In the Midwest town where I live, it isn’t hard to feel overdressed. All it takes is wearing jeans instead of pajama bottoms. So when I visited Shanghai, it was novel to suddenly feel underdressed.
After a world of mandatory clothes during Mao’s reign, people in China celebrate the ability to wear colors and styles with a vengeance. Always erring on the side of being overdressed rather than under, I felt a bit shlumpy amongst the elegantly dress women inhabiting Shanghai.
So I decided that I would buy a Chinese garment to add some elegance to the wardrobe of shirts and shorts I had brought along on the trip. I wanted something that had a flavor of China without being too costumey for wear after I returned home. It was easy to find some beautiful clothing that fit my criteria.
But finding something that actually fit me…
Not so much.
In the States, I wear small to medium. And looking around at the women passing me on the sidewalk in Shanghai I didn’t feel ginormous. No, I saved that feeling for when I tried to put on the XXXL shirt I liked and found it was too tight. Since this happened more than once I began to feel like the spectacular blimp lady and contemplated joining a circus. Is it a whale? Is it an elephant? No, it’s blimp woman.
Shanghai is full of small shopping stalls. Most specialize in one type of item. (See photo) And my aunt and I visited many stores in search of our sizes. It wouldn’t have been so bad except for the faces of the poor lady clerks who tried to find the right size for us. Or not.
My aunt and I would look at the sizes of the clothes, look at each other and then make a gesture with our hands held wider than the shirt. The clerk would rummage through a cupboard and eventually come up with the item we wanted. My aunt and I would eye the supposedly larger size and hold our hands wider apart.
And those clerks were the more diplomatic ones. I can assure you there is nothing quite like asking for your size and having a woman look you up and down with an expression on her face of pure horror and shock. And if we could have understood her no doubt she would have said something along the lines of, “Lady, we don’t carry your size. Try the tent store next door.”
At one stall, we found pajamas on sale for 3 yuan and thought it seemed a reasonable price. We gestured and did our held-apart-hands to ask for our size. The clerk found something that would fit us (hallelujah). Then she informed us that it actually cost more because there was a “more fabric upcharge”.
I did eventually find a dress that fit me. The clerk even decided that the first size was too big for me, something my battered blimp of a body needed to hear. Strangely, there was something comforting in going from an XXXL to only XXL.
And all sizes aside, at least it’s not pajama pants.