RN: And people say I'm a slob.

 CP: Yes...?

RN: No, I just spent a few minutes inside the dressing room at a major American retailer, and it was such a pigsty that it made my work cubicle and its post-tornadic appearance look like a your average Walker Art Center gallery.

CP: And here I imagine you making most of your purchases within the hushed, clubby confines of a gent's dressing room at Brooks Bros. "Will sir need a repp tie or a pocket square with his sports jacket?"

RN: If only. No, we're talking major department store. There was more merch strewn about this cramped, shabby dressing room than there was out on the sales floor. No wonder I couldn't find my size. It was probably rolled up in a ball on the floor of an adjacent dressing room.

CP: Oh, I am not above picking through a pile of castoffs in those changing rooms. The search for a nice bargain heeds not the boundaries of taste or decorum.

RN: Speak for yourself. The last place I tried something on, the dressing area had a vague backroom/potential-sexual-assault vibe. Hardly the ideal environment for stripping down to one's bra and panties, so to speak.

CP: I remember when Macy's was Dayton's and I was buying the occasional suit-of-clothes. I loved the whole ritual of trying on, taking a look in the threefold mirror, and having the tailor make adjustments with that little Bordeaux cookie of chalk. It was a ritual and a rite of passage. Things have fallen off a bit since then, right?

RN: You think? Although the flip side is a place like J. Crew, where a perky "How is everything going in there?" comes wafting through the door, like clockwork, every 45 seconds or so. Just fine, thanks, although what I truly would appreciate is having someone level with me and say that no man my age and with my Casper-like complexion should kid themselves into thinking they can get away with madras patchwork shorts.

CP: Or how about that trendy hot spot at the mall, where the lighting is on a spectrum that makes discerning a garment's actual color impossible? Step out of the dressing room for two secs to regard yourself in the hallway mirror, and the self-locking door swings shut. And me in a size too small. Thus humiliated, I am in no buying mood.

RN: I probably shouldn't complain, as my Zappos.com fitting room is also my bedroom. But still, you'd think that retailers would want to staunch the flow of customers fleeing to the Web with, I don't know, services.

CP: Right. The phrase "may I show you to a dressing room?" should not result in being thrown into a space that resembles the tiny closet of a raging teenager.

RN: None of the entitled under-20 shoppers I've observed at the mall would put up with it. Which raises the question: Why do we?

Email: witheringglance@startribune.com

Twitter: @claudepeck and @RickNelsonStrib