A few weeks back, I met my buddy Chris at Nepenthes, an unusually adventurous men’s boutique on a nondescript block in New York City’s Garment District. He tried on some five-pound wool pants, and I gave my advice: I’m not letting you leave without those. I tried on a red fringed coat seemingly made from an old blanket, and he gave his advice: You can’t live without it, $3,000 price tag be damned. We left the store (he bought the pants; I didn’t buy the coat), headed to a bar and chatted over a couple of beers. It was a great hang. I don’t want to pretend that this was some sort of radical activity. The man-goes-shopping caricature – the boyfriend posted up on the couch at Anthropologie, scrolling through Instagram and praying to be anywhere but there – is blessedly long dead. I know guys who are Hall of Fame online shoppers and others who include dudes from the Barneys sales floor in their wedding party. But shopping is still largely a clandestine activity, conducted like a solo military raid: Get in, get jeans, get out.
But you wouldn’t put $1,000 on the Jets to cover without talking it through with a pal. So why would you buy a pair of high-waisted trousers, the kind that might completely change your life but also might make you look like Pee-wee Herman, without consulting an equivalent authority? I’m not talking about a sales associate, who, despite his genial demeanour, has a vested interest in your walking out of his store with a pair of pants you definitely won’t wear. I’m talking about someone whose opinion you can trust. I’m talking about a shopping buddy.
Think of him as an insurance policy. Shopping alone is fraught: Do I look good in these jeans? Maybe, but I’m also trying to figure out the answer before I have to engage in light banter with the staff. If I’m with a friend? He’ll tell me if I’m making a mistake.
But this isn’t just about risk avoidance – it’s about having a sounding board and an egger-on. The joy of shopping is in conjuring an imaginary version of yourself, the version that has the stones to rock a referee-stripe cardigan. It’s hard to summon that guy when all you have to go on is your own sad reflection in a warped store mirror. When you have a friend telling you that vertical stripes are slimming? Meet me at the cash register.
This doesn’t always work perfectly: Nothing I could say would have swayed Colin from buying that pair of sea-foam green jeans. He really liked them. But I wouldn’t have bought that preposterous gold chain – the one that makes me look like a low-grade member of the Jewish Mafia – if he hadn’t been there to spur me along. And now I get to carry myself with the air of a dude named Chaim who just might be sitting on significant gold reserves.
It’s all about trust and encouragement. It’s about learning to laugh at yourself and at your friend’s belief that he can pull off clown pants. It’s about faith in the fraternal bond and in the almighty power of the turtleneck. And if that’s not the point of friendship, I’m not sure what is.