Before I go, I have something to say

Sizing Up Christmas

Let’s talk about the holidays. Not the one that comes on a Thursday later this month, but the one that, let’s face it, started – in the stores, at least – even before the first little rain-soaked bumblebee knocked on your door and hollered “TRICK OR TREAT!” I’m talking, of course, about Christmas, or, if you prefer, that Nondenominational Day of Good Cheer. Twelve Days of Good Cheer. And lots of presents.

One thing about Christmas is how it takes you to places you don’t usually go. I know this sounds magical, like I’m talking about Santa’s workshop, or the winter wonderland of shop windows glowing with battery-operated sugarplums, or, if you’re down in the dumps, the Island of Unwanted Toys. But no. I’m being literal here.

The places Christmas takes me (where I normally don’t go) are places like the children’s section of Younkers. After all, it’s not even in the same part of the mall as the women’s clothes. Or Dubuque’s fine men’s clothing stores, where I might buy something for the men in my family once a year. And the fancy chocolate shop, since I can’t afford fine handmade chocolates for myself, and why shop for chocolate if it’s not for me?

The weirdest place I go is the plus-size section of Wal-Mart. Let me be clear: I have nothing against plus-size people. Some of my favorite people are plus-size, and I love them to death and, honest to God, most of the time don’t even notice the difference in our shadows. I’m just not used to shopping for clothes that will fit my sister. My sister is especially hard to shop for because, among other things even she doesn’t know what size she wears. I’ll ask, and she will answer, “I don’t know, how about a 3X?” Now, I know she’s gained weight since she stopped even trying to do her physical therapy and is perfectly content with life in a wheelchair. But 3X?

I also have no idea what size my husband wears, or my son. One is bigger than the other, okay, and my son has informed me that he now prefers his clothes rather snug. So, men’s small it is. But if it’s all cotton and liable to shrink, geeze, I don’t know. At least with my hubby, I can peek at a tag or two in his closet when I’m home alone. (We do our own laundry. It’s a second marriage, and second marriages are different. Old habits die hard, etc.)

Overall, shopping for men is infinitely easier than for women. Their jeans, for instance, are so logical. All you need is a waist size and a length. This was a mystery to me until I married and my first husband told me. I’m sorry to say I have forgotten his numbers by now, but it was so, so simple. I never hesitated to stop at Cowboys R Us (we lived in Colorado) and pick him up a pair or two of Levis.

But for a woman? Please. First you need to know, are you a petite, a miss, or a woman? I could have sworn I was all three, but no, not when it comes to clothing. When I was a bit younger, there were misses and juniors sizes, each in its own part of the store. The misses came in even numbers, the juniors in odd. It was odd, indeed, and I can only wonder what fashion fascist came up with that one. Still, if you knew you were somewhere between an 8 and a 10, you figured a 9 would be perfect. The only problem was, juniors tended to look more like something your daughter would wear to, well, junior high.

Somewhere along the way, junior sizing ended. It was followed by something even more sinister. It’s been called “vanity sizing,” and this is how it works. If you shop for your clothes in an average kind of store – Sears, Penny’s, Casual Corner (I refuse to admit this one is gone) – you might wear a nice, average 12. But take that same body of yours into an Eileen Fisher, Donna Karan, or Calvin Klein store, and guess what? You’ve shrunk! You now wear just a 4, or, who knows? A 2.

I have no idea what happens if a woman is already very svelte. If she’s wearing the smallest size a normal department store offers, does she look for a minus-8 in the designer stores? Maybe. The cruelest words I’ve ever seen on a beautiful sweater (right after “Dry Clean Only”), has to be “One size fits all.” Sure it does. It’s too tight for her, and pools around the floor on me, but sure.

If my sister wants clothes this year, maybe I’ll buy her some gloves, but even those come in a confusion of sizes. My hands are so small, I’ve tried those made for children, but I’m not really into hot pink mittens or Hello Kitty designs. Yet in hats, I’m kind of large. Both my graduation mortar board and the helmets I wore while hanging onto motorcycling boyfriends were on the ample side.

As a little girl, I got a lot of clothes for Christmas, but my mom (a.k.a. Santa’s elves) knew how to sew. You can’t go wrong with a flannel nightgown, and besides, you can always tell a kid, “You’ll grow into it.” Do not say this to a woman over 18.

This is why I’d rather give things. Books, small appliances, DVDs. Things are fun, and their sizes are no reflection on you. Because you don’t have to put them on.