"Shazbot!”

Wrong Willie’s voice came from down the aisle from where I was trying to find my size in camouflage. He held up a pair of pants. “I must be dreaming.”

I glanced up from the XXXL shirt in my hand. As usual for us, we’d waited too late in the year to start trying to find outdoor gear, but it’s hard to wrap my mind around hunting clothes when the temperature is over a hundred.

By the time we start looking, everything in my size is gone. We were looking because my clothes have somehow shrunk in the past few months. But that’s only half the problem.

“Why Shazbot?”

“Well, for one, I can’t say what came to mind first, but these pants!”

“What about ‘em, other than you’re in the woman’s section of the store.”

He glanced up to see the sign overhead.

“I didn’t think they were separating clothes by gender anymore.”

“Depends on what part of the state you’re in, and what store in any particular city. What’s all the fuss about? Put them back and come over here where you belong.”

He returned them to the rack and joined me.

“Those pants were two-hundred and fifty dollars a pair.”

Stunned at the price, I picked up a tag on one of the shirts I’d been looking at.

“A hundred and twenty-five dollars? For a shirt?”

Even though it wasn’t my size, I held it up for a close examination, wondering what might have been added for it to be such a price. Maybe gold thread? I didn’t look much different from the one I was wearing.

A blond salesman with blue highlights came around the corner.

“Help you gentlemen?”

“Uh,” I held the garment out as if it were something offensive. “We were talking about the price of these clothes.”

“Nice, isn’t it? You’re looking at the latest technology in outdoor gear.” He rocked back and forth on his toes, as if excited about the opportunity to make a sale. “This is Gore-Tex, and it breathes.”

“Glad it does.” Willie shook his head. “Because I’m having trouble getting my breath. I was down there looking at pants and saw how much they were.”

The guy with a name badge on his shirt reading, Clark, frowned.

“That’s the women’s section.”

“Yeah, and they’re even higher than what we’re looking at here.”

“Of course. Women’s clothes are always higher.”

I couldn’t resist it.

“Why, Clark?”

“Well, I read an article in Forbes magazine a few years ago.” He closed his eyes and quoted. “Retailers charge women more because they can. It’s an outcome of product differentiation in a market economy and a response by retailers to female preferences. To put it simply, women will pay those higher prices which drives the actions.”

He opened his eyes and they glittered in satisfaction.

“Now, personally, I feel that the real reason is because of the fabric and cutting and the fashion. Fashion evolves while men’s clothing remains the same and it will sell all year without modifying the pattern. Women’s fashion lasts a few months and then a new style will require the extra cost of designing, pattern changing and hand finishing which increases cost. You see what I’m saying?”

Willie’s eyes had already glazed over.

I couldn’t leave it alone.

“Those pants down there in the women’s section are the exact same as this pair here, except for the price tag, and most of them are smaller. Less fabric.”

“Well, that’s what I was saying. There’s a little difference in the cut, if you know what I mean.”

“I do, but the War Department wears my old stuff all the time, and the shirts seem to fit her just fine.”

“Women have so many choices. That’s another reason for the extra cost. I’ve heard it called the Pink Tax.”

“We don’t need all these choices, and nothing here in the hunting section is pink. Look, I want cheap camouflage. I don’t need all this fancy stuff. We’re going dove hunting in a couple of weeks. It’ll be hot. I need cotton, but I can even get behind some of these new fabrics that wick away sweat, if they aren’t too expensive. Bought a shirt like that last year and I liked it, so I wanted a pair of pants to match, but now I can’t find that camo pattern anywhere, and the sizes are all wayyyyy too large for me.”

“Which pattern are you talking about?”

I pointed to the shirt hanging off my shoulders. “This one.”

“Ohhh. That’s last year’s pattern. I don’t think we carry it any longer. Come with me.” We followed him around the corner to another rack. “They’ve changed to this one, more digital.”

Willie giggled, a creepy sound I never want to hear again.

“So they’re doing it now to guys, too.”

Clark frowned.

“Doing what now?”

“It’s the same thing you just described about women’s clothes. They’re changing them for us so we’ll have more choices and we’ll have to buy whatever’s new.”

“You’re good.” Clark put the shirt back on the rack. “So, what size are you looking for?”

“Large in shirts. Medium in pants.”

“We’re out of that size.”

“And I’m outta this store. Come on, Willie. Let’s go to the Army/Navy store. I bet I can find my size there.”

“But we were gonna buy some shotgun shells, too.”

Clark rolled his eyes and laughed down the aisle.

“They want shotgun shells, too!”

Laughter came from distant aisles as salespersons dusted the empty ammo shelves, which were the exact opposite of the crowded racks in the overpriced clothing department.

Reavis Z. Wortham is an award-winning novelist and outdoor writer with family ties to Lamar County. He is the author of “Laying Bones.”

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