Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Style-Free Guide to Shopping

I love to shop. For groceries. Browsing rows of food in my favorite stores and the occasional trip to a new establishment pleases some very practical part of my brain. And I like to eat. I have no planned budget and the grocery store is one place where I'll gladly splurge on something that looks yummy.

To a lesser degree, I enjoy a trip to a greenhouse or plant nursery. That's more of a window shopping deal with the odd bargain plant purchase a rare happening.

A bad picture of what Gabe's looked like when
I was a kid. I found this photo on Yelp.
Then, at the bottom of my list is what you might just call "shopping." I've never had the time or desire for the typical mall-type shopping for clothes. Frankly, I hate it. My sense of fashion froze in 1998. I want low rise pants and flannel shirts. I have no use for anything that isn't comfortable. Cold shoulder shirt? You can keep that. I'd appreciate if all of my body parts could be heated and cooled at the same level, thanks.

Fortunately, there are very few people in my life that try to fight against my lack of style and aversion to fashion consumerism. My husband and daughter understand and appreciate my theory that the mall is basically a museum. You go there on a rainy day and walk around. You can look at the nice things and marvel at their varying levels of expense, but you're not there to buy anything. When you're ready to buy something, you go to Gabes.

Photo from
A modern day Gabe's checkout counter.

My relationship with Gabe's (originally known as Gabriel Brothers) goes back to early childhood. The store, on the corner of West Chestnut and Beau in Washington, PA, was grungy and lit with the harshest florescents back in the early eighties. Price tags were held in place with straight pins. If you weren't careful, you could injure yourself and bleed on the merchandise.

To go "Gabing"  in the 80s was an adventure in the slightly irregular. Pants with different length legs, zipper failures, and things that were just plain weird were in ample supply. My sister once bought a leather bomber jacket for my dad as a Christmas present. He really liked it until the day he wore it over a white shirt that was soon turned pink by the jacket's less than color fast liner. Dad wasn't too keen on Gabe's after that. Whole, normal clothes were hidden among the racks and with patience and a little luck, acceptable outfits could be found. The effort was rewarded at the cash register where my entire school year wardrobe would ring up for less than $100.

Gabe's was frowned upon in the social hierarchy at my school. Everything I wore was from Gabe's with the exception of hand-me-downs. One day, my friend and I enjoyed a pomegranate from my lunch by popping the seeds and squirting the bright red juice everywhere. My friend eagerly participated in our game until some of the juice got on her shirt. Then she was mad.

"It's okay," I said. "I got some one my shirt too." I pointed down at my blue hypercolor sweatshirt that turned pink when I was hot.
"It's not the same, Joey," she spat. "This is a REAL shirt. Your shirt is from GABES."
Her shirt was from Benetton. I'd never crossed the threshold of that store and I remember thinking, "a shirt is a shirt."

I'll admit, the experience hurt my feelings a little. It was in the fourth grade. Not that I remember.

Gabe's quality improved over time. By high school, I was buying real Levis and L.E.I. jeans. Due to some licensing agreement, Gabe's would cut the tags off any name brand clothes they sold. I wore wide belts to cover the slashed label remnants on my waistband.

Shopping Gabe's is a completely different experience these days. They ditched the straight pins at some point in the 90s. The Washington, PA store moved to Route 19 and eventually received a makeover. It looks similar to a TJ Maxx or Marshall's, but the prices are still the lowest around. They even leave the tags on all the clothes, though sometimes there's a black marker slash over some of the name brand labels. Gabe's now operates 61 stores in Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Last weekend, I took Julia to buy pants. At the present moment she is as adverse to clothes shopping as I am. We needed the one stop, easy Gabe's experience. We spent about an hour. She found seven pairs of pants and two shirts. The total cost was $112.

She found things that fit well and were comfortable. She bought one flannel shirt. It's unlikely her chosen store will bring her any criticism. I've yet to run into anyone in our area that even knows about Gabe's. We have one about a half hour away. They're really missing out.