img_20101006_221305I still shop at Urban Outfitters sometimes. Not for my main wardrobe–the grunge heroin ’80s waif thing isn’t really working for me now that I’m 43 and not underweight, not that I ever was. But for t shirts and thermals, and once in awhile a belt that I know will be out of style soon so I don’t want to spend too much on, it can be perfect. Everything there has a little frisson of groovy, so that worn in moderation by a relatively old person such as myself, I wind up looking like I kind of know what I’m doing.

That’s what I’m going for these days with fashion: I wouldn’t presume to make a statement, I’m not trying to attract attention. I just want to look like I meant to put on what I’m wearing, no body part that should be covered is showing, and not walk out with two different shoes. Sometimes I aim to simply not look like I did not get dressed under duress, as I did this morning, when my two 7-year-olds were having a screaming fight over the single cup with a pirate on it that we own. (In 7-year-old land, if you don’t start your day drinking from a cup with a pirate on it, you may as well get back into bed until next light.) The fashion bar is just low enough for me right now that I can ever so subtly surpass it by not wearing my husband’s old stained T, and for that I’m grateful.

The store was packed and staffed by NYU students, and as I waited on line to pay for the little teal beret I was buying, I eavesdropped on the two women in front of me. They were having a conversation about a guy–it involved the plaid mini-kilt woman expressing her outrage at how he just, like, showed up, after not having texted for, like, four days, which was fine, but whatever, he can’t just, like, do that. Her friend, big-tunic-over-leggings and nose-pierce, matched mini-kilt’s outrage with exactly the same amount of disbelief: “I cannot believe he did that. No. F$cking. Way.”

I felt a familiar wave of thought and feeling wash over me–it happens every so often–that there is no conversation I’m likely to overhear on line at Urban Outfitters that hasn’t been had, if not by me 20 years ago, then by a million other college students, every year since the dawn of time. I had that exact exchange, I felt sure of it, back when I wore plaid mini-kilts, although there was no texting then. I had variously been the complainer and the comforter, probably dozens of times.

It was a weird mix of depressing and comforting that at least I had moved on to trite conversations about much more important things, such as marriage or my children (“She missed getting into the Gifted & Talented program by a few points, but I mean, really, how can you test a four-year-old?” “Oh, I know, it’s ridiculous.”) I’m sure women in their 60s eavesdrop on me and my friends and remember when they were concerned with such trivialities and have the same mix of nostalgia and relief that I felt hearing those two.

I paid for my hat and handed the cashier my ID with my credit card. The photo on my license was taken some years before, and she did a double take.  My face was fuller, my hair curlier and my smile more tentative and self-conscious. “That you?” she asked.

“Yep–15 years ago. I wasn’t long out of college. Are you a student?”

“Uh-huh. What did you major in?” she asked. I’m guessing she was a junior and had to pick her major.

“American Studies. Real useful,” I answered. I was being facetious, but it actually has been useful. I write about all kinds of American things. “What about you?”

“Pre-law. I want to go to law school.”

“You know, it really doesn’t matter what you major in. You can do whatever you want, and you can always change your mind.” I was hyper aware that I was having the cliched older-person-talking-to-younger-person conversation, which I’d had when I was her age and working as a cashier at the Athlete’s Foot and considering law school (It’s happening again! Must. Leave. Urban Outfitters. Stat!)

“Thanks and have a nice day,” she said.

It might be time for me to star ordering online.