Shopping for clothing is a humiliating experience for men. It's easier for women, because the female gender has a reputation for recreational shopping. When a woman is out searching for new clothing, she is basically telling everyone around her: "I have a credit card and some free time."
When a man is found wandering around the local department store like a lost child, he's basically saying to everyone around him: "I do not own any presentable clothing whatsoever."
Because shopping for clothing is so emasculating, men tend to wear the same shirts and pants for decades. Undergarments wear out too quickly, however, and require more frequent shopping trips. Fortunately, socks and skivvies are sold in bulk, making it possible to buy a very manly six-pack.
Still, shopping for a "six of socks" can be a confusing and embarrassing experience. First of all, there's the math involved in determining that the six-pack is indeed a better deal than the four-pack. Then, the size information can be difficult to interpret. I once read a package that noted, "Size 10-13 fits shoe size 6-12." Well, what does "Size 10-13" represent if it isn't shoe size? Sock size?
Some socks are treated with "antibacterial properties" and are extra absorbent. That sounds great until you realize that the person at the cash register will immediately associate you with sweaty feet if you buy those socks.
Once you start thinking about foot sweat, it's easy to get a sick feeling in your stomach while looking at a store display of several hundred socks that don't belong to you.
In an effort to cure myself of my own sock-buying inhibitions, I recently decided to confront the situation head on. I went to the store, identified the best deal, and confidently brought the package to the pretty young female clerk. I looked her straight in the eye, and explained exactly what my intentions were.
"I'm going to take these socks home and put them on my feet," I told her. "They will absorb sweat and slow down the process of my shoes developing a foul smell."
When the purchase was complete, I strode out the door with my head high, swinging the plastic bag of socks with pride. My sock-buying fears were conquered. Unfortunately, I'm still out of underwear, condoms and toilet paper.
Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His e-mail address is paul [at] geekprom.com.