Without even thinking, I lifted it, the candy pink knitted two-piece, from the rail and took it directly to the fitting room to try it on.
As I waited in the queue behind twinkly tanned teenagers, I thought stuff like, ‘I never shop in River Island. How odd, that on the day I do decide to come in, I find this amazing candy pink knitted two-piece!’
I thought stuff like, ‘I feel so good about this. I am definitely buying this candy pink knitted two-piece. It looks like it was made for me. This feels serendipitous or like fate or whatever. Fashion destiny. I can feel it.’
It’s true. Aside from a very brief period in the late 90s when my friend worked there and I’d pop in and have her dress me up in hideous sequinned party frocks for a laugh, River Island is never on my shopping route. It’s not that I have some deep-seated hatred of River Island or anything. I feel absolutely nothing about River Island.
But, this woman in the job centre, I think it was her. I think she ruined River Island for me forever.
When I was 16, I went to the job centre to learn how to get a Saturday job like a grown up who earns their own cds/nail varnish/cans of Coke money. I just wanted to read the notice boards. I thought that was how people got jobs. I didn’t really understand how the job centre worked, but since I wanted to find a job and the job centre was called The Job Centre, I thought it a pretty reasonable place to start.
There was a woman there sat behind a desk. She made me sit down in front of her and answer questions. Because I was scared of her, I did sit down and did as I was told and prayed she wouldn’t call my mum or the police. The woman had no reason to do either of those things really, because I hadn’t done anything wrong, but because she was talking to me like maybe I had done something wrong, I felt confused and nervous.
The woman made me fill in application forms for jobs she hadn’t really fully explained to me and before I had a chance to say, ‘I really just came in to read the notice boards!’ or, ‘I don’t think I want to sell fitted kitchens in MFI’, she was talking with someone on the phone and confirming details of a job interview she’d taken upon herself to arrange for me. After she hung up the phone, I was promptly dispatched to meet the store manager of River Island in The Forge.
The Forge is a big glass shopping centre in the East End of Glasgow. At the time, I lived nowhere fucking near The Forge. Not only did I have no desire to spend an hour on the stinking 61 bus, navigating my way from Maryhill to Parkhead every weekend, I definitely didn’t want to spend the rest of my time working in River Island. As it turned out, the manager was very nice and he offered me a job. Back then, River Island shop staff had to wear navy blue suits and name badges. I was excited to have a job, but I felt sad that it was in River Island. In The Forge. And that I would have to wear the disgusting blue suit. I went home to think about my first proper job offer and consider my options.
I called the River Island manager man the next day and told him I couldn’t accept his kind offer because a) I didn’t want to apply for the job in the first place and I was forced to by the scary woman from the job centre and b) I was offended by the polyester skirt he wanted me to wear and that really, if River Island wanted to position themselves as a fashion forward brand deserving of its place on the high street, then the business would do well to consider more carefully just how inspiring those navy blue suits really were and what message they might send to a customer looking for reliable fashion advice and ‘hot looks’ shop floor inspiration.
(I didn’t say any of those things. I told him his shop was too far away but that if any vacancies came up in the Argyle Street store, I’d be grateful if he’d consider my application).
Anyway, back to the candy pink knitted two-piece. When I reached the front of the fitting room queue, the fitting room lady gave me a yellow plastic disc with the number 2 on it. As she counted how many items I wanted to try on (2), she looked at the candy pink knitted two-piece with disgust. I thought this was quite unprofessional of her, given that she is supposed to be championing River Island and encouraging people to buy the clothes they sell there. But at the same time, the River Island fitting room lady thinking the candy pink knitted two-piece was horrible made me want it even more. Her curled lip and screwed up nose reassured me that what I was dealing with here was no typical River Island product and for that very reason, I should definitely buy it. The alternate puffy vs dimpled texture of the woollen stitches felt brilliant under my fingertips and as I held the candy pink knitted two-piece over my arm, I noticed how well the candy pink matched my pale blue skin.
When it was my turn, I went into a fitting room, pulled the curtain and tried on the candy pink knitted two-piece.
Accentuating folds and ripples I was happiest pretending I didn’t have and clinging extra closely to ones I didn’t even know I had, the candy pink knitted two-piece turned out to be a proper dick. It over-emphasised my lopsidedness and it drew attention to a weird, weighty, wobbly bit between my waist and my hips. I examined myself from slightly different angles. None were forgiving. This was the least flattering candy pink knitted two-piece ever made. Stupid River Island. What was I thinking?
I stood up straight and continued to stare at myself in the mirror. My body looked so absurd I started to chuckle. A low, slightly manic chuckle. Lumpy, I stood there.
I thought stuff like, ‘I look like blancmange’.
I started to laugh, alone in the fitting room – but quiet and whispery, airy laughing. I wanted my husband to come laugh with me but he’d had enough of River Island ages ago and had taken himself off outside to smoke rollies in the street. And so I reached for my phone. And I took a photo.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this fitting room adventure turned out to be the beginning of my Ill-Fitting Rooms project and the photo of the candy pink knitted two-piece would feature in the first volume.