Last month, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing prompt inspired by Kendra Stanton Lee’s Are You There Judy? It’s Me, Kendra. We asked, “Did an author’s work expose you to subject matter, whether personal or societal, that increased your awareness and left an impact?” Below is the response we received from Shannon Sims.
Shopping at Somebody’s
Last fall, my brother sent me the link to Sarah M. Seltzer’s New York Times article “Goodbye to Lord & Taylor, and the Way We Used to Shop.” “This reminds me of those trips to Sun Valley Mall,” he wrote. The article was nostalgic, lamenting not only the decline in the quality of fashion, but of the ability to spend leisurely time in a department store with family and friends, perfecting a ritual that had endured for generations. My family’s mall of choice was Sun Valley, located in Concord, California. Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, my mother, aunt, cousin, brother, and I travelled to Sun Valley so much that it was basically our second home. My mom and my aunt focused their shopping in stores emblazoned with the owners’ surnames: Macy’s, Bullock’s, Emporium-Capwell, I. Magnin, Talbot’s, Loehmann’s, and countless other Somebody’s stores.
Similar to Kendra Stanton Lee, I read Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret in the third grade. From that introduction to Blume’s work, I went on to read all of her teen novels on a repetitive cycle during my tween and teen years. Of all of them, Deenie resonated the most. I wasn’t diagnosed with scoliosis, and my mother wasn’t obsessed with turning me into a model, as was the case of the title character. That Deenie had to deal with simply living with her own self, in her own body, however, while attempting to patiently wait for where life would lead, seemed to be a universal theme of a teen girl’s life.
In Deenie, Blume presents us with a character who shopped at a Somebody’s. So many of Blume’s teenage characters occupy spaces that are domestic—the living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, and basements of suburban New Jersey and New York. This novel stands out in that Deenie experiences a wide spectrum of emotions with both friends and relatives while shopping at Drummond’s Department Store.
At the heart of Deenie lie three incidents that take place at Drummond’s. We first see Deenie at Drummond’s when her friends surprise her with a shopping trip. Deenie is convinced she’ll need a back operation to correct her scoliosis, so her friends take her to Junior Lingerie on the fourth floor of Drummond’s and treat her to a nightgown for the hospital stay. Deenie chooses a lavender nightgown and wonders if her crush, Buddy Brader, will visit her. After finding out that instead of an operation, she will need a Milwaukee brace, a defeated Deenie, accompanied by the same friends, returns the nightgown to Drummond’s. Deenie’s final visit to Drummond’s is with her mother and aunt. They get off on the third floor, the home of “Junior Sportswear and Dresses.” The combination of constant chatter between Deenie’s mother and aunt about clothes that could successfully hide the brace, coupled with the saleslady’s incessant delivery and retrieval of clothes to and from the dressing room, proves to be emotionally overwhelming. Exasperated, Deenie is driven to scream the words that most teen girls do at some point at Somebody’s: “I’m old enough to choose my own things. Don’t you think I know what I like by now?”
Deenie’s experiences at Drummond’s—both the good and the bad—typified most teen girls’ relationships with clothing in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Shopping at Somebody’s, you found your dress for prom after looking through 300 taffeta, satin, and lace creations. Shopping at Somebody’s, and not finding anything that flattered your body, you resolved to go on another diet and increase your sessions of aerobics. Shopping at Somebody’s, you wondered whether your mom wanted to dress you or torture you. Shopping at Somebody’s, you reaffirmed that you were indeed good-looking after a break-up.
I’ve heard statistics about how commuters spend a large fraction of their lives in their cars. I’ve never seen a study detailing how many hours girls spend in malls, but surely the number once rivaled that of commuters. I wonder how much time my daughter, now six, will spend in malls a decade from now—or if malls will be obsolete, abandoned eyesores of suburbia by then. Hopefully they won’t disappear entirely. Maybe Somebody’s will consist of numerous three-way mirrors in which girls will see holograms of the latest collection imposed onto their reflections. Either way, the continual closing of a Somebody’s near you is not so much the loss of the ability to buy the perfect dress, but of the ability to occupy a space in which clothing charts a continual record of the physical and emotional stages your body progresses through on its journey into and throughout womanhood.
Shannon Sims earned her doctorate in English from UC Riverside, where she studied eighteenth century transatlantic literature. Her interests include eighteenth century and 1960s fashion, building wishlists on Amazon.com, and baking. She lives in Southern California with her two children.