I have a love-hate relationship with Victoria’s Secret. For years I had blacklisted it as one of those retailers that, like Abercrombie & Fitch, shamelessly profited from the mass sluttification of otherwise normal, well-adjusted young women, wasting the money of parents everywhere. It had nothing to do with the lingerie and everything to do with the “Pink” clothing line, which in my eyes, is an abominable proliferation of tackiness (if you happen to be a “Pink” fan, we can still be friends, just don’t worry about me ever asking to borrow anything from your closet). To this day, every time I see those four letters emblazoned across the butt of a sweatsuit-and-Ugg-boot clad young woman waddling through an airport, a little part of me dies inside.
The appeal of “Pink” is a mystery to me, but apparently not to the girls for whom I was responsible this summer as a camp counselor. While it seemed pretty universally beloved, I noticed it was especially popular with those particularly difficult girls to whom I had a very hard time keeping myself from saying things that would probably have cost me my job: “Oh, I see you go to the University of Pink. How fascinating. Tell me, are you getting your degree in consumer whoring, or just regular whoring? Maybe a minor in lip-gloss application?” In moments of frustration, their attitudes alone would have been enough of a challenge for anyone, but for me it was compounded by the presence of a little rhinestone crest with a puppy in the center stamped on every article of their clothing.
So, from the get-go, I’ve had very negative associations with such a brand. Clearly, I thought, nothing good could ever come from it, and for a long time I had prided myself on never having set foot in one of their retail stores. Until one day, over my Christmas break, I decided to venture into enemy territory. I was looking for a sports bra.
Tired of wearing baggy t-shirts and sweatpants to the gym, I decided it was time to upgrade, and I had read in a magazine that the progenitors of “Pink” had just come out with a line of flattering, moisture-wicking workout clothing that wouldn’t break the bank. I had liked the sample designs that I’d seen, so I decided to confront my pride and go take a look.
The store was everything I was afraid it would be. On the “Pink” side, among displays of stuffed puppies and sequined pillows, manicured, pearl-wearing twelve-year-olds argued with their mothers over panties. By the registers, the walls were covered, floor to ceiling, in sparkly goop of every variety: perfumes, lotions, eyeliners, lip-glosses, all probably with enough artificial colors and fragrances to induce cancer in the twelve-year-olds. On the lingerie side, respectable and even pretty undergarments mingled with frilly nightmares, an explosion of lace, bows, and marabou. Seedy couples roamed about. In the center of the room, the sale bins buzzed like a hive: women dug fervently through piles of garishly patterned underwear. Outside the store, giant banners of cleavage hung in the windows. One woman walked in with her boyfriend, and sighed with delight, “I love this place. Just walking in here makes me so happy!” She suppressed a giggle. I threw up in my mouth a little bit.
I made my way through the crowd to the display of workout clothes. Amazingly, they seemed well designed and well made. I picked up a few pieces in my size, made my way to the register, and after insisting about fifteen times that no, I really did not want an “Angels card,” I went home. I tried the clothes on. I loved them. And I hated that.
I never saw it coming. Somehow, the corporate beast had turned out a product that was functional, economical, and exactly what I was looking for. Perhaps I have caved in by giving them my money; it seems a bit ironic that a company known for promoting highly unrealistic body images makes fitness apparel. Nonetheless, the product stands on its own, with minimal labeling; they look as if they could have come from anywhere. Unbelievable, but the brand I love to hate has made something I hate to love. I won’t lie, they may make horrific sweatsuits, but they make a pretty damn good running top (with rhinestone puppies nowhere to be found).