Although at the time, I figured this was simply heavy-duty rationalization, it proved to be true when I made a return visit to the swimwear departments in mid-August to look for another suit.
I first visited Marshall Field’s State Street flagship. As I approached the misses’ swimwear department on the sixth floor, I tried to think of questions to use to enlist the aid of a salesperson. Lost in thought, I was momentarily startled to see a young man carrying a woman in his arms clad in activewear. But after doing a double-take, I realized it was only a lifelike mannequin.
I arrived at the swimwear area and although I saw a nice display of preview 1989 merchandise in front of the elevators, the general swimwear department seemed highly disorganized. This, I assume, reflected the growing pains of Field’s $110 million, five-year, storewide renovation currently in progress.
But not all the disorganization was due to construction. All sale merchandise, for example, was displayed on rounders with about half of the suits falling off the hangers. It made the department look sloppy.
Most of the department was crowded into a narrow passageway with the salespeople stationed at the very back of the department. But although I felt slightly claustrophobic here, other shoppers were not deterred. About a dozen women were circulating among the rounders, rummagging through the clearance merchandise.
The rounders were labeled according to size, but the smallest size I could find was a 10. I found a clerk and asked her where I would find smaller suits.
“There aren’t many left,” she said sadly, but told me to go back to the size 10 rack. “There should be some 8s and a couple of 6s there.”
I walked back to the front of the department again, but didn’t see anything that appealed to me. While I was looking at a display, another saleswoman came up next to me and hung some suits back on the rack. She neither greeted me, or offered her assistance.
I walked to the rear of the department and found the younger woman again, asking for her help. I explained that I was going to a beach party over the weekend and wanted to find a new suit with a matching sarong skirt.
She shook her head. “We had some earlier, but now we’re all out.”
“Don’t you have anything?” I prodded.
She hesitated. “We have some purple wrap skirts with matching suits from Elizabeth Stewart, but they are priced at about $50 each.” I think she assumed I was only looking for a suit on sale since all the other shoppers were at the clearance racks.
I told her I didn’t care how much it cost, I just wanted a terrific outfit.
She told me to go back to the front and turn left. “The suits are hanging in the lower corner,” she said.
I wandered over alone in the direction she pointed. I found the skirts, but the swimsuits were all in larger sizes and were heavily constructed silhouettes. I had to giggle because I knew none of them would fit me.
I waited a few minutes to see if the saleswoman would come and help me, but she didn’t, so I left the store and headed down the block to Carson Pirie Scott & Co.
On the second floor of Carson’s, I stopped quickly to check out the junior department. But almost all the swimsuits were tankinis, which make me look very short-waisted.
On the fourth floor, the misses’ swimsuits were well-organized. Even the clearance ranks looked neat and were not overly crammed with merchandise.
I browsed around a few minutes then finally approached a saleswoman. I told her the same story — I was looking for a suit with a matching sarong or cover-up for a party. She took me over to a rack of Harbour Casuals and showed me a bright print sarong and matching suits, however I really didn’t care for the print.
Next she led me over to another rack and pulled out a mint green long cotton gauze skirt. “This isn’t a sarong, but it’s split up the side and would look pretty over the right suit,” she suggest, but we couldn’t find a suit with the right colors to match.
“We had several sarongs outfits earlier in the season, but they sold fast,” she said, then paused. “I don’t suppose you sew?”
I surprised her by saying I did. She suggested I make my own sarong. “That’s what I did this year,” she said, and proceeded to give me instructions. She then excuse herself to help another customer.
I continued to look around the department for a few more minutes, but saw nothing that motivated me to go in the dressing room.