You would think shopping would be a pursuit I relished, maybe even excelled in. True, I can scan up to 6,000 square feet of intensely packed retail space in under ten seconds, and tell if there's anything for which it's worth venturing further in. But I hate shopping. For one, it relies on so many variables: how fat or "good about yourself" you feel that day; how much money you have or are pretending you have; the weather; stock availability; shop assistants and whether they will be helpful or not; changing room mirrors and whether they will be kind to you and well lit, or not. Then if you're a girl you also have to contend with hunger pangs that will suddenly render you unable to concentrate on anything save for getting a sandwich, right there and then. It's a wonder any of us buy anything at all.
My very best and most fruitful shopping experience was in 1998 in Calvin Klein. I don't often frequent designer shops because they scare me. But I had a very special occasion to dress for and my boyfriend pushed me into the shop, telling me I had to spend money on myself. The shop assistants were in reality, as they often are in designer shops, fantastic. OK, so my size, a 14, wasn't actually displayed since that would have been morally corrupt, but they got it out of the deep underground warehouse soon enough, where they stock Big Things. That said, I wouldn't advise anyone to try to ask for anything at the Diane von Furstenberg concession in Selfridges; every time I go there hope springs eternal that the assistants will actually do anything other than snarl and say: "If it's not out we don't have it", and every time I shed hot, angry tears into empty hands.
Shopping used to be a very different experience because until the mid-19th century - when the first shops opened that stocked "off the peg" - everyone had clothes made for them. Even then, for the best part of 80 years, it was only the rich who could really afford prêt-a-porter, while the rest of the world relied on a tailor or dressmaker, often a member of the extended family, to make their clothes. Service in clothes shops, back then, used to be pretty good; although, one imagines, it could still at times be snotty because your status, and therefore spending power, was judged on how you arrived at the store.
The best treatment was reserved for those who arrived by carriage and the "time to be seen shopping" was between the hours of 2pm and 4pm. The rich had accounts; the poor had to pay in cash, which makes perfect sense when you think about it. You'd be met at the door, led through to the relevant department, waited on, then your packages would be carried out to your waiting coach. Bliss! You'd be able to boss the attendants around with a wave of your hand or a stamp of your stick, and everything was done from the comfort of an upholstered chair. You see, progress isn't always a good thing.