Conversation with a Woman at Burlington Coat Factory

“Excuse me, could I get your opinion?” she asks me. “What do you think of this jacket?”

Oh oh. I don’t like the way the jacket flairs straight out from her waist like a tutu, but I really don’t want to tell her that.  I don’t even know her.  “It’s a really good color on you,” I say instead.

“What about the style?” asks the woman.

Again I scramble for words. “Well, I couldn’t get away with that style, but you’re a lot thinner than I am.”

“You don’t think I look like one of those munchkins in the Wizard of Oz?”

“Heaven’s no. Not at all.” More like a ballerina, I am thinking.

One of my Dutch aunts would probably have told her without hesitation what she thought of the jacket. My mother tends to lay things on the table as well. But I was only born in Holland, I wasn’t raised there. I was raised in America and  I’ve been Americanized. In general, Americans are more careful and less outspoken than the Dutch.

“So you don’t think it makes me look fat? Seriously, you can be honest,” the woman says now.

“Fat?  Noooo.” Sheesh, is she kidding? She looks like she weighs about ninety pounds.

“You like it then?”

I remain evasive. “Like I say, you can get away with it.”

The woman nods, obviously unsure of how to interpret what I’m saying. “Okay, thanks.” Frowning, she continues to study herself in the mirror.

“No problem.”  I move to the next aisle and scan the rack for a casual jacket in a neutral color. Even though it’s still too warm for a jacket, I’m here because that will all change in a matter of weeks. Last year I procrastinated until it was too late and then never did get a coat.  But now, instead of seriously looking, I’m feeling bad that I wasn’t more upfront with this lady.  I almost wrote an article about this subject once—that it’s good to be tactful, but that sometimes we hedge far more than is necessary. I don’t know that I want to be as blunt as some Dutch, but I’ve known for some time that I’m a little too Americanized. I mean the woman did ask.  I sigh, readjust my purse on my shoulder, and move back in her direction. “You still look confused,” I say.

“I am,” she answers.

“Soooo do you want me to tell you what I really think?”

“Yes!” she says anxiously. “Of course!”

“Okay . . . the truth is I really like the jacket, but I’m not that crazy about the way it flairs out from the waist. That’s the only thing that bothers me about it.”  There I said it. Only now I feel like I need to remedy the problem. “There isn’t any way to take it in a little, is there?”

The woman quickly lifts the bottom portion of the jacket and studies the lining. “Hmmm, I don’t know. It looks like it’s made to flair out.”

I study the lining with her. Shoot, she’s right. The seams angle out.   “I guess that wouldn’t work,” I admit.

The woman turns back to the mirror: “I do like this jacket, but I totally see what you mean.”

“If you like it, then it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks,” I say, feeling bad again.

The woman examines the bottom edge of the jacket.  “Wait, it looks like there’s a draw string. Look at this!” She begins pulling at a cord.

I am relieved.  “Oh good!” Maybe we’ll have a happy ending after all.

“How’s that?” she asks.

“That’s much better!” And it really does look better. But I’m on a truth roll now. “It’s kind of bunched though.”

With adept fingers, the woman quickly spreads out the gathers.

I am even more relieved, in fact, I’m amazed. “That really looks good now! ” The bottom section of the jacket is no longer sticking out.

The woman is smiling at herself in the mirror as she turns from side to side. “I really like it now too! I couldn’t decide before because like you said, the style was a little different, but yes, I really like it now.”

I am smiling as well. I’m glad I came clean, even though it was hard for me. I feel happy— liberated. I also feel happy for this woman.  Sometimes the kindest thing  we can be is honest.


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