once came in here, looking unsure of himself, in a boutique that has almost exclusively only ever had women pass through its doors. With his short gelled hair, his black loose-fit hoody, and his run-of-the-mill blue jeans and plain trainers, this young man with a thin frame looked as if he hadn’t seen a store so colourful before, what with all of its trims, frills, bursts of colour and, well, everything in-between.
Thinking maybe he was lost, I approached him, and waited patiently for his response. “I, uh, um…” He fidgets, rubbing his forearms, and speaks in a tiny voice as he fervently glances at the floor and the door behind him. “I want to be beautiful.”
What he said didn’t necessarily click in my head at first, so I reiterated. “You want to be beautiful?”
He nods, shyly, still not making eye contact with anything other than the white tiling that makes up much of the flooring.
“I’m sorry, but we don’t do men’s clothing here…” I look around, loosely gesturing toward my surroundings, when he furiously shakes his head and murmurs a slightly curt, “I know you don’t, don’t worry about it.”
He turns to leave and I say I thought I hadn’t even finished fully forming. “Unless you cam here for the women’s clothing, is that right?” Stupid, I’m stupid, to not have realised it, and I curse my earlier ignorance — of course he knows we don’t sell clothing traditionally sold for men!
With his hand on the door handle, he turns around and nods. “Okay, then let’s see what we can do for you today!” I guide him around the store, clearly unfamilair to him, and ask if he has anything specific in mind or if he’d like staff recommendations.
“Oh, yeah, I should’ve thought a bit more about what I actually want… I just know that, as long as I could remember, I’ve just wanted to wear the clothing that women wear. The skirts, the designs, the options… they look so… free.” I nod along, not entirely sure I can relate to the feeling, but I understand the sentiment. Men’s clothes are abhorrently dull, with little room to express yourself.
I remove a honey-yellow, slightly fluffy jumper from the hanger, designed to reach as low as your thighs, and present it to the young man. “How about this?” He looks at it for a bit before tentatively reaching his hand out. I nod, encouraging him that it’s okay, and he gently rubs his hand over it. “Ooh, it’s soft!” I see his eyes widen, and he smiles for the first time since entering the store. I smile back. “It really is! I have a similar jumper back home — I like the fit.”
He takes it into his own hands and I gesture back to the railing that it’s okay to put it back if he likes it, but he pulls it closer and shakes his head. I take him further into the store to find something that’ll compliment it. “Are we thinking skirt or jeans? Something else?”
He does a little twirl on the spot as he turns around, looking at the different options. “In a men’s store, it’s basically jeans and jogging bottoms, and they’re usually black or grey.”
I empathise with this young man just wanting to do something considered just a little different. “Yeah, they’re missing out, but you won’t be.” I grin, and he sheepishly returns the smile as he coughs into his hand.
“Okay, so this one, maybe?” He picks out a long black pleated skirt designed to reach a little above your ankles. He droops the material over his arms as he stretches it out to his full length. “It’s very soft.”
“I think it looks nice. It’ll look nice on you, too.” I nod my approval, and without my encouragement he makes his way over to the footwear and I follow suit.
I see him looking at a very popular brand of boot, and I remove one from the shelf. “Ah yes, Dr. Martens are a very popular pick thanks to how versatile and durable they are.”
“I see!” He exclaims, excitedly looking over the selection, before picking out a pair of boots with a similar hue to his jumper and with thick black laces and a relatively chunky black sole. “I think I’d like to match.”
“It sounds like you’re already decided, and I have no objections.” I smile at him and offer to hold the boots for him, seeing that his hands are beginning to get a bit too uncomfortably full. “Shall I show you to the dressing room?” He nods again, his previous nervous energy now requiring its own search party since he’s lost it.
I briefly attend to some other customers whilst he takes his time changing, and begin to grow a little anxious as he’s been in there for a much longer period of time than it usually takes a customer to try on their clothing. I think to myself, “maybe I should go check on him.”
I clear my throat as I approach the curtain to his dressing room stall, and I ask, “is everything okay in there?” I step back, waiting for a response.
I see his hand peek through and he pulls the curtain back, and he steps back further into the stall, looking unsure of himself. He grabs at the hems of his skirt, nervously pulling at them as he expectedly looks at me.
“If you came in here to look beautiful, then I think mission accomplished.” I give him a thumbs up and a wide smile, and I reiterate again, “you genuinely do look amazing.”
He turns away and I hear him sniff, and I hear him thank me as I pull the curtain closed again. “I’ll ring you up at the counter when you’re ready — take your time.”
It’s been a good four years since that trip, and I was fortunate enough to serve him a few more times before he stopped visiting. I assumed that maybe he’d changed store, perhaps his taste in fashion had changed, but seeing his father here today, I know that’s not the reason.
I look at the yellow jumper in his hands, looking well-loved from the day I saw it four years ago, and I nod with my best and most honest customer-facing smile.
“Of course, if you’d follow me…”