I had to buy a dress shirt on my own last week. It was confusing.
Before going out to the store, I let some people at work know about my mission, and told them that I didn’t know what size I was. They suggested that I first go back to my apartment and look at the tag of a dress shirt that I already own. I looked at a few, and they all just had an M on the tag, probably for Michael or medium. I knew that there should have been numbers, but I couldn’t see any. At this point, though, I was pretty confident that I would be able to find at least one line of shirts that would have a letter as its only indication of size.
I headed to Macy’s, which was promised to be “safe.” I didn’t feel immediately threatened when I walked in, but I quickly realized that there are a ton of different white dress shirts in that store, with little differentiation beyond the name on the tag. This was somewhat promising though, because I was convinced I could find an M amongst them. The first pile of shirts I looked at gave me hope: I found a tag with an M! Unfortunately, it was an M along with three different numbers. No worries, I thought, just as long as I can confirm that all of the Ms have the same numbers. They didn’t. Onto the next pile.
I went through every stack of white dress shirts in the store, and all of them had those crazy three numbers. At some point in the process, a salesperson called out to the room asking if anyone needed help, but I ignored her offer at the time, hopeful that I would be able to find an unenumerated M and not have to interact with a human being beyond handing over a credit card. When I realized that I would not find this exclusively letter-based sizing, I did what any single man would do in my situation. I went outside and called my mom.
Me: I’m trying to buy a shirt and I don’t know my size. Do you know what my measurements are?
Mom: No, just ask them to measure you.
Me: Can’t I just get a medium? The shirts in my closet are medium, but in the store they have three numbers. What do they mean? There’s one at the top, and then two below it.
Mom: It’s the neck and sleeve size.
Me: But there are three numbers. One at the top…
Mom: That’s the neck.
Me: And then two at the bottom.
Mom: The sleeves.
Me: But there are two numbers.
Mom: That’s the sleeve length.
Me: The sleeves are different sizes?
Me: But there are two numbers on the bottom.
Mom: It’s a range.
Me: They have to estimate the length of the sleeves? They can’t measure that within an inch? Don’t we have the technology?
Mom: Ask someone to measure you.
Me: I don’t like to be poked.
Mom: [sends an eye-roll from 3,000 miles away]
Me: I’ll also need a tie.
Mom: Just tell them that you have a dark suit and you need a white shirt and a tie.
At this point, I was resigned to the fact that I would have to be measured. I headed back inside to look for help. One employee was there folding shirts. I don’t shop often enough to know what the proper procedure is in these types of situations, so I didn’t know if I should interrupt her. She was obviously already busy doing something else. I went over to where the counter was and figured I’d just wait in line. After several minutes of waiting for a customer and an employee to discuss a return, I figured I had been in there too long, and couldn’t really spend any more time walking around the store as by now they were probably starting to think I was weird. I headed to Nordstrom.
This time, I walked in with a new attitude. I was going to walk right in there, admit I know nothing, and walk out with a shirt. And I pretty much did that.
Me: I need a white dress shirt and I don’t know my measurements.
Me: [Having no idea what this means] Sure.
I was then measured, and headed to the back and got a shirt my size. Before she went to the back room, I let her know that I would also need a tie. “There are ties on all of the tables,” she said, trusting to find something that matched. I picked what appeared to be the only non-pink tie (I would have been fine with pink if I didn’t think that pink ties were a fad on their way out), and brought it to the counter. And by the way, for the little amount of material they use, ties are expensive!
Me: Will this match a dark suit? I obviously know nothing about fashion.
Her: Charcoal? Gray? Black?
Me: [My mom said "dark suit!" Trying to think of what my suit looks like...] Black.
Her: Oh, yes, that will look very nice. You picked a good one. This is a [says some brand name that I can't remember] tie. They last forever. One customer always buys these kind of ties and says that he’ll be able to give them to his son when he’s older.
That was easy, and kudos to the Nordstrom employee for being so friendly. I don’t really enjoy shopping because I don’t feel confident doing it, but it does feel good to dress nicely.
After all that, I proudly presented my wardrobe to my parents only to learn that I was wearing the wrong pants.