You can see them out there every weekday morning, in wrinkled skirts and shirts, treating the city’s Gaps and Club Monacos like their own walk-in closets. They tend to arrive early and wait outside for the doors to open. They may or may not be feeling guilty about what they did the night before, but either way they cannot show up for work wearing yesterday’s clothes.
So they do what they have to do: They buy a morning-after outfit.
Maybe it is a good thing that Manhattan has become one giant mall. Banana Republic, the Gap, Old Navy, H&M, French Connection and Club Monaco–these chain stores, with their cheap, disposable styles, indifferent salespeople, early-ish opening times and liberal return policies, allow one to sleep in someone else’s bed, then head straight to work without having to face one’s sniggering colleagues while dressed in last night’s pants.
Most mornings, when the Gap across the street from Condé Nast headquarters at 4 Times Square opens at 9 a.m., there’s a line at the door. On a recent Friday, Yarid Quiles opened the doors for a frenzied, slightly shamefaced woman who quickly bought a pair of black pants (reduced from $48 to $29). “She came in nervous, looking for black pants,” said Ms. Quiles. “She had me steam them for her, and she wore them out.”
After getting lucky on the Upper West Side on a recent Thursday night, a 23-year-old investigator for the city (who preferred to remain anonymous) rode the subway straight down to the Gap by his office near Wall Street. He was there waiting when the store opened at 9:30 a.m. He bought a $45 pair of khakis to replace the smoke-saturated Diesel jeans he had worn out the night before. He hated his new pants, but they got him through the day. Three days later he returned them: a good rental. It even gave him a business idea. “The real urban fetch would be if they went and fetched me my pants from my apartment,” he said.
Viviana Morel, a saleswoman at the Banana Republic on 59th Street and Lexington Avenue, said that she sells morning-after outfits “almost every day.” Women dash in at 9 a.m. and will spend $98 on pants, $118 on a jacket and $48 on a top. They ask Ms. Morel to run their credit card through the machine while they change into the new outfit. They sign the slip on the way out. They rarely care how much it costs. The morning-after outfit, like a last-minute birthday gift, is worth it.
“At 9 a.m., when we open, they’re supposed to be at work and are in a rush,” said Roy Morin, a personal shopper at the same Banana Republic. “They want a complete outfit, sometimes even shoes and a belt.”
The best morning-after Banana Republic store can be found in Grand Central Terminal; it opens at 8 a.m., and is conveniently located for that occasional trip back from somebody else’s bed in New Rochelle or Yonkers.
People try to make excuses, but the salespeople know. A saleswoman at the Banana Republic on Fifth Avenue and 50th Street recalled selling a $300 morning-after ensemble–skirt, top and underwear–to one flushed young lady. “She said she’d stayed with a friend,” the saleswoman said, “but the underwear kind of gave her away.”
Of course, some people–the ones with real moxie–don’t even bother. A publicist in her early 20’s described what she does when she wakes up in a college boy’s bed. “You go into his closet and get the college T-shirt,” she said. “You wear black pants, his college shirt, high heels and stride around the office proudly.” Does it matter which college? “If he went to a shitty college, why would I sleep with him?” she said. She wasn’t kidding.
Walk-of-shamers–especially repeat offenders, because it does get expensive after a while–regularly line up outside H&M on Fifth Avenue, waiting for the cheap Swedish clothing store to open at 10 a.m. On June 23, just after 10, all four floors were packed. Tanii Chin, who works on the men’s floor, said that men toting briefcases swarm her area every morning in search of new outfits so no one at work will know they never made it home the previous night.
“They ask for help in matching ties to shirts,” said Ms. Chin. Sometimes they don’t even bother with the old outfit. “Half the time we throw out their old clothes. They don’t want them.”
The Amnesia Tour
“Will you be the one, Joey Ramone, who’ll save me from the monsters of the world? Especially loneliness, emptiness, bitterness, dryness of the c—?”
Karen Lillis paused and addressed her small audience. “Can everyone hear me?”
It was a Wednesday night at the Korova Milk Bar in the East Village, and she was reading from her self-published novel, i scorpion: foul belly-crawler of the desert .
Dressed in what she called her “Victorian vampire” costume, with her thick black hair piled up atop her head, Ms. Lillis–29-year-old Greenpoint resident, bisexual Goth, endangered bohemian–struggled to read her story of self-discovery to an inattentive audience.
Most of the bar’s customers weren’t there for the reading; they listened politely for a few minutes before shuffling to the bar, trying to look invisible as the din drowned out her words.
“I didn’t want to be a dick and cross in front of her,” said patron Anthony Cus-umano, who was reclining in a vinyl chaise. “But all these other people did, so I did, too.” He smiled weakly. “They have really comfy chairs here.”
After the reading, Ms. Lillis sat down to sip a little Sambuca and talk about her book tour.
In March, she parted with $370 she’d earned as a part-time book shelver at St. Mark’s Books, bought a 45-day, all-you-can-ride Greyhound bus ticket and set off on a cross-country pilgrimage to prove, basically to herself, that “writing and story-telling, publishing conglomerates be damned, are indeed alive and well in this country.” She called it “The United States of Amnesia Tour.” Reading in punk clubs, coffeehouses and the occasional sympathetic bookstore, Ms. Lillis traveled from Athens, Ga., to Santa Cruz, Calif., searching for an underground– any underground.
Her search was not very successful. By her own estimate, her average audience numbered “anywhere from two to, uh, 12.”
But the thin turnout did not dampen her fervor. Despite the bleary-eyed indifference she encountered at the Globe bar in Athens, she blasted them.
“I had a bad vibe from the start,” she said. “I didn’t look up the whole time and I was kind of shouting, because I felt, ‘Okay, you guys don’t really want to hear this and I don’t want to read it to you anymore, but I have to go through with it.'”
Things went a little better in New Orleans, at the Faubourg Marigny Book Store.
“Are you familiar with the term ‘squatter’?” she said. “Well, it was like, two queer girls, two straight guys. One of the squatter guys had escaped from an insane asylum. He was on one or multiple drugs, either insane drugs or Ecstasy, or both. He was definitely on something that was making him lose all inhibitions. He was totally hitting on me and couldn’t stop touching me. He would lean in toward me saying, ‘I wanna kiss you. Please just a little kiss.’ So finally I did the diva thing and said, ‘You may kiss my hand.’ So he takes my hand and starts eating it.”
Eventually, the other squatter escorted the drugged one out. “So then I read to three people–my cousin and the two girls–and then one of the girls left because the guy had passed out on the sidewalk and needed help. But I really felt like it was a great reading.”
Night after night of this began to wear Ms. Lillis down. In April she returned to New York, dispirited and ready to compromise. “At this point I’m so broke that I do want a publisher to pick up the book and give me some money,” she said.
She recalled the end of her tour: a three-day, three-night marathon from San Francisco to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. “I realized that I was on the bus the same amount of time that Christ was dead,” she said. “I got on the bus on Holy Thursday night and got off on Easter Sunday.”
Over the din of the Milk Bar, she asked a question of her friend Dale Tucker, who’d come to the reading to support her: “Who was it that said, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'”
Mr. Tucker looked at her like she was nuts, then blurted incredulously, “Jesus!”
Ms. Lillis took another sip of Sambuca. “I thought so,” she said, nodding.