Retailers Chase Hightailers: Fleece Is Very In This Fall

“Mopping,” “boosting,” “pulling a Winona”-call it what you will, shoplifting has become the new hot transgression du jour . In the Ice Storm 70′s, we had key parties and wife-swapping: Today’s thrill-seekers are more apt to steal clothes for kicks than discard them for pleasure. And it’s getting worse.

In the past, retailers have resigned themselves to losing roughly 2 percent of their merchandise to thieves: This is the industry standard for what is politely known as “shrink.” Over $30 billion worth of merch is shrunk every year, and shrink isn’t shrinking-it’s exploding! In 2002, the National Retail Security Survey reported that 32 percent of retail losses resulted from shoplifting, as compared with 30.68 percent the year before.

If groovy clothes are cheaper than ever-H&M, bonjour! -what can possibly be fueling this surge in grabby criminal behavior? Is it the fault of acquisitive celebrities who taunt us with their Dior frocks, Balenciaga bags, Seven jeans and Manolos, feeding our culture with a stop-at-nothing materialism? Is it the absurd and infuriating prices of the above that are driving us to vengeful thievery? Is the increase in shrink simply the result of a proliferation in the number of doped-up dolly birds-you know who you are!-who have nothing else to do but wander around the stores gobbling tranks and looking for naughty things to do?

I grilled the security guards at the fanciest emporiums in Manhattan about the new rip-off rage, and discovered that how people were shoplifting was a lot more interesting than speculating about why they were shoplifting.

Crotching

Immortalized by the late actor Divine, who secreted a massive steak under her skirt in the 1972 John Waters movie Pink Flamingos , this technique-which relies on voluminous old-fashioned panties with sturdy elasticity (one more reason why thongs are out )-is a strong favorite among the nouvelle vague of female shoplifters.

“Crotching buys them time to bolt out of the store,” one exhausted security head told me between busts, “because most security staff are male, and so we have to locate a female to do the search”

And sometimes crotching is really crotching. “A lady took a Chanel suit into the fitting room,” recalled one of my informants with mild disgust. “She cut the buttons off one by one and inserted them, if you know what I mean.” After repeated demands for the return of the highly prized buttons, the thiefess finally broke down and demanded that the officers provide her with a bowl and leave the room. When they returned, the logo’d buttons were glistening in the bowl. Euuuuw!

Sweethearting

This technique is a double act between a devious salesperson and a bogus customer who is effusively greeted upon entering the store, as in: “Oh, hello! It’s so good to see you! Yes, I have everything packed up and ready for you.”

The collusive salesperson then hands the poshly attired “customer” large store bags crammed with luxury product, for them both to enjoy or sell later.

There are variations on sweethearting. Sometimes a commission-crazed salesperson will curry favor by unctuously bestowing unauthorized gifts-socks, a silk tie or even a fitting-room handjob upon a high-rolling customer.

Mantyhose

While female shoplifters favor crotching, men favor pantyhose.

“I’ve caught guys with a three-piece suit stuffed down each leg,” recalled one source with a world-weary sigh.

Some shoplifters find pantyhose too hot: There is, according to my informants, a new vogue among the Russian and Moroccan shoplifting gangs for secreting stolen merch inside those old-lady, varicose-vein, roll-up leggings.

Regardless of their chosen methods, all shoplifters have the same reaction upon being apprehended: They go berserk. “Last week, one lady screamed and ran out of the store, leaving her baby behind in a stroller,” lamented an observer. At one specialty store, a male shoplifter got so verbally obstreperous that Chuck Norris, who happened to be observing the scene, offered to lend a hand.

If, while trawling through this fall’s offerings, you start to become overwhelmed by sticky-fingered urges-”I’m sure I could stuff this $3,000 fur-trimmed Ralph Lauren parka up my dress and nobody would notice!”-do bear in mind the following: Shoplifting is a felony if the merch is over $1,000, which it mostly is this fall, and repeat offenders can get up to five years in the big house. First-timers like you might get community service with probation for a year, after which your record will be wiped clean.

But don’t even think about it!