To me, the mall is a hallowed place. It’s where my nana and I spent endless afternoons when I was a kid, and where my friends and I congregated after school to exercise our (false senses of) independence. The mall and I are emotionally involved. I love the roaming, the hunt for sales and bargains, and the fact that in the winter, I am shielded from snow and wind long enough to forget that I have to eventually go back outside. Which is why it’s hard to accept how much I hate it in February.
I call it the Sad Time. Weeks after Christmas shopping has ended and the novelty of Boxing Day has worn off, February leaves us with the remnants of our past. Stores promise deals, but only on the ugliest and most stretched-out sweaters. Chains bribe us with coupons, but for pieces that have no place in our future. Sale selections are picked over and messy, reminding us of how desperate we are to fill the postholiday void with anything even remotely marked down. And so finding a fuchsia blouse with missing buttons on clearance feels like a victory, as if what we lack in sunlight and warmth we can make up for in a top, cursed though it may be. (And it is cursed: You will never replace the missing buttons, and will discover one morning that the sleeves are two very different lengths.)
If you’ve ever worked retail, you’ll know that employees loathe anything left over from the preceding year, and how browsing clearance racks quickly becomes an exercise in humiliation. One year as a keyholder in a clothing store, I watched as a graphic T-shirt I paid $30 for in November was marked down to $1.99 as a last-ditch attempt to move it. I believe I was wearing it the day we marked it down, and have never emotionally recovered. At the same time, if you’ve aimlessly wandered through the mall, you’ll know that current sales racks consist of nothing but terrible things.
Making matters worse, by February – sometimes even as early as Boxing Day, depending on the clothing chain – we are inundated with “holiday” (read: vacation) or small “pre-spring” collections. As if we can will and wear our way into spring, as opposed to what actually happens: We wait weeks to debut our new light sweaters, and wear them for less than a week before the weather begins its fast descent into hell, otherwise known as summer. Last year, I bought a denim jacket I believed would be my April-May staple. I wore it three times before accepting that more than one layer of clothing would be the cause of my sweaty death. At least it was on sale.
It’s my own fault. I perpetuate the cycle. I, while covered in slush and salt stains, entertain spring collections as a source of hope. I use them as a reminder that if I do buy a bargain-discount sweater, I’ll have 48 hours to wear it before the cherry blossoms show up and scold me for buying something I didn’t need, didn’t want, and will never put on again. I treat spring pieces as proof that, as bleak as January and February may be, one day I’ll be so desperate for cold temperatures that I’ll begin counting down to the return of winter. (This is usually sometime in July, while cursing summer’s own Sad Time and using the mall as my own air-conditioned palace.)
But my resentment towards February trumps any positivity the latest spring clothes may bring. It’s foolish to add to your wardrobe when you’ve yet to purge it before the next season, and to buy full-priced pieces you won’t wear for weeks. And try as I might, I will always be reminded of the reality I’ll face after abandoning the warm embrace of an indoor shopping centre.
I know it’s not the mall’s fault. The mall is trying its best. It uses its marketing and display windows to convince us that all isn’t lost, and that while we may face the same discounted pieces over and over, they merely represent the larger process of getting rid of the old to welcome the new. The mall uses what’s next to entice us; to show us that, with spring, life finds a way. But just because I know something doesn’t mean I can compartmentalize my feelings about it. Which is why the mall and I are enemies in February. Unless I find another jean jacket that I just know I will wear a million times in May.