What I’m saying is: I know how to buy stuff. Aside from the money, getting to the store before anyone else does is key. So if I really wanted a go at the Lilly Pulitzer for Target debut, I would’ve been in line at dawn on Sunday, like some of the friends in my Facebook newsfeed. I started reading the status updates at 7 a.m., logged from lines to Target entrances up and down the East Coast. Another friend mentioned that the Target website had already crashed, thanks to Lilly lovers nationwide.
But I stay away from early-morning Black Friday sales because the feeding frenzy scares me, and I got the same vibe from the Lilly hype. So I drove Sunday School carpool as usual at 8:45, then headed to my regular Target in Rockville, MD just to check out the scene. When I crept into the parking garage at 9:04—behind a long line of SUVs and minivans—even the furthest-away spots were already full. The second parking level, usually abandoned, was packed too. I got a sinking feeling, the kind you get when you notice that a favorite entertainer has started trending on Twitter, and you suddenly realize it’s because he or she has died.
That was the moment I switched from potential shopper (because let’s face it, if an adorable palm tree or conch-shell print cosmetic bag or beach towel presented itself to me, I would have snagged it) to Target theatre spectator. It’s also the moment I started to understand my husband, who is baffled by the reason why people are drawn to wearing a certain thing at a certain time. Trends bewilder him, clothing choices bore him; one of the reasons he loves being in the military is that he wears the same uniform every single day. I was usually the fad interpreter, trying to translate the appeal of the look-of-the-second—It’s about attitude! It’s different! Who does it hurt?—but that was about to end.
Even if I hadn’t spotted the giant flamingo hanging from the ceiling over the just-released Lillywear, the knot of women clustered in the aisle underneath it would have set off my GPS. The atmosphere was less happy people buying pretty things, more stunned bystanders gathered at a grisly road accident. Rubbernecker that I am, I was drawn to it, but I approached slowly. It was hard to parse because I’d never seen anything like it at any other store, any other sale, any other event, anywhere.
The Lilly Pulitzer for Target shelves and racks were empty, like the local market before a hurricane. Nine or ten women blocking the aisle bent possessively over their carts, which overflowed with LPfT clothes, pillows and folding lounge chairs. Like scalpers at a preppy prom, they were mumbling offers to each other, trying to remain unseen and unheard by the omniscient bullseye. “I’ve got the size 10 high-waisted bikini and I’m looking for a 6,” one very tan, very thin fiftyish woman with frosted blond tips said casually, to no one in particular. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a stylish shift move from one cart to another. Did I say cart? I meant cartel.
It was polite, civil, quiet. But it seemed undeniable that the well-dressed moms, ponytailed sorority girls and women in workout gear had thrown everything within reach into their carts, whether or not they wanted it, whether or not it fit, and once the shelves were bare they set out to barter their booty. Ladies Behaving Badly doesn’t even begin to describe it. There was nothing left for anyone else. What mattered is that they had it, even though they didn’t plan to keep it, and they could use it to get what they did want from other fangirls.
The sheer number of blindingly white empty shelves could have triggered it, or the carnival-crazy reflections of the women in the mirrors. Maybe nature won over nurture, after all. But that’s when I achieved the same zen shopping sensibility as my husband—which is to say, zero shopping sensibility. I wanted nothing. I especially wanted nothing to do with the people trading merchandise they hadn’t even purchased yet, who were using it as currency to achieve the sort of social currency Lilly Pulitzer clothes, adorable as they are, are all about, anyway. I thought about posting my own picture on Facebook, but I just wanted to get out of Lillyland as fast as I could. Sure, I know how to buy stuff. But whatever attitude was selling out under the flamingo is not for me.