Since I worked for one miserable Christmas season at a mall lingerie store back in college, I know for a fact that a good zillion of these after-Christmas shoppers are returning boxes containing some combination of cheap lace, satin and g-string underwear. My month of indentured holiday servitude taught me that if you put a red lace bustier-and-thong set in the front window of a lingerie store at Christmas time, 85 percent of all males who pass that window will find themselves helplessly drawn through the doors in a quest to purchase the bustier set for their girlfriends or wives.
“Can I help you, sir?” I must have asked a good 20,000 red-faced men that fateful Christmas of 19(garble, cough).
“Uh, I want to buy….” Most of the guys would stammer and wheeze a bit before finally getting to the point. “…that,” they’d say at last, pointing to the bustier as if it were a sign that said, “GUARANTEED SEX, BUDDY! HAPPY FREAKIN’ HOLIDAYS!”
“OK, what size do you need?” This question almost always threw them for a loop. “Well, I don’t know. I guess she’s, uh, about your size.” I’d sigh and pull a medium from the rack. I seriously doubted that this Shoney’s Big Boy look-a-like had a wife who coincidentally also was short-waisted and had no hips to speak of, nor was I buying that same line from the 73-year-old man with the cane, the pimply faced teenage boy or the Harley Davidson aficionado. The odds just weren’t good. As I handed over bustier after bustier, I’d imagine some elderly woman or mother-of-seven pulling it slowly from its hot pink gift box on Christmas morning and realizing with horror that her husband clearly expected her to actually wear it, like maybe even that night.
Ho, ho, ho indeed.
Of course, that was none of my business. But on second thought, maybe it was. After all, I did have to report for duty extra early on the morning of Dec. 26 to help the other sales associates cart all of our festive holiday slutwear to the back of the store. From the impossibly low-cut negligees to the barely-there baby doll gowns, every single garish bit of fluff was marked for clearance and thrown in bargain bins or shoved unceremoniously onto sales racks.
Once that was done, it was time to move to the front the merchandise we’d kept hidden during the holidays. Cozy flannel pajamas, long nightgowns with high, buttoned necks, terry robes and waffle-weave long johns were carefully placed onto store window mannequins that only moments before had featured gold and silver-sequined push-up bras. Within a few hours, the shop that once evoked Santa’s naughtiest fantasy had been transformed into Mrs. Claus’s movie marathon wardrobe.
By the time the store opened, a silent and angry-looking horde of women already had formed outside our spray-frosted windows. Once we rolled up the chain link gate, they tromped over our sexy leopard-print carpet en masse, forming three long lines at the registers. For the rest of that day, I checked hundreds and hundreds of flimsy teddies, bustiers and merry widows back into the store, feeling too guilty to look most of these women in the eye. I felt somehow responsible for the obvious trauma the sweet-looking grandma had endured upon opening a gift bag filled with crotchless panties, and I could only imagine the icy terror that must have coursed through the veins of the woman carrying a weeks-old baby, who was grimly returning a see-through bodysuit. With shame, I realized that I had been a willing accomplice in ruining Christmas for thousands of women who (clearly, by the looks of some of the returns) had, as a result, spent many long, torturous hours in their bathrooms that holiday evening, trying to squeeze their way into red velvet corsets that were several sizes too small.
On the other hand, the oversized robes and fleece loungewear were selling like hotcakes. In fact, the mere presence of a fuzzy slipper display beside each register seemed to calm our angry customers considerably. I began to think that perhaps all of these merchandise exchanges were a necessary cleansing ritual to mark the passage of time; each marabou bra tossed in the returns bin was another reminder that the fantasy of Christmas had ended, while each set of fleece pajamas signified a return to reality, and a hard, cold, sex-free winter.
And that’s when it dawned on me why some guy invented Valentine’s Day.
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