I always shop at Goodwill in guy mode, and my initial forays were filled with intense trepidation. I waited until other shoppers moved away before looking at the women’s clothes and made sure no one was watching before sneaking into a dressing room. I convinced myself that the person running the checkout would either frown with disapproval or tell me to have a good day with a knowing, condescending smirk.
Over time, I have learned to let go of the anxiety, because the truth is that no one cares. I’ve never been confronted or, as far as I know, even received a second look. Goodwill patrons, like people everywhere, are occupied with their own business. Way too self-absorbed to notice, let alone care about, the man entering the fitting room holding four dresses, a pair of 5-inch heels, and a frilly nightie or two.
The Goodwill display racks are always crammed beyond capacity. Garments must be pushed apart, often forcibly, to examine any one of them properly. Adding to the challenge, the hangers are made of clear, break-resistant plastic, with notches on the shoulders that are highly efficient at ensnaring several dresses simultaneously. Extreme patience is needed to untangle the resulting chaotic fusion of straps and sleeves. On more than one occasion, I’ve reluctantly parted ways with a promising dress after repeated failed attempts to free it from an ugly snarl.
I always shop on Wednesdays to take advantage of the 25% discount given to those age 55 and over. My standard routine involves an initial pass through the shoe aisles in search of the ever-elusive lady’s size 12. Although these quests frequently prove fruitless, I’ve gotten to the point where I can reliably gauge the size of a pair of women’s shoes by sight alone, reducing the amount of time that would otherwise be spent hunting for the faded, microscopic label stamped in some random location inside just one of the shoes in a pair. As an aside, I often wonder if the shoes I end up purchasing had been donated by a fellow CD who has recently purged.
After scanning the shoes, I make a quick pass through the “intimates” aisle, with its usual assortment of slips, camisoles, nighties and pajamas. While the idea of wearing second-hand lingerie may be a turn-off for some, I take great pride in my most memorable $5 purchase: a brand-new, off-white, satin bustier by Elomi costing upwards of $70 if purchased online or at a specialty shop. Major score.
Finally, I arrive at the rows of dresses. Every major (and minor) brand is represented, and the variety of styles is endless. LBDs are so ubiquitous that I must force myself not to buy one on every visit. I shop by size first, looking for either a 14, 16 or plain old size L. I’ve learned that unless a dress has some stretch, it’s likely not going to fit, not matter how much I struggle to pull it down past my broad male shoulders.
This need for some stretch was driven home one afternoon when my head and upper torso became trapped inside a dress that refused to budge another centimeter in any direction. As I struggled to free myself from this homemade straitjacket, my oxygen-starved brain began filling with panicked thoughts of paramedics dragging my prone, unconscious body out from under the locked dressing room door, clad only in my boxer shorts and the murderous dress, still wrapped tightly around my head.
Allow me to pause for a moment now, dear reader, as I invite you to join me in giving silent thanks to Joseph Shivers, the chemist who in 1958 invented the polymer which has since become known and loved throughout the world as the miracle fabric called Spandex.
Because the Goodwill stores that I frequent do not provide size tags on the outside of the dresses, it’s necessary to look at the labels inside which, like those in women’s shoes, can be impossible to find and even more difficult to read. Goodwill newbies are advised not to expect much help from sales people, because they don’t exist here. It is necessary, therefore, to devote a great deal of time to physically handling the merchandise. Yes, this is a downside of the Goodwill shopping experience, but what do you expect at these prices?
In addition to their characteristic smell, all Goodwill stores apparently share the exact same soundtrack of about 20 songs, playing in an endless, continuous loop. It’s an eclectic mix of upbeat tunes spanning the decades from ‘60s through the ‘90s. To younger folks, most of the songs are probably unfamiliar oldies, but the playlist sure does manage to hit the sweet spot for me and no doubt many of my fellow Baby Boomers.