VICTORIA’S SECRET is coming to Uptown. I am so relieved.
Around February, the former Gap at Hennepin and Lake will be transformed into a pink-walled palace of scraps of lace-edged polyester and bits of push-up wiring, stacks of thongs of many colors and racks of sweatpants so low-rise that the perplexing innie-outie question is answered for perfect strangers who weren’t even wondering which kind you had in the first place.
Hey, I have no quibble with underwear. I buy it, I wear it, I like the little ribbons and the frilly doo-dads. But I do wonder at the one-sidedness of the whole industry. In short: where’s the beef? Where is the store in some hip section of town devoted to making men into objects of desire for women?
Yes, there is Brooks Brothers, and I’ll admit, a well-tailored suit on a man is a lovely thing to behold. However, you stretch a photo of a guy wearing a silk tie and a nice pinstripe over a two-story shop window and what you’ve got there is a portrait of power, not of objectification.
Sure, there is the occasional Calvin Klein underwear model literally hanging over Times Square, but that’s one of him compared to a bazillion images of scantily clad women in four-inch-heels draped over car hoods, and that’s just counting what’s printed in pet magazines and lawn service ads.
And — here’s the rub — sexualized images of men are often aimed at other men, so we’re still fashioning desire for exactly one group of folks: fellows.
So a girl gets to wondering, what would a Victor’s Secret look like?
I’m envisioning remodeling some old — oh, let’s say Rex Hardware—site into a place where men can go to turn themselves into what women want. No pink walls here. This is a Quonset hut at boot camp. Victor is met at the door by a little grandmotherly type with a major domo attitude — maybe Aunt Bea from “Mayberry, RFD.” She grabs him by one earlobe, drags him over to a display of toothpaste and dental floss, stuffs a nail clippers into one pocket and a can of Lysol into the other, and pushes him through a grooming assembly line modeled on the no-touch carwash. There. Now at least he doesn’t smell like a hamster.
In small clusters of fellow shoppers, Victor chants mantras after the group leader: “Honey, would you like a foot rub?” and “No, don’t tell me where we keep the butter. I think I know.”
He visits the science department, where intricate models of the solar system convince him of what it is that the planets actually do revolve around. Lo, it is not him. He practices matching socks, changing diapers, and calling ahead for reservations, all skills known to make a woman feel more flushed than a hot flash. He buys form-fitting t-shirts that read “I don’t know the answer to that,” “I think we’re lost,” and “Let’s do what you want tonight.”
There’s a trash bin where he can permanently discard his Speedo, those green-checked golf pants, and that little black-socks-with-sagging-briefs outfit he likes to wear to bed.
The fitting rooms are lined with posters of the covers of romance novels and lists of Nobel Prize winners, designed to make every guy who doesn’t have rippling pecs, an abdomen of chiseled steel, biceps that strain the seams of a pirate shirt, and an innate ability to promote world peace feel unworthy of consuming oxygen. It will make the poor lads squirm, but perhaps empathy for every woman’s every waking moment will ensue.
Roving instructors teach Victor how to flag down a taxi, dance the tango, and listen without interrupting. And before he swaggers out the door dressed in knee breeches and riding boots, he’ll be quizzed about his ability to face a woman, maintain prolonged eye contact with her, lift one worldly eyebrow, and say: “I’m sorry. I was wrong.”
Oh, be still my heart.
There are more than 2,000 Victoria’s Secret stores in the nation and 350 million catalogs in the mail each year. I’m asking for just one little hardware store.
So the Victoria’s Secret store is coming to Uptown, and thank goodness, bikinis and camisoles will be within a five-mile range. But that Rex Hardware for Men. That’s eons away.
An earlier version of this appeared in the Southwest Journal July 30, 2007.