I have had similar experiences myself. In a tiny, enchanting shop near the Trevi Fountain, the specialty was carefully pleated, knee-skimming wool skirts. So convinced was I that such a garment, accompanied by a white shirt rakishly unbuttoned, tousled hair, high heels, and knee-socks, would give me a naughty schoolgirl allure, I bought not one, but two of these impossibly dowdy items. As soon as I got back to New York, reality hit: I have a Buster Brown bob and I can barely stand up, let alone cross a room, in high heels.
Lest you think these fashion faux pas afflict only women, rest assured that travel-shopping regrets are gender-blind. Antique jewelry dealer Ronald Kawitzky, a man brave enough to lend his name to this account, is still wondering why those red shoes he bought in Rome on the Via Condotti—a short walk from my pleated-skirt store—couldn't make the stylistic leap across the Atlantic. Everyone he saw in Italy was wearing goofy sneakers—yellow, peach pink—and he wore his new trainers for the rest of the trip, feeling like Marcello Mastroianni, like the kind of guy who has a closet full of candy-colored cashmere and drives a Lamborghini. And now?"I wore them once or twice in New York," he says with a trace of bitterness, "and everybody gave me really funny looks."
His story reminds me of my pal K.'s adventures in Barcelona. She waited outside the famous espadrille store in the Barri Gòtic until it reopened after the city's interminable lunch hour, took a number, and when she was finally waited on, spent hours deciding between wedge and flat, beribboned and slip-on, pale and bright. But even though Salvador Dalí himself used to order these shoes from this very shop, when K.'s trip was over she remembered that in summer she always wears Prada sandals to work and flip-flops when she's off duty. Her espadrilles—all six pairs—have suffered the same fate as Ronnie's scarlet sneakers.
But if they hadn't bought those ill-fated shoes, would they be longing for them right now?Victoria Ashley, the director of communications at Celine, still thinks about the frankly fake giant-pearl necklace she encountered years ago in London. She balked then at its high drama but has wanted to retrace her steps ever since. On the other hand, she did buy a safari jacket in South Africa—suede with some kind of furry lining—and while she adored her jacket in Africa, has it ever been worn for a shopping safari down Fifth Avenue?
And then there was the Grecian-style dress, purchased in Melbourne. "The few times I've worn it, I felt like I was channeling the days of ancient disco rather than ancient Greece," Ashley recounts mournfully.
Often it's not ourselves but our homes that are the unhappy recipients of misguided travel-shopping enthusiasm. A woman I used to know well visited China when that country first opened up to tourism. She fell madly in love with a patterned pink rug and wanted it for her capacious living room. Trouble was, she didn't know the exact dimensions of her salon. Her husband tried to stop her, but it was too late. She bought the carpet in what she thought was the right size, but it turned out her parlor was not quite as grand as she imagined. For years afterward the rug graced the room with one end rolled up behind the furniture, a rare disharmonious note in an otherwise immaculately decorated abode.