The Mystery Shopper Who Paid it Forward

For women it's the Holy Grail. Finding clothes that flatter your body is a quest that never ends. Short-waisted, long-waisted, big bust, small bust. We've all got issues. We get older and the issues just evolve. More accurately, expand.

The years add pounds and inches exponentially. In my case, it doesn't help that I had two mastectomies due to breast cancer and my reconstruction failed.

Try shopping when you're both flabby and a flattie. My current issues include no breasts, ribs that protrude, underarm flab, a muffin top that sticks out further than my chest. And that's just the issues above the waist.

12 years since I gave up wearing fake boobs, I'm now an expert on finding flattering flat fashion. I can walk into a store and instantly zero in on potential winners: loose tops, waterfall cardigans, shawl collars.

This was an unappreciated skill until I joined Flat and Fabulous, a group of women who all face the same challenge. Members post pictures on Facebook of what they wear, vintage finds, looks that work.

I guarantee they won't top my recent fashion foray at the Eileen Fisher store in Los Angeles.

A woman (who I'll call Tara and who is way too young to be an Eileen Fisher customer) is at the counter ahead of me. That's how I learn about a program called Green Eileen: the company will buy any used item for $5 and recycle or resell it.

Tara's boss has sent her in with an enormous shopping bag filled with Eileen Fisher. The boss lost a lot of weight and her clothes are now too large. (The poor woman, right? Let's not even go there.)

Anyway Tara is lifting items out of the bag to show Anna, the sales associate at the register. And that's when I spy the black short-sleeved sweater with sparkly thread, barely worn, perfect for southern California and my long list of issues.

Now this is not Filene's Basement or Goodwill or Best Buy on Black Friday. This is an upscale boutique a few doors away from the Ivy, a popular celebrity restaurant. I consider the potential embarrassment (briefly) before I ask to try on the sweater. It's a perfect fit.


But my offer to buy (even in a multiple of $5) presents a dilemma, since the sweater doesn't belong to the store or to Tara. It belongs to the very mysterious, very thin boss.

Tara is very professional. She gets her boss on the phone, describes my desire to shop her closet (by now I've picked out a second sweater), and explains that I'm a survivor, not a suspicious character.

The boss makes an immediate executive decision. She tells Tara to tell me to donate the money I offered her to a breast cancer charity.

It's a done deal.

I chose Metavivor, which allocates 100% of its donations directly toward research for Stage IV breast cancer, the only breast cancer that kills. Those women have far more serious issues than fashion, and this research is desperately needed yet typically ignored by other charities.

I wanted to thank her personally, but I never did learn the name of Tara's boss, or what she does. All I know about her is that even if she isn't fashion forward, she is forward-thinking.

So thank you, Mystery Shopper, for paying it forward, and for making the best fashion statement ever.

Darryle Pollack is a 20-year cancer survivor who titled her book and her TEDx talk "I Never Signed Up for This..." in honor of all the times she's said those words. Visit her site or connect on Facebook.