– For Patty Hearst
It was September and lovely, the windows still open in the café where I shook off my jetlag over lunch. As I paid $18 for a simple ham sandwich and small bottle of water, a woman’s cell phone rang out in ABBA (Take a Chance on Me).
Beautifully understated, incredibly expensive, and just a little bit nutty—this was my welcome to Stockholm. I loved it.
All of my past business trips weren’t to nondescript suburbs. When I heard I was headed to Stockholm for a work trip, I instantly added time to my stay so I’d have three days for work, and the weekend for me.
I was dying to see what the city was like. My mother’s family is Norwegian, and my hometown of Worcester, MA has a healthy Swedish population. Goodies from the Crown Bakery were a staple growing up, and a detour to the Gift Chalet during Saturday errands made the day extra special. We had those tinkly, candle-powered Swedish angel chimes that blew my mind each Christmas, especially the year my mom placed them on a snowy field of cotton—the holiday’s decorative focal point—lit the candles, and screamed as her masterpiece turned into a tiny, Yuletide inferno.
Stockholm is a Nordic Venice. Tiny bridges take you from one area of the city to another, and all that surrounding water gives it a serene, calm vibe. Since my time in the city was limited I decided to wander around the streets and follow them wherever they took me, but I did make one concrete plan. I like to shop, so I decided that I would try on, and if they fit, buy a pair of jeans from Acne, Sweden’s pricey harbinger of jeans cool.
I still don’t know why I wanted to include this denim high note. I hate trying on jeans just as much as any woman, so why include a torture trip in an otherwise carefree visit? I had no answer, so on my Saturday in Stockholm, I went straight downtown to the Acne mother ship to see if a pair was waiting for me.
The Acne flagship is in a stately building in Norrmalmstorg square and had a welcoming “Hey, come on in and look and no need to buy” vibe. When I told the woman who greeted me I was interested in getting a pair of jeans, she said, “Oh, come on to the other room to see Steven—he’s the jeans whisperer.”
Let’s take a minute and celebrate the straight men of the millennial generation, for they have embraced shopping. Evolution is slow, and while this generation has been bashed for many things, these millennial men are quite possibly the first of their species to take a lead from females and gay men en masse and finally realize that yes, shopping is fabulous and yes, us girls just want to know: Does this look good on me or not?
Back to Steven. He was dark, tall and of course gorgeous, but also guileless with an endearing goofiness about him: intangible but essential qualities that no doubt contributed to his jeans whisperer-status. I’m going to bet he grew up with sisters, too, because no straight man could handle selling jeans to women from all over the world if he didn’t have regular contact with close female relatives.
He asked me a few questions, took a step back, eyed me professionally, and pulled a few pair of jeans for me. As he led me to the dressing room, he asked me to come out once I had them on so he could see how they fit. I tried on the first pair, took a deep breath, and stepped out of the dressing room for the verdict.
“Oh wow,” he said with a big smile. “Those are your jeans!”
To my horror, he was right. The slightly high-waisted, skinny-jeans cut that, after the exchange rate were about $212, fit like a glove. I couldn’t believe it. I walked around a little to see if they would somehow look worse, but they didn’t. They felt great as I did a few laps around the store feeling Farrah Fawcett fabulous.
I tried on the other pairs for the hell of it, but there was no question Jeans Whisperer Steven gave me the perfect jeans fit on the first try. As he put the other pairs away he asked me what I knew about Stockholm, and as I started to answer he politely interrupted me with an urgent question of his own.
“You’ve heard of Stockholm Syndrome?” he asked. My eyes lit up with glee as we instantly bonded over the pop-culture tie that was binding us.
“This is the building where the original took place!” he laughed. “It used to be a bank. The hostages were held in the back—it’s where our stockroom is now!”
As we cracked up and compared seventies hostage stories, my jeans adventure all made sense. Somehow the trench coat-chic spirit of Patty Hearst, one of my cultural icons, guided me to the original scene of the syndrome that turned her into Tanya where I, in turn, would be held hostage by the promise of a fabulous pair of jeans. I thanked Steven for the honest advice and fun conversation, watched more money disappear, and headed out to see more of Stockholm.