Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sinking Flagship: Macy's Kills the Magic of Marshall Field's

I'm from Chicago, so naturally I was a little disturbed by the whole "Macy's buying out Marshall Field & Co." thing. The flagship store on State Street was class and good smells, matchless chocolate and the essence of Christmas. The green-tinged plaque on the cornerstone, the aging clock on the street, the view of the Christmas tree from the seven-story was, in a strange twist of fate, exactly the image that the mention of Macy's in New York conjured up. Wouldn't a store famous for its Santa Clauses and its Thanksgiving Day parade have that kind of glamour? The well-dressed clerks who virtually melted into the background, only to magically appear at your elbow with the size or color you needed or a gesture toward a register with no waiting?

When I was in college, my cousin (a flight attendant) did her Christmas shopping at Macy's one year. I never wore the sweater she gave me without thinking about the fact that it had come from the glamorous department store I'd IMAGINED Macy's to be.

And then reality struck.

I'll admit that I wasn't entirely objective. The classic green turning red, the change in bags and logos and all of the little trappings was unwelcome for me. But Macy's talked a good game about maintaining everything we loved about our flagship store, and I was inclied to believe they'd come close, because even though they weren't Marshall Field's, they were MACY'S.

Last week, on the Quest for Navy Shoes, I shopped at Macy's for the first time since the changeover. Fickle though it might be, I didn't expect much difference. I needed to stop on one, pick up a pair of hose, then pop up to four for shoes.

I entered the building through the pedway, since it connects the store with the building where I work. The first thing I discovered was that the elevators across from the book section didn't work. There was a floor-by-floor directory in front of them, but pushing the buttons didn't seem to summon a car. After a few minutes, a clerk in books called out "None of them elevators works. Go down there." She gestured vaguely to the other side of the food court and I thanked her and moved on. I should have paid more attention, because it turned out that was stellar service for Macy's.

I finally made my way to the first floor and went looking for hose. I checked two directories without anyone offering directions (something that would never have happened in Marshall Fields), but was virtually assaulted by no fewer than four women who wanted to push perfume samples on me. I was reminded of the jewelry-peddlars we used to encounter on the street when my mother visited her old doctor at 95th and Stony Island--the ones my father advised us never to speak to or even look in the eyes.

It turns out that navy hose aren't much easier to find than navy shoes these days, and it took me upwards of 15 minutes to find a brand that offered navy. I spent that time alone in the department with a clerk who studiously focused on some busywork and avoided acknowledging me. Yes, I could have asked for help, but as I discovered a few floors later, it probably wouldn't have yielded much. As it was, I didn't make contact with the clerk until I carried my purchase over to the counter and she brusquely said, "Got to go over there" and made a sweeping gesture a little like she was shooing a fly.

I found an open register feeling a bit depressed. Perhaps I was glamourizing the old Marshall Field's help in my mind. Perhaps they didn't really glide more than they walked; perhaps they hadn't really always appeared at just the moment when having my clothes hung in a dressing room was really appreciated. But I KNEW not one of them had ever said, "Got to go over there" to me. I knew I'd never been shooed like a fly when the shopping bags were green.

Still, I had only twenty minutes until my meeting and I wanted navy shoes. The fourth floor was my only option, so I headed that way (this time taking the escalators to avoid any confusion with non-operational but unmarked elevators). A quick circle around the shoe department didn't reveal a single navy dress shoe, so I carried a black shoe over to a clerk and asked her whether it came in blue. No, she said, only black, brown and red. She was already turning away when I asked whether she had any other navy pumps.

"Not really," she said, turning away again.

As it turned out, I did find navy shoes in time to save myself from wearing black and navy together, but I left the store sorry I'd ever stepped inside. If I had it to do over again, I'd remember the magical Marshall Fields of my youth and carry on, happily oblivious to the third-rate discount store it's becoming.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Black Shoes DON'T Go With Navy. They Just Don't.

Several years ago, a secret underground movement began: a movement to persuade all Americans that it was perfectly fine to wear black shoes with navy clothing. This movement has been so successful, in fact, that if you are under the age of thirty you are probably furrowing your brow right now, wondering why I might think that was not okay.

If you've read my writing blog (or know me in real life), you might think I'm just a bit of a stickler. But the truth is, I'm not a color purist. I'm really not the kind of person who fusses much about appearances, and I haven't an artistic bone in my body. What's more, I LIKE the new acceptability of brown and black together--I love my chocolate-brown suit with a black blouse and black shoes. But certain lines must be drawn, and this one is definite: black shoes do not go with navy clothing.

Perhaps you're thinking that it should be a matter of personal choice. I don't disagree. The problem is that since the Myth that Black Goes with Navy has begun to seep into popular consciousness, it's almost impossible to find a good pair of navy shoes.

Earlier this week, I had occasion to wear a suit. A navy suit. Suits aren't often required in my current profession, so I hadn't worn the suit in a couple of years and it had slipped my mind that I hadn't been able to find any good navy shoes the last time around. Reluctantly, I put on some black shoes and set off for the city, worrying about them every step of the way. But on the train, I had a revelation: I work in the same building as Macy's (formerly the flagship Marshall Field & Co.). I can buy new shoes!

This shouldn't have come as a surprise to me. After all, it's not the first time I've had to go emergency shoe shopping at work. So there I was, all relieved. I could just pop into Macy's and buy a pair of navy pumps!


Obviously, I'd forgotten the Endless But Unsuccessful Quest for Navy Heels I'd undertaken a couple of years earlier.

The first shoe clerk I asked at Macy's told me they didn't really have any navy shoes (more on the whole Macy's experience to come in my next post). The second was able to find me a few options, but said that they really didn't have much navy. "It's odd," she said, "because I get a lot of requests for navy dress shoes."

I laughed and asked her whether those requests mostly came from women my age. The poor girl looked hesitantly at me--she was approximately half my age and probably wasn't sure whether or not "women my age" was an insult. I didn't want to leave her hanging, so I added "We haven't really bought in to that whole 'black shoes go with navy' thing." She smiled and said, "Yeah, that could be it." And then she found me some lovely navy slingback pumps that know...THE SAME COLOR AS MY SUIT.

So what's your take? Do you wear black shoes with navy? Was it a tough adjustment? Or are you too young to know better?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Want to Look at 7,346 Pictures of My Kid?

I promise I'm not going to make this blog a copy of Tori's YouTube channel. Really. I do. But the video the other day was her first world issues video, and this is her first music video. After this, I'll scale it back. Probably.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Conversations With My Daughter - The Bible

This afternoon I was washing dishes when my daughter came down and sat on the stairs. Our townhouse is split-level, and the stairway runs into the kitchen, so she often sits there to talk to me or play her guitar or pet the dog while I'm in the kitchen. This time, though, she had a purpose.

As soon as she sat down, she said, "Mom, I have a problem with the Bible."

To be honest, I was a tiny bit concerned. I encourage independent thought, but I also tend to take Jesus' word for stuff, so it seemed like a couple of core values were about to hit head on.

"Okay..." I said neutrally, waiting for explanation.

"Well, you know how Herod made everyone go to the place they were from to be counted?"

"Mm hmm..." I'm thinking maybe this isn't so dangerous after all. We all knew Herod was a bad guy, right?

"Well, I don't think Mary and Joseph were from the same place, but they were traveling to the same place to be counted."

I didn't laugh. Instead, I said seriously, "Well, they really only counted the men. If Mary was counted it would have been as part of his family."

"Ah," she said, and then there was a pause. And then she said, "Mom, I have a problem with the Bible."chil

Thursday, April 8, 2010

One Day Without Shoes

Tori decided to accept the TOMS Shoes challenge to go one day without shoes in honor of the millions of people worldwide who don't own shoes at all. She learned how challenging even the little things can be when you're missing something as basic as shoes, and documented her journey.