Welcome to the Jungle: Shopping and Surviving Century 21

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There is something about Century 21 that’s a little bit medieval. To pass these gates – or rather, automatic doors – is to undertake a holy mission, complete with trials, quests, and the worst gauntlet this side of the Crusades. The hope is that you’ll emerge clutching the grail of retail, but you might not even emerge at all. When it comes to Century 21, foolish is the woman who combs the racks without fear.

Below are a few suggestions to assist you, my loyal and devoted readers, in navigating the superstore. Use it as a loose guide: how to spot the gems, dodge ferocious employees, and maintain your virtue in the dressing rooms. It’s time to mount up and charge the discount fortress.

1) Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
I had the misfortune of stopping by Century 21 on a Saturday afternoon. Picture the cast of Night of the Living Dead, but better smelling and a lot lighter on their feet. Men, women, and children lurched down the aisles and between the racks, groping for bargains and jostling for space. They wouldn’t have seen me unless I had a price tag dangling from my bottom lip. Remember to stay on your toes and keep moving. If you must reach for an item, do it quick. This is the height of drive-by shopping.

2) The wheat and the fugly, fugly chaff.
Century 21 really brings out the patriot in me. Because I believe that Century 21 is America. Where else can you find a neon green angora shrug hanging next to a Prada boustier? Or vinyl knee high boots next to suede Mary Janes? The fact that such disparate fabrics can coexist recalls the great American melting pot – in this case, a highly flammable, potentially toxic melting pot. It’s a beautiful thing.

But just in case you prefer segregation when it comes to your shopping experience, here are the key spots to hit. Check out the denim section: there are looks from the top manufacturers, including Joe’s, Citizens of Humanity, True Religion, and Imitation of Christ. A lot of C21’s formal and semiformal dresses are also pretty cutting-edge (think Carolina Herrera and a little Dolce), and though many of them still might break the bank, they are at huge discounts from the original prices. I managed to pick up a very tasteful grey wrap dress from their professional clothing section, which was mercifully less jumbled than the rest of the women’s department.

3) Live Nude Girls!
If you ask me, I think the female body is totally underexposed in this day and age. There’s so much pressure on young women to keep covered up. I’m tired of celebrities like Paris Hilton and Tara Reid always pushing their clothed form in our faces, themselves an altar to sins of modesty and ladylike good taste.

Thank God Century 21 is doing its part to reverse that unfortunate trend. The dressing room stalls provide all the privacy of a bunk bed at sleep-away camp. From a distance, the curtain might cover up the crucial elements of your anatomy, but you don’t get a distance. You get inches. It’s best to keep your eyes glued to your reflection if you want to avoid booby-overload. And, I’d recommend not wearing a thong.

4) Man-up.
As by now you can imagine, Century 21 is not for the faint of heart. Don’t wander in seeking retail therapy. These discounts come at a price – namely, your sanity. When you hold its cement faà§ade in your steely gaze, ask yourself if you’re shopper enough to enter. If you feel less Lancelot than Lambchop, head uptown to Madison Avenue. I hear it’s a lot more Enlightenment.

Century 21 is located at 22 Cortlandt Street between Broadway and Church Street.

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