Catalog Fantasies: The Life Your Life Could Be Like


Endless, reed-lined beaches. Eclectic, fanciful kitchens. Chaise lounges and soft lighting. Flip through a catalog, and you are the star of these idyllic, aesthetically pleasing worlds. Let’s allow ourselves to fall into the fantasy for a moment, shall we?

James Stegall once wrote a sad paean to the ladies of the Lands’ End catalog, in which he imagines a bucolic yet accomplished life for them all.

These women have long green fields waiting fuzzily in the background. They gaze into the distance; they smile ruminatively downward; they hold confident eye contact with the camera. These are women who aren’t afraid to wear flannel pajamas. They are comfortable in their roles as accomplished, sexy everything-women.

That essay, originally published in 2007, has recently been republished in Nerve, which has us reflecting on the fantasy lives of other catalogs. The healthy, flushed faces of Lands’ End face some serious competitors. A quick flip through flimsy paper, and there are so many other fantasy lives we could be living. Take us away…

Victoria’s Secret: Your apartment is so warm you don’t need clothes, and every surface is upholstered for lounging. Yet in the midst of this comfort, you choose to wear a boned magenta corset that is slightly too small for your heaving bosom. Why? Maybe that man just outside the frame, receiving your vague yet aroused gaze, can tell you. Also, you have no nipples.

dELiA*s: Everything is so fun! Going to the beach, back to school, standing in autumn leaves fun fun F*N! You have lots of friends with names like Kiara, and they like to write their names on your Chucks in cool colors. Your adolescence is carefree and painless and you wear a shirt with a unicorn on it and you love it.

Anthropologie: You press flowers between the pages of first-edition Dickens novels. Your job involves traveling to Italy and being pensive in rooms. You have a book-strap. You have a wrought-iron bed. You know how to applique. Any sorrow you experience is like fine tea, artfully staining the stationery of your life.

The Vermont Country Store: In your pleasant old age, you look back on a youth filled with quaint candies and oddly-shaped perfume bottles. Would that the shaving implements your father used were still available. Oh look, they are!

Urban Outfitters: You go to rock shows in your romper. Your apartment is full of flimsy furniture and unfunny coffee table books, but you don’t care because you are always a little drunk, and you look beautiful all the time even though you never wash your hair. You let people write shit on your wall. Your boyfriend’s t-shirt has a Midwestern state on it, and yours has a bird turning into a roller skate, and sometimes you trade and nobody notices.

J. Crew: You’re on a boat! With a Teutonic-looking fellow in sockless loafers. It’s chilly here on this boat, but luckily you have a butter-colored sweater. Also, lots of money.

Williams-Sonoma: There is nothing you will not infuse in olive oil.

Edmund Scientific: You are a Sea Monkey looking for love.

Frederick’s of Hollywood: Boy, do you have nipples.

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