What I Wore: Navigating the Heteronormative Patriarchy, Pt. 4

Welcome to What I Wore, a series where I explore fashion as shelter in traditionally heteronormative and patriarchal spaces.

Back to the Hardware Store

I wore what’s essentially a football practice jersey and a pair of basketball shorts because the only way I can make it through a hardware store anymore without being approached by fifteen workers is if I move at the speed and panic level of an athlete who’s just intercepted a ball. The sunglasses inside had the “No thanks!” vibe I was seeking.

Success rate: 5 out of 5

Heterosexual Pride Parade

This is obviously for next year, as I was unprepared for this year. They sprung it on us so quickly! This outfit will serve the purpose of disguising myself as a straight woman, and I believe I have all the credentials here: a cardigan, a classic striped shirt, dark denim, and flip flops. I DON’T MAKE THE RULES.

By convincing them I’m a fellow straight I can infiltrate their ranks and find out who their top tier players are. I will befriend them and catalogue their movements, and once I’ve gotten what I need, I’ll take my findings directly to the President of the United States to ensure the dismantling of their entire community. For the good of the nation.

Presumed Success Rate: 5/5

Back to the Auto Shop

Chances are at least one of the men in an auto shop know a woman named Janet who they’re terrified of. Janet can drink you under the table, she’s won the turkey shoot ten years in a row, and she has a reputation of being ruthless across multiple bowling leagues. Janet’s never been to an auto shop because she fixes her own car. I hoped to call Janet to mind with a button up and khakis — a no nonsense pairing — because it’s something I feel deep in my bones Janet would wear. Add to that a hat that literally tells you I’M IN TOUCH and therefore not the one, and I was ready to stand my ground.

“I just need the oil changed,” at the top prompted at least five unrelated, condescending service suggestions during checkout. Dammit, Janet!!

Success Rate: 2/5

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Los Angeles based writer. Let's keep it clean out there!

Erin has written 208 articles for us.


      • Take heart, Erin, Janet is a work in progress and you can continue to refine her strategies and post more of her trials, heartaches, victories and backstory in future mystery shopping excursions. Janet is determined to win, make no bones about that!

  1. I took Autoshop for a year in high school with a lovely, openly gay, married butch woman, and she taught us about the best ways to avoid getting ripped off in autoshops. The first ever thing anyone should learn is to change their own oil! Because you can figure it out from a Youtube video, and if you take your car into the shop and ask for your oil change, they’ll peg you as someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. The other big tip was to learn how to measure your own brake pads – a lot of shops will tell you yours are worn out even if they’re not, because replacements are expensive.

    • truthfully MMP i’ve watched so many youtube tutorials and i’m irrationally terrified of being crushed by my car, like it’s going to jump off the jack. i wish i could have had your shop class experience!

      • Yeah if you have a car that you have to lift that becomes a problem… I drive a truck so I don’t have to put it on jack stands to get under it!

    • Ugh. Tell me about it. I actually went to college for automotive machining! I can’t take my car anywhere without getting lectured, so I whip out the jargon and make sure to demand all removed or broken parts be placed securely in a plastic bag in the trunk. That way I can examine everything and know when they’re trying to rip me off.

      I’ve learned to boycott quite a few auto shops because of that. I’d change my own oil, but my apartment rules prohibit it so I’ve got no choice but to go in and get stereotyped.

      • Change your oil in the gas station / grocery store parking lot? I’ve done it. I’ve also changed brake pads and discs on two different vacations, outside a hotel and in the driveway of a B&B. No shame.

        Disclaimer to stop you mistakenly thinking I’m super cool: I didn’t do it alone.

  2. I wore basketball shorts to the hardware store the other day and no one bothered me, I guess that’s why! Erin, you’re a genius.
    (I also gave in and downloaded the home depot app which tells you exactly where the item you’re looking for is located so I will never have to talk to anyone ever again. It works surprisingly well.)

    • Wait. You mean I never have to talk to another soul in Home Depot again?


    • Nope. Nope. Nope! As an ex HD associate who had a barrel full of customer service awards, I am outraged!!! Well, not really…..

      So , Mandy, you think you have a “get home without talking to anyone app”, eh? Well, sometimes, the app will tell you there are 54 bottles of the Windex you are looking for on aisle 11, bay 7. You smile and go to the location and there are none on the shelf! Fail!

      Who you gonna call ? Not ghostbusters! ……but a Home Depot associate …….?
      But HD has lots of non-heteronormative associates! Look for the one who wears her cap sideways!

  3. I don’t get bothered too much in shops just because I’m British so my automatic response to ‘Can I help you?’ is ‘No thanks, I’m fine!’ even when I have no idea what I’m looking for or where it could be.

    • Once in the US I got, “Hello ma’am, how are you today?” and I couldn’t “No thanks, I’m fine!” to that so I literally said nothing.

  4. That hardware store outfit is very disaffected-Christmas-elf-who-retired-to-Baja and I love it.

  5. These are fantastic! You nailed the Heterosexual Pride Parade outfit. I would have never guessed you were gay in that.

  6. Sunglasses inside is a great way to avoid people talking to you, especially mirrored ones so you can’t make eye contact.

  7. I applaud you for that lead-up to “Dammit Janet”.

    But wait though, I wear dark denim and stripes. Do I have to turn in my queer card?

  8. I was just thinking yesterday that it was about time for another What I Wore! Thank you, Erin. You are a blessing upon us all.

    As for me, I have a family function to attend this weekend so I’ll be studying the What I Wore archives over the next few days.

    • throw hat in there blackmar, pretend it’s a tent you can escape into when things get weird!

  9. i went to a hardware store today and thought about this the entire time (i found the tool i needed with no help thank you very much)

  10. My wife and I never really get bothered anymore, but I think it’s the jeans and flannel. :D

  11. Did I ever tell u guyz about the time I literally jogged thru trader Joe’s to avoid making eyecontact with the Agressively Happy woman giving out cheese samples (i do not eat dairy)?

    I feel like I did I feel like that’s something I’ve mentioned before

    Anyway it was awkward and I almost ran into multiple people but i did successfully avoid unnecessary social interaction, so

    • See, I’m polite to people. I’ve always worked hard for a living. I know what it’s like. When a service worker asks me if I want a sample, I cheerfully decline.

      Now… if they keep pressing me, I put down a hard no. If they harass me (because that’s what they’re doing at that point) I’ve got no problem telling Aggressively Happy Woman Giving Out Cheese Samples where to stuff them and fuck off.

      Not being afraid of when to be a bitch is one of my many virtues.

      That being said, I applaud your cardio workout. ;)

      • I too have worked in retail for fucking ever

        I also have social anxiety and am extremely introverted, so the idea of saying “no thanks I am vegan” was like walking on hot nails to me

        Sorry Not Sorry

    • I don’t shop in retail stores often for clothes, but when I do, I bring a friend – not to enjoy themselves/try on clothes, but to talk to the sales person so I don’t have to.

      • Ed: If you work in a clothing shop I’m sure you’re very nice, everyone, but a lot of people continue to try and talk to me after I’ve politely refused their offer of help, and when I am looking for clothes and dealing with those stressors I can’t deal with small talk at the same time.


          • It might, but I’d totally hug you and ask if I could buy you a drink if you said it.

          • Heh! I’d do my very, very best. When it comes to clothes shopping, I actually chicken out. It’s one of the few places I won’t advocate for myself. I tend to panic, want to grab whatever is closest and leave. :P

  12. OH NOOO DO I HAVE TO GIVE UP MY CARDIGAN?!? People do tend to think I’m straight, but I had no idea I was giving off such strong straight vibes…

    • LAUREN NO it’s an outfit combination that is getting the job done PLEASE CONTINUE LOOKING ADORABLE

      • Not gonna lie, I dress in Erin’s straight pride outfit like 50% of the time, minus the flip-flops

        It’s my fat, queer, cut-price Kate-Middleton-at-William’s-polo-games look, and it’s totally disruptive because as previously mentioned, I am fat and queer. (And can’t afford Petit Bateau).

        • sigh petit bateau used to be relatively cheap and their spaghetti striped tank tops (and their coton night dress that women would wear over jeans or as a dress) were ALL THE RAGE in France the early 2000s. NOSTALGIA OMG.

  13. The Hetero Pride outfit is almost perfect! If it were me, I’d replace the striped shirt with an “I ❤️ My BF” shirt. Or perhaps a “Mrs. John Smith” shirt.

  14. I’m sorry Erin but those flips flops from the Hetero Pride Outfit 100% scream GAY to me. Aren’t we lile 95% of Birkenstock’s consumer target? You should pick some bedazzled sandals instead.

    • they really are very gay, i knew i needed some gladiator flats but i can’t invest in that kind of lifestyle

  15. Is it weird to ask you to come dress me?

    this column makes me forever grateful that hardware store employees, like 95% of all sales people in this country, just ignore everyone unless approached. I gladly traded “The customer is king” for “The customer wants to be left the hell alone” and it’s become one of my favorite things about living in France. Especially when I have to go to a hardware, automotive, sports or game shop.

  16. “a cardigan, a classic striped shirt” and suddenly I remember the Official Preppy Handbook is a thing that exists and I NEED, you Erin to read it and give us your thoughts on it.
    You were born for it, it’s destiny.

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