Vogue la Galère

Mary South


I want a man who is vulnerable in some fashion but only if he also feels bad about it. My husband was what I'd call hirsute if I was feeling fancy, really fucking hairy if I was crass. He had an animal pelt of back hair and blinded everyone by wearing white T-shirts at the beach. "Just strip," I'd say, "No one cares." "I care," he'd reply, and I secretly liked that he cared and sat uncomfortable in the sun.

The last man was bald and proud. "Scientific studies have shown that bald men tend to be more sensitive," he said over dim sum, "Maybe because we have so much more cerebrum showing." He was heaping his plate with egg rolls that reminded me of his eggy beige head, and I decided then that I had to let him go.

The man before him was a hippie with a lot of junky tattoos. "Don't look," he'd insist during sex, "Don't look at my tattoos," and I'd look. He wasn't as concerned about it on pot and I became a nag for all the wrong reasons trying to stop him getting high. "Conflict is just an opportunity for intimacy," he told me once, and then he cheated on me. I guess I didn't figure he meant it literally and with someone else.

My husband is dead, and you can't get more vulnerable than dead. Or is it the other way around?

I've been picking up these men at the department store where I work. When I started off in womenswear I never got laid. In womenswear, men need to be the pursuers. The ruffled lace of brassieres and panties—clam pink, labial—reminds them of vaginas. Satin to the touch conjures skin softened by estrogen. With such stimulation, a woman who's already ready is overwhelming. Now I'm in menswear, with much better results. A woman can be the aggressor in menswear.

I've had dalliances in the dressing rooms a couple of times. "I love what a demanding pervert you are," a man said after, tucking his cock back into his trousers. "This is the twenty-first century. A woman should be confident in what she wants."

"I love your shyness," another said after. "You wallflowers and shrinking violets are usually overlooked, but you're the best."

A man prefers a certain kind of woman and he thinks that makes him a feminist. Another man prefers a different certain kind of woman and he thinks that makes him a feminist. Neither of them are, in fact, feminists.

There's a technique to it, a woman's seduction of a man, despite what men say about men being hot for it whenever. I perfected mine with the aid of customer surveys. "Excuse me, sir," I'll say, "I'm conducting a survey. What best describes your personal style: urchin, inmate, or attaché?" A variation on this is, "What type of print puts you in the mood for making love: toile, paisley, or houndstooth?"

Houndstooth, I think, it may as well have been defibrillator. "What sounds least terrifying: defibrillator, intravenous, or anesthesia?" In the hospital, they asked my husband, "How would you describe your level of pain: distracting, intense, or unbearable?"

Wives, mothers, girlfriends, paramours come in, too. I sell them wallets, ties, watches, aftershave, briefcases, cuff links, socks, cologne, cashmere scarves and lamb's wool gloves. The products are ropey and taut, precise, the way muscles appear in anatomical drawings. We are very clever at presenting the illusion that there is no excess in a man's life in menswear.

But this illusion is often an obstacle to sales. Our female clientele doesn't know what to buy. A game I have while I'm helping a woman to decide is imagining what her man looks like naked. If she's perusing ties, that means he's fat. Belts mean he's thin. Cuff links, he's younger than her. Watches, they're married. Wallets, she's afraid there's another woman. A woman only buys cologne for a man if she's in love.

Wrapping a purchase is an erotic, essential part of the experience. I fold her item in our branded tissue paper with tape and place it delicately in our branded bags. Carry your goods into the world with the utmost tenderness, is what I must impart.

My husband's personal effects were returned me in a plastic freezer bag—the kind you use for sandwiches or leftovers—unlovingly, at the funeral home. That's what they called them, personal effects, which both is and isn't personal, the way store-bought cologne both is and isn't personal.

"One day a mortician is going to give this back to you in a refrigeration bag," I want to say when a woman is really dallying.

Instead I'll suggest the navy. It's so versatile. He could wear it anywhere.