The Shopping Sherpa


Now that I’m stressed out about what to wear for my upcoming online book events, I’ve been remembering back to one of the most uncomfortable days of my life. It was twenty years ago when I was about to go on a book tour for my last book, I Thought We’d Never Speak Again. A real book tour, where the publisher pays for you to fly around the country to six cities and you do 8-10 exhausting media events a day, and then take a red eye to the next city. The good old days. HarperCollins was my publisher, and I was determined to “make” my book succeed in every way I could. I went all out. I held back nothing.

And the thing I was the most stressed about was what to wear. I favor jeans and sweatshirts and sneakers. Flip flops and Goddesswear pants. Leggings and Ugg boots. And none of that would do on TV.

So, I hired a personal shopper who billed herself as the Shopping Sherpa.

I don’t remember what I paid her to take me shopping for that one horrible day, but it was a lot of money, over a thousand dollars, and I was so far out of my comfort zone on every level: financially, emotionally, psychically. In my memory (which sucks, let’s be honest—not a good trait for a memoirist) the Shopping Sherpa lived in Los Altos Hills, which is an extremely wealthy enclave an hour south of San Francisco, and she lived in a very fancy house. What I remember the most about first meeting her is that she wore 100% beige, so she’d be completely neutral and not clash or visually compete with her wealthy clients. She was a blank slate.

I was definitely not a wealthy client. I did not qualify—not by a long shot. Not by my class background and not by my current income. But my father had died and left me $60,000 dollars and I spent all of it promoting that book. I hired a publicist, and I hired the Shopping Sherpa. She had me get into her immaculate car and she drove me to Saks Fifth Avenue in San Francisco. A valet whisked the car away. I’d never used a valet before. I’d never been to Saks Fifth Avenue before. Never. Or any store remotely like it. In my family growing up, Macy’s was aspirational.

I grew up with my mother dragging me to schlock shops to pick through seconds on the Lower East Side of New York. We shopped for school clothes at Bamberger’s Budget (this was high end for us) or we’d go into these giant warehouse stores where you had to examine all the clothes for holes or torn buttonholes, sun faded fabric, and mismatched seams. The dressing rooms were huge rooms with no privacy and no separate dressing rooms with giant mirrors on all the walls and a saleslady sitting high up on a stool, eagle-eyed, looking for shoplifters.

But my mother loved to shop. It was her recreation almost every Saturday. She loved kvelling over her bargains. “This originally cost $199 dollars, but I got it for $19!” I hated to shop. She dragged me, sullen and resistant, from store to store to store. It was one of the early wars between us.

And now I was all grown up, getting ready to promote my sixth book, in Saks Fifth Avenue, where there were NO PRICE TAGS on the clothes—none at all! That was when my daylong panic attack began.

The Shopping Sherpa sat me down in a fancy dressing room and started wheeling in RACKS of clothes for me to try on. Lot of turquoise and teal and a very smart grey pant suit that I loved on sight. She had a great eye, and she knew exactly what would look good on me. But mostly, I spent the day struggling to breathe and trying not to cry.

As the store closed, after spending the entire day at Saks Fifth Avenue, I walked out with four huge shopping bags, six mix and match outfits, shoes (no heels for me—I refused), costume jewelry (I couldn’t afford the real stuff) and a six-thousand-dollar charge on my credit card. In one day, I spent more on clothes than I’d spent on clothing my whole life.

I hated that day. I was miserable and wanted to climb out of my skin. I felt fat and ugly and completely out of place. I would have fled after the first ten minutes, but the Shopping Sherpa was firm, kind and insistent—even though she knew from the beginning that I was definitely never going to be a repeat client.

And let me tell you—I looked fantastic on TV.

No wonder dressing for my Zoom events and “dressing” the set of the wall behind me has me over the top with anxiety. It’s PTSD from the Shopping Sherpa and that $6000 charge on my credit card.

This photo is me posing with my mother for a mother-daughter photo shoot we did together in 2001, in the run up to the publication of I Thought We’d Never Speak Again, the first book in which I explored our history of my estrangement and reconciliation. This is the grey suit I loved.

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