January 07, 2011

Holiday Shopping Breach

new sallyBy Sally Raskoff

clip_image002Imagine walking through your local shopping mall, passing many shoppers and stores full of holiday items. It’s cold outside so most people have coats on and are bundled up in many layers of clothing. You’re walking along thinking of what you need or want.

Imagine now that you become aware that something in your field of vision looks odd. It breaks you out of your thoughts and you notice that a shopper coming towards you looks different in some way from all the other people at the mall.

It quickly becomes apparent that this person has a coat and sweater on like everyone else but their legs are bare. Completely bare. No pant legs covering those legs. Really!

You look at their face to try to figure out why their legs are completely bare. You don’t want to look down at those clip_image004legs again just in case it’s not that there are no pant legs but no pants at all. Your quick glance up shows you that they are walking along with an expression similar to others and they are carrying a few shopping bags just like everyone else. Except for those bare legs. Those really bare legs, as far up as you could notice without looking further.

This was my experience today. I took a break from grading sociology papers and went out to walk and pick up some things for the holidays. Was I rewarded with an experience I would not want to experience every day!

As I realized that this person might be shopping with no pants on, she passed me and I continued looking at the woman who was walking behind her and towards me. She had also noticed the bare-legged woman as she came out of a store and walked in the same direction. Her expression was priceless, and she clearly was as shocked and confused by this as I was. She looked down and up and down and up and over at me to see if I too had noticed. I nodded slightly and made a subtle facial gesture to acknowledge that I had seen the same image she had - although she was looking at the person from the rear and because I did not turn around, I’m not quite sure what else she saw that I missed.

As I kept walking in my original direction, I wondered how salespeople would handle it if they were interacting directly with this person. She was carrying shopping bags, so it seemed like she might have already had some kind of sales interaction. However, if that had happened, that interaction did not prompt her to put any pants on!

Two things might explain why the woman was dressed the way she was. One, the shopping bags might not be from a recent purchase. She might be a homeless person simply carrying her belongings through the mall. I did not notice any obvious signs of homelessness, though, so I have no other evidence for that theory.

Second, its possible that she was wearing some sort of really-short shorts, although they would have had to be really short, as short as underwear. Another clip_image006interpretation of the situation might be that she had some mental health issues and was indeed unaware that she was not fully dressed. She did appear to be an older person, although I didn’t see her clearly enough to estimate her age.

I picked up my pace to get home and write this blog because there are so many aspects of this situation that can be analyzed sociologically.(The grading would have to wait!)

What I saw at the mall was first and foremost a great example of a norm breach. This person was most definitely breaking (or breaching) the norm of wearing a full set of clothes while shopping or otherwise inhabiting a public place. The person behind her was noticing this breach and we were communicating through non-verbal gestures to acknowledge it.

Typically repairs follow a norm breach where people will work to “fix” the breach and return life to normal. The other shopper and I did this after our brief eye contact and head nods by continuing our shopping as if nothing out of the norm had happened.

Once security officers, salespeople, or many other shoppers notice her I would predict that a more active repair might occur, where she is either questioned about her mental state and/or asked to leave the mall. Or to put on some pants.

How else might your sociological imagination can help to explain or interpret this situation?


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WOW! When I read this is was shocked! I have never seen anything like this before. I don't go to mall very often simply because I don't live very close to one, but whenever I can I usually do. But even just going into a Walmart or something like that I have see some pretty strange things but never something like that! I think that if this person was just doing that just because and had either no pants at all or really really short shorts I think that either way it is very inappropriate. If it was in a more just adult place it wouldn't be as bad, but little kids do not need to see this. I think that if she had some mental disability and that was the cause you would think someone would be there with her to help her just incase something like this happened.

Wasn't it just a No Pants day?
Or a person started a No Pants day a little bit too early!

Perhaps it was Lady Gaga?

When I first read this blog I was completely shocked, I unserstand that if something was wrong with her or if she was homeless then it would be a completely different story. But she looked okay. She was even carrying bags, which imposed that she had gone shopping. She could of been wearing pants too, but they would ahve to of been extremly short.

Wow that is definitel something you don't see every day. I would have probably done the same thing if I was in your case. It's really sad to see that people are in this country and don't have enough money to afford clothes, even though this is the richest country in the entire world. Sad day.

Wow, I could not believe this when I was reading. It really made me think about how I would personally react, and when something is out of the ordinary it really draws a persons attention. Also when I read that she looked completely fine other than the pants, it boggles my mind trying to figure out why she would go out in oublic in such a way.

The psychology behind this is really astounding. It's interesting how psychological matters can quickly become sociological. Maybe it was normal for her family and friends to wear no pants or incredibly short shorts. It's also interesting how much people crave "normal" behavior in society, as demonstrated by the norm breach.

Nice, I found this post especially funny about the lack of pants due to the fact that I recently had a similar experience. I work at a sporting goods store and when a customer asked to try on a pair of pants I said sure and started pointing to the bathroom at the back of the store, but when I looked back the man already had his pants off! I was wildly confused by this and found it extremely funny afterward, but at the time I was just puzzled like in your situation. I think people frequently have the same puzzled reactions when others break social norms.

That is definately breaking the social norm! She could have possibly done that as an experiment to see how people react to her not wearing pants. I think it would be interesting to see other people's reactions to that. As a teenager, you want to be different and unique and that is definately being both of those things!

Interesting article. Amazing how we react to the differences we see in people. Interesting how oblivious some people can be to their own differences.

You are right.we can see different kinds of people at shopping malls.Very interesting.good post.

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