I have lived a long and happy life without ever feeling the need to darken the doorstep of one of their shops. Unfortunately Lil' Sis decided she really wanted us to buy a A&F sweatshirt for dad: he had once borrowed one and looked good in it, it knocked a couple of decades off him and so on.
There are no A&F shops in our home town. Lil' Sis has taken care of parental Xmas presents and much else besides since time immemorial. It was my turn to step up to the plate.
Models/assistants of either gender (that’s what they call themselves), tall, lissom & Bambi-eyed bat their long eyelashes at you uncomprehendingly whatever your request then lead you through a guided tour of the premises, languidly pointing at shelves like sleepy children, hoping, you realise eventually, that you yourself will end up spotting what you were looking for.
At the slightest provocation they then offer to strip to their innermost layer to try on a garment for you, if you are buying something for the opposite gender, that is. Although it's entirely possible that if I'd been looking at a lady's sweatshirt a 16year old girl might have also approached and offered to show me what it looked like 'on her'. It doesn't bear thinking about, really.
In the course of the next 40 minutes I made the following discoveries:
1) I'm old - it's official.
Not only did I find the music too loud, the bizarre sprayed perfume too strong; not only was I Madam-ed throughout by the model/assistant who served me. I also found I could flirt with him without blushing, like a grandma beyond reproach, without even a whiff of MILF-ery about it. At one point I heard myself say that the elderly father I was buying the sweatshirt for "is not as muscly as you". Random, random horrors.
He, in turn, could hear this stuff without blushing - just a polite laugh and the gentle expression of someone who fully expects you to launch into a description of your aches and pains next. Which, in a way, I was.
2) Shops aimed at the young, monied brain-dead only seem to stock L and XL for men and S and XS for women. It's the law. I suspect in all cases the range of sizes is the same: 0 to twig. But men are encouraged to think themselves as big, women as small. My un-trendy dad is an unfashionable 'Medium' and that turned Mission Unpleasant into Mission Impossible, but with a Greek chorus of gorgeous kids wishing me happiness and an 'awesome day', rather than villains stroking cats.
3) Un-stitched, distressed designs and artificially faded fabrics are in. In fact you can buy little else. But it still costs a packet. For more background analysis of my take on the style, I refer you back to point 1)