Fitting room dynamics. | Photo by Alles Banane, Creative Commons. | Click on image for license and link.

"You-know-who would have loved to join us."

"Hah, yeah."

"Well, we might be friendly, but she'll never be in our inner—"

"No, she won't be anything."

"Well, we might be friends, but not friends-friends."


"Look, I'd like to like my brother's wife—"

"She is your sister-in-law!"

"But I don't like her."


"I can't let you buy that. It just added about 20 lbs to you!"


"I need to stop eating bread."

"Mom, you look fine."

"A bathing suit! At my age? Who was I kidding?

"Mom, you look fine."


"I am so tired of dealing with him."

"I don't know. Have you thought about couples counseling?"

"I think we're past that point."


"Gosh, is totally awkward if I leave this door open? How else can you see me?"

"No, I think it's fine. We're all women in here."

Part of my weekend involved searching for a blazer. Specifically, a navy blue blazer. And my travels took me to a fitting room where I had a bit of an extended stay—I might have picked up more than just a blazer which naturally required some preening in front of a mirror and assessing fit, style, and color. In between various stages of undress, conversations unfolded all around me. It seemed that I was unusual in that I was one of the few women there without a shopping partner to give me feedback on my potential purchases. Or advice on relationships. Or possible next steps in negotiating some dilemma.

The fitting room presents an unusual space: It offers the individual a private space even while placing her intimately close to strangers—unlike say, a gym locker room where private space may not exist. There is a recognition that this a safe space, a gendered space, and to some degree, a reflective space. As we stand in front of that mirror and acknowledge that a cute floral print looks better on the rack than it does on our hips, we're already engaged in a personal assessment. And if our shopping partner's assessment agrees with our own—no matter how it might hurt to hear it out loud—then perhaps the door is opened for more personal discussions. The foundation for trust is laid and reinforced:

"Oh, wow! I thought that material might make you look heavy, but you're stunning!"

"Really, you think so?"

"No, seriously. Like, wow."

"Matt might like it?"

"He'd be crazy not to! Are things still weird?



"Why isn't this working?"

"But it is! You look great."

[Laughs] "No, Matt."

"You might have outgrown each other."

"This is cute. Maybe with a leather jacket?"

"Yeah, maybe. Do you have one?"

"Matt does. And I'm the one who typically wears it."

"Yeah, that would lend itself to the 'boyfriend look'."

"Well, it would if we make it to summer."

In this case, an article of clothing becomes the vehicle for a discussion about a romantic relationship that appears to be on the rocks. The discussants' tones fluctuated throughout the conversation: high and speculative when talking about fashion and low and sombre when considering Matt.

Granted, you aren't likely to go shopping with someone you dislike or aren't close with, much less invite them into the fitting room with you where physical insecurities—in addition to emotional ones—are highlighted. But once there, reflection can occur, and openness is established both in the very real sense of leaving the physical door open to the fitting room and on a more personal level as shopping partners talk about other areas of their lives. These opinions may not necessarily be confined to shopping partners, however. During the course of my fitting room stay, I found myself in the predicament of being trapped in a dress. That is, I realized I'd need a little help with the zipper in order to put the item back on a hanger. Sticking my head out of my space—my door had been shut—I caught the eye of one of the women in the neighboring rooms. "Sorry to bother you," I began. "I'm stuck. Could you lend a hand?" Her eyes widened in understanding. "Sure. Turn around." I complied. "That's a lovely color on you," she opined as she free me from the vise-like hold the dress had on me. While it wasn't an invitation to carry on a longer conversation, it's clear that boundaries can be different within this space. While you might hesitate to offer an opinion otherwise or ask for help, these behaviors fall within the realm of expectations for this space.

The sameness of the experience may also play a part in encouraging visitors to open up. We are all alloted the same amount of space under the same conditions. We are all exposed in the same ways, which hopefully accounts for whether we see things in the same way:

"I can't let you buy that. It just added about 20 lbs to you!"

"Yeah, see how it puffs out here?"

"It just doesn't hang right."

"It makes me look older too."

"Put that in the 'No' pile."

This agreement suggests it is safe to possibly explore other topics—to solicit advice and to offer it—because an opinion has been offered and vetted. And if you can agree on the suitability of an article of clothing, while you may not necessarily agree other matters, you might at least be willing to listen in this environment because a promise of honesty has been established.

Oh, and that blazer? I did find one! Not in dark blue as I had hoped, but in black with a lovely lining—though I had to go on my opinion alone and unlike some of my fellow shoppers, I left without resolving any of the questions I had going in.