Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

by Cassandra Gambill

I could already imagine their faces, caught halfway between jealousy and awe. “You bought your outfit in Italy?” they would ask.

“Yeah, you know, just picked it up from this little shop in Florence” I’d say, smoothing nonexistent wrinkles out of a spotless shirt.

It was my first shopping excursion and I was already Dressing Room Daydreaming. True: I was in Florence. True: I was in a clothing store. False: just about everything else.

As it happened, the “boutique” I was frequenting was actually a second-hand store. It caught my eye because a note in the window clarified that these were “Genuine Italian Thrift Clothes.” The only thing more impressive would have been finding Genuine British or German or Japanese Used Clothes, which I assume are only acquired by stripping down tourists before throwing them over the Ponte Vecchio.

Naturally I went in.

The saleslady appeared to take no notice of me, so I made her aware of my presence with a hearty “Buongiorno!” Then, realizing I should have used the greeting more appropriate for afternoon, I scampered off to hide behind a display of faded purses.

While pawing through Summer Collection ’72-’06 I took stock of the rest of the store. Sadly, I had to admit that this thrift store was no more exotic than a Goodwill back home. The women’s section had little to offer, with one row of business suits/jumpers/ pants and another of dresses/tops/indiscernible one-size-fits-none type items.

The men’s area held even less, so I was surprised to see a pair of fashionable Italian teenage boys enter the store. I watched their interaction with Her Highness the Saleslady to see how I should have acted:

Youth One: Good afternoon. Paolo here is looking for a sports coat like mine. You
know, one that will make him believe he looks older than he is but in reality makes him appear very silly.

Her Highness: Ah! Excellent choice! Let me show you this gorgeous brown and gray-
striped coat.

Youth Two: (swimming in the deep end of a hideous smoking jacket) Hmm, I’m not sure about the fit. And anyway, I prefer something in black.

Her Highness: What are you talking about? It looks tailor-made for you!

Youth One: Do you have anything in black?

Her Highness: The first jacket will look black if you wear green with it.

Youth Two: I really think I need something else.

Her Highness: What about this purple one? I’ll give you a discount!

Youth One: No thanks, purple was last year’s color. Thank you. Goodbye.

After watching several encounters of this type I began to understand why the employee didn’t acknowledge me. I had to tell her what I needed and then, and only then, would she help me.

The thing was, I didn’t really need anything. I was so used to simply browsing that I had not even considered what I might like to buy. I mentally ran through a list of the items in my suitcase. I hadn’t brought many blouses—perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to acquire a Genuine Italian shirt or two.

I saddled up to the counter again, armload of shirts in tow. I was unfamiliar with the sizing system, but surely one of them would work. “May I try these on?” I requested. The lady jabbed her finger in the direction of a hanging cloth. I paused for a second, expecting at least a grunt. No such luck.

I entered the crude dressing room and hung my items off of the low-hanging shower curtain. Peeking over the fabric, I made sure no one was around before hurriedly switching my travel-worn top for an even older one. While perfectly acceptable on the hanger, this shirt hung awkwardly from my shoulders. Shirt number two bunched up in an unflattering way. Number three was no charmer, either.

When I returned all of the shirts back to the rack, silent alarms went off. Arms laden with clothes, Her Royal Highness rushed to my rescue. The first item, some ambiguous piece of gold lamé with too many strings and not enough instructions, was something I would not even consider wearing to a Halloween party. What daring soul had worn this in a previous life?

To appease my now customer-friendly hostess, I consented to trying on the one top that actually covered my midriff. It was a hopeless cause. I peeked over the curtain to see Her Highness coming at me again, this time with the color of royalty draped over her shoulder.

Handing back the poor, unwanted shirt, I gently turned down her last suggestion… “Sorry, but purple is so last year….”

*–*

Cassandra Gambill is an inquisitive (read: nosey) traveler who answers to the title of student while not on the road. During her time abroad she has been blessed by the Pope, gone dumpster diving for reading material and purchased a love potion made of rocks. She currently resides in Conway, Arkansas, where locals can partake in a toad-racing event known as Toad Suck Daze.

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