published Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Kennedy: Ann Taylor, please don’t arrest me

If you work in the media and you embarrass yourself in public, you will almost certainly wind up humiliated.

Here in the newsroom we sign an ethics policy that says, basically: I do solemnly promise not do anything stupid enough to wind up on the 11 o’clock news, so help me God.

This pledge crossed my mind last Saturday as I stood, nearly trembling, inside a fitting room at the Ann Taylor women’s clothing store in Hamilton Place mall. It was just me and some curvy-fit jeans, a nice wool-blend sweater and a cute little boat-neck tunic.

Oh, and my wife of 15 years was in there, too.

The headline that flashed into my mind was: “Red-faced editor found lurking in women’s fitting room at mall.”

Against my better judgment, and with a palpable sense of dread, I stood up to my wife. (Gentlemen, you risk your life when you distract a woman from an Ann Taylor, 40-percent-off-your-entire-purchase-today-only sale.)

“Um, baby, I don’t think I should be in here,” I whispered, as she tried on another pair of jeans.

“What?” she said.

“I don’t think I should be inside this dressing room with you,” I said, raising the pitch of my voice to sound like a female.

“Then leave,” she said. “How do these jeans look?”

Oh, believe me, I would dearly love to leave, I thought. But think about it, the only thing worse than a man in a women’s fitting room at an Ann Taylor store is a man emerging alone from a women’s fitting room into a room full of Ann Taylor customers. And now, ladies, for your Saturday matinee enjoyment, please welcome to our stage female impersonator Edna the Editor!

Actually, I’m not sure that men are even supposed to be inside an Ann Taylor store. If you go into the women’s clothing department at Dillard’s, they always have a “man chair.” This is where men doze off and wake up at one-minute intervals to automatically say the words, “Looks great, baby. You should buy it.”

At Ann Taylor, I saw no man chair. For all I know, they might have a sign at the front door that says: No food, no drinks, no husbands.

Here’s how this dressing-room drama got started. Years ago, my wife and I were shopping at a unisex clothing store; I think it was the Gap or Old Navy. My wife took an armful of clothes to a fitting room, and the clerk said to me: “You can go in there with her if you want.”

I was game. I could give my wife the required feedback more quickly, and we could still get home in time for the kickoff of the Steelers game.

Ever since, my wife has wanted me to be in the fitting room with her to vote on the clothes she is trying on. When you get about one day a year to shop together without the kids, efficiency is key.

I sometimes beg off the fitting-room invitation, but I didn’t want to stand in the middle of the Ann Taylor store all by myself either. Ann Taylor is clearly a woman’s world. Complete strangers walk by one another and say things like: “You look SO cute in that shell.” If a guy tried that at a men’s store, he’d get a broken nose.

I have thought about this problem deeply for the last few days, and I have come up with a thinking man’s guide to fitting-room etiquette.

Here it is men: You should never go into the dressing room with your wife at a clothing store where the sales associates wear pumps and pantyhose.

Conversely, you should only go into dressing rooms with your wife at stores where the clerks wear bulky, cable-knit sweaters with sleeves that hang down over their thumbs.

Got it?

A friend at work was in a department-store dressing room recently when an addled husband — responding to his wife’s loud command to bring her more jeans — dashed into the women’s dressing area and threw a pair of pants over the wrong door, landing at my friend’s feet.

“I’m not your wife!” my friend shouted back.

Bless his heart, the poor guy was probably scared to death.

Wives, you all really need to get together and figure this dressing-room problem out.

Otherwise, the next time you ask your man, “Does this make me look fat,” you might not like the answer.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MarkKennedyTFP or on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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