One of the most wonderful things about my tiny apartment is that it is located right down the street from one of my favorite places in New York: The Rem Koolhaas-designed Prada flagship store in Soho, which, had it been around in the late 1950s, would probably have taken the place of Tiffany's for the stylish, sad-sack Holly Golightly. As much as I love to loiter outside, fantasizing about the fashions on display behind the store's enormous picture windows, actually stepping foot inside unleashes my deepest sartorial insecurities: Not only can I not exactly afford the silken turbans of yesterday and the orange fuzzy coats of today on display, but apparently this fact is something known - intuited, at least? - by the store's severely-suited salespeople, who seem to regularly play retail Darwinism, casting disparaging glares at visitors who have "no reason" — meaning: no bank account — to justify being there. So I decided to embark on what I decided to call the Pretty Woman experiment: visiting the store in different states of dress to find out whether I would be treated differently based on my appearance.
1. On August 11th, I dropped by dressed, essentially, in my pajamas: Leggings from Target, oversized red flannel shirt, glasses on, matted "morning hair" tied up in a knot and nary a lick of makeup. Clad in this ensemble I did not garner negative attention, I immediately noticed, but no attention at all. No one said hello as I pushed the heavy door open myself, took a quick turn around the floor, and then proceeded down the stairs to the footwear level. Several salespeople mingled among the high-priced shoes: It was a Saturday afternoon and the fall/winter styles had just arrived in stores, so it was prime shopping season. I lingered for what seemed like forever before the display of the trend shoes of the season: The ombre patent Havana-heeled pumps, the multi-hued colorblocked sandals. I picked them up, examining their heels, their soles, their prices. And still, nothing. After a few minutes I gave up, headed back up the dizzying, seemingly floating blond wood stairs and headed on my merry way. I thought I heard one of the security guards mumble, "Have a good afternoon" as I stepped out the main door and into the midday sunshine, but that could've been wishful thinking.
2. Two days later, I returned, this time dressed to the eights (not nines: I was, uh, wearing Target flip-flops) with a long, creamy Vivienne Westwood skirt belted over a black, v-neck tee. I had on mascara, eyeliner, even blush: No grooming detail had been overlooked, and as I approached the store, the door opened for me, almost magically. I had hardly a moment to register the accompanying "good afternoon" when a sales clerk appeared and asked if there was anything she could help me with. (Success! Maybe I could leave?). I thanked her for asking and began strolling through the maze of clothing on the floor below, surrounded by knee socks and logo-stamped bags at every turn, taking my time (I was a "lady of leisure" after all!) and at each different clothing rack, it seemed, found another sincere, smartly-outfitted shopgirl. Eventually, I decided it was time to tackle footwear, and lo and behold, the second I stepped foot on the shiny, black floor of the department I heard a warm, welcoming voice, not unlike that of a fairy godmother. I asked the saleslady if I could see the object(s) of my desire: The season's new open-toed pink and black ombre Havana heels of earlier mention, with the thick elastic strap that sits across the front of the foot. "Do you have them in a 39?" I asked. Her face clouded with worry, "Ooh I'm not sure. Let me go check right away and see what I can do." She emerged moments later, looking practically crestfallen. "We only have them in a 7 1/2 and a 9 1/2. Do you want to try either of those? Maybe the 7 1/2 will work?" I asked after the 9 1/2 and before I could even blink, she emerged with a shiny black box. I slipped the shoes on: Magic. Pure magic. I walked, strutted, and skipped around the shoe floor. Every once in a while, my guardian angel peeped around the corner to check on me. "No rush! No rush at all!" she insisted, warmly. I pranced some more. And then the saleslady emerged again, informing me that she had just learned that these very shoes were 1 of 2 pairs (the other being the 7 1/2, naturally) left of this style in the entire city of New York.
Needless to say, I capitulated, and, for the first time in my life, bought something Prada. It was sick: At the checkout registers on the main floor, I simultaneously giggled like a schoolgirl and almost teared up. Hypnotized by the combination of shiny things and someone willing to give me the time of day, I had fallen under the luxury-market's spell, dropping dollars faster than you can say "The devil wears..." But I guess one could look at it this way: someone's gotta actually pay full price so Anna Wintour can continue to get her clothes for free, right? Was I duped? Possibly. But better-heeled? Certainly.