There are three words that can make most women cringe the moment they hear them: bathing suit shopping. These words conjure memories of gross paper “stickers” brushed up against our nether regions, the moral ambiguity of trying on bottoms with or without underwear, the feeling of repulsion when you immediately know that it’s just not going to fit, and if you’re lucky, witnessing teenagers trying on the same suits three sizes smaller and strutting around talking about getting laid in Cancun.

Nothing can make your self-esteem quiver more than an unsuccessful shopping trip to find a bathing suit. Except for one thing. There is another kind of shopping that can attempt to break down all the pillars of your confidence. This is a kind of shopping that not only makes you question your body, but the stability of your mind as well. It is: the other suit shopping.

By the other suit, I mean none other than the dreaded women’s business suit. Expensive, uncomfortable, shoulder padded, polyester, wool, satin, grey, black, and brown sewn layers of the most dreadful looking shape you would ever want to put on your body. This, all in the name of “Professionalism”.

At least with a bathing suit you are purchasing something that makes sense. You need it to swim in the water or to lay in the sun when you can’t go naked. A business suit, however, is purchased out of the sheer hope that someone will look at you and say, “Now THAT is a professional woman. Let’s hire her.” Obviously, one would hope that one is not being hired based purely on clothing choice. However, if a hiring manager thinks back to who made the best “first impression”, so to speak, the right outfit may just make him or her recall, “Well, she did look quite professional in that suit.” We can only hope.

If you, like myself, are in the 10% of Americans who are currently “in between” jobs and are rampantly searching the edges of the earth for a well paying position, you’re probably buying a suit too. While the pains of bathing suit shopping involve squishing your pale flesh into varied triangles of small fabric, business suit shopping is just the opposite, only worse.

You must force every inch of your body into an unforgiving wool/satin ensemble that either pinches your crotch, is too big in the waist, adds ten pounds to your shoulders and arms, or basically comes out making you look like a lady pimp from 1977 (this happens when choosing a light gray color that is actually blue in daylight). Not only this, but you are in the bowels of some huge department store that smells like musty attic and adult diapers. There, the women wear plastic gloves to get the clothes from the dressing room. Plastic. Gloves. You are there because you can’t afford to spend $500 on a Theory suit from Bloomingdales, (at least, that’s why I’m there). This is the only place where you can afford your brand of “Professionalism”. Ah, at least the irony is soothing.

During my first suit shopping experience this past week, I thought back to an evening not so long ago, when I was gainfully employed, and I was innocently watching Coco Before Chanel. I admired how tastefully she could unite the simplicity of the working class with the embellishments of the upper. What would she say if she could have seen me in that dressing room, head to toe in a grey/blue woolen atrocity, my crotch pulled up to my navel, my arms and shoulders suspended like a scarecrow in a cornfield? Quel dommage. Coco, please save me! Help me find something half flattering in this sea of androgynous polyester!

Of course, as I was standing there, lost in my own nauseating reflection of the baby blue pimp suit, I heard the rustle of plastic against the doorknob. The clerk opened the door without even knocking and said, “Oops! Sorry! Um, you finished with those?”

I stared at her blankly, half wanting to scream at her for walking in on me as I was dressed like a damn clown, and half wanting to ask her to get it for me in black. I ended up telling her I just needed some more time. Time, and a corner office in a nudist colony, please. Who am I kidding, even a cubicle in the colony would work just fine for me. I bet they have great Christmas parties…