Buckhead Tales: Shopping With Mom

As a child I always hated shopping for clothes. I still do. Back in the late 1950s and throughout the 60s I was an unwilling participant in many grueling expeditions as my mom would take me shopping for clothes. This typically occurred in August of every year with the sudden announcement of “Time to buy clothes for the new school year.” I never understood why it was necessary to start off a new year at Sarah Smith Elementary or Dykes High with a new ensemble, but I guess it made it sense to mom. She called them “outfits” and usually that meant I was to be dragged all over Buckhead searching for new shirts, pants, underwear, socks and shoes.

At first mom liked to take me to Buckhead Men’s Shop & Boy’s Wear to be outfitted in new fall fashions but after Lenox Square opened in 1959 the hunt moved there. She worked part-time in the drapery department at Rich’s and got some type of employee discount. If memory serves me well that became the primary source for my clothes until I reached my teen rebel status and refused to wear any new clothes. Mom gave up at that point but in the early years she guided me with a strong hand in the pursuit of what we called “new duds.”

My dad never went along on these frightful adventures, but you can bet he provided his own type of special counsel. His input consisted solely on the types of shoes I needed. He insisted that I must possess “sensible” shoes with “good arch support.” He was very concerned about my arches being supported.

Of course, the shoes had to be tightly laced and as soon as they were purchased they would be taken to a shoe repair shop on Pharr Road in Buckhead for the addition of heavy metal taps to keep the heels from wearing down. Those shoes could probably have lasted a good 20 or 30 years if I wasn’t outgrowing them every year. I bet there is a crate in a basement or attic somewhere near Chastain Park full of my old indestructible footwear.

There was only one place I was taken for the annual shoe fitting and that was to the Thomas Boland Lee store in “downtown” Buckhead. We loved to go there because they had one of those X-Ray contraptions that allowed you to bombard your feet with massive amounts of radiation. You could look through a slot and see your foot bones glowing like the aurora borealis. They called the device the Foot-O-Scope. I guess it was some ruse to pretend they were using science to guarantee a good fitting but for us it was pure fun. We crammed every possible body part that would fit into that thing and held down the red button until some clerk started yelling at us.

A Foot-O-Scope, also called a Fluoroscope, which used X-Rays to aid in fitting shoes.

There is no telling how much radiation our little bodies were exposed to. I guess the employees got a pretty good dose too. Later, they outlawed these dangerous contraptions. I guess they didn’t like us kids having fun, just like when they took away the truck that sprayed DDT up and down Wieuca Terrace in the summertime. We used to follow that truck on our bikes and zig-zag through the white cloud, but that is a tale for another day.

By 8th grade I was in high school and had begun to develop my own pathetic sense of fashion. One of my buddies, Marvin Jackson, had dropped a major hint on me when he whispered, “the socks must match the shirt.” For the rest of the school year when I wore a yellow shirt I donned yellow socks. Red socks meant a red shirt. You get the picture. When I would pass Marvin in the hall he would look me up and down before bestowing a silent nod of approval.

I strode those halls like a king. It wasn’t until later that I began to wonder if he was playing a joke on me.

Some of my buddies were very stylish. Blair Bartlett and Mark Berglund led the pack in that regard. I couldn’t hold a candle to them with their madras shirts, Bass Weejuns, and crew socks. Hell, they even wore cologne.

I hated shopping for clothes with mom. I had no interest in going into the little booths and trying on the clothes and then modeling for her. If there was a sales agent nearby they would usually say that I looked “right sharp.”

It was torture and I can only imagine the experience was not exactly a holiday for mom.

As the years went by she gave up and would just bring home giant stacks of clothes for me to try on in the comfort and privacy of my bedroom. By 10th or 11th grade there was no more shopping with mom. I had a uniform that rarely varied. Blue jeans, desert boots, short sleeve shirt. The pants had to be Levi’s, the shoes were Clark, and the shirt was Lacoste with the logo torn off. If I was going out on one or two of the dates I had in high school I might be tempted to slip on a pair of corduroy bell bottoms just to add a little style to my swagger.

Today I’m still not too much of a fashion leader. Now it’s my wife, not my mom, that bares the torture whenever it becomes necessary to shop for clothes. We went to a mall a few weeks back looking for pants and shirts because in some mysterious fashion all my current clothes seemed to be shrinking. About 20 minutes into the saga I felt a panic attack coming on and had to flee to the safety of the parking lot.

I probably need to do some of that psychodrama therapy that helps reverse self-defeating behaviors. Maybe I’ll try to recreate those original Buckhead clothing and shoe stores and ease my way into them under the careful and watchful eye of 2 or 3 therapists. I could practice mindfulness while someone is scorching my feet with the Foot-O-Scope and do a little Pilates while being barricaded inside a tiny changing room. Yeah, that might just do it. Twice a week for maybe 10 years and shopping might become a blissful experience.

In the meantime, I plan on just wearing my old clothes until they fall apart.

My mom has gone to her Great Reward in the Sky, so it is too late to apologize to her for the torment I showered on her when she was just trying to make me look presentable. If I could go shopping with her one more time at Lenox Square I promise I would be good. I would go into as many stores as she wanted. I’d even try on khaki pants and sensible shoes. I wouldn’t rush, tap my toe or roll my eyes. I’d just enjoy being with mom on a long lazy afternoon and laughing at her sense of humor. The Old Masters said that haste is of the Devil, and I tend to agree. Just let me have one more shopping trip with her and I’d patiently try on everything without complaint and even ask with enthusiasm, “Mom, how does this look?”

Jim and his mother in their first picture together

Jim Tate
Author, Buckhead Tales

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