Saturday, 3 October 2009

In which I smell musty, but it's all for charidee.

Printed 25/06/09.

There's a quiet revolution afoot on the high street. Maybe it's a recession thing (isn't everything, now, a recession thing?), or maybe I've just been shopping in flea-bitten vintage emporiums for too long to notice, but something's definitely shifting.

For starters, Dorothy Perkins has got quite nice. After years of being River Island's frumpy sister, full of jersey and smocking and mother-of-the-bride wear for teen mums in later years, Dotty Ps has finally hit on a winning formula. "Let's make the same stuff as Topshop, but cheaper, bigger, and without the whiff of sprightly 15-year-old Skins-alikes to drag you away from that lace cropped top". Applause to Ms Perkins!

And for main course*, there's the fact I've started shopping there again. Which mightn't sound it, but I promise you is conclusive proof of either a total high street renaissance, or a post-graduation identity crisis. Yes, I will hold my hands up and say openly, "My name is Lauren Bravo and I was a highstreetaphobic."
(Hello Lauren).

So deeply internalised was the fear of seeing anyone else in the same stuff as me, particularly if they looked thinner/better/were Mischa Barton, that I spent five-odd years as a strident, second-hand-only shopper ('odd' being, in hindsight, the operative word).

But now, for dessert, comes the irony – just as I'm running, open-armed, back to the high street crying, "Mother H&M, can you ever forgive me?", charity shops are suddenly upping their game. Thanks to Mary Portas and her crisp-shirted brand of retail genius, Chazzer Shops are back on the fashion menu.

But, and here's the catch, only if we keep them alive with a consistent stream of unwanted Mulberry Bags, Jaeger jumpers and trendy young customers. It's great news for the charities, naturally, and for everyone with all that unworn Whistles just bursting out of their wardrobes, but I for one will miss the tat.

Having been born and bred a charity shop devotee, I can sniff out a 75p Jackie annual at 100 paces. Ditto, a C&A ra-ra skirt, commemorative royal wedding milk jug, or Mousetrap, original 70s box, only the little plastic man missing, £1.49. That rummage in the bargain bin is part of the experience, supplying the unique thrill that comes from not knowing if you'll come up with a FabergĂ© egg or a used fondue set (cheese attached).

*Realise now I've typed it that, actually, that isn't the way the phrase works. But it should be, so I am leaving it.
* * * * * * * * * *

I SUSPECT, though, that there will always be a place for the tat somewhere among the Kurt Geiger boots, because one thing that Mary Queen of Charity Shops served to highlight more than anything else was the unrelenting stoicism of the elderly volunteers.

Did I say stoicism? I meant pig-headed narrow mindedness. For the most part. "Oooh I don't like it… too much change… it isn't like the old days," they chorused every time the shop got a new lick of paint or a pair of tennis shoes had its price upped 25p.

"Come ON!" you wanted to scream. "You lived through a world war! Your generation has endured rationing, nuclear threat, four recessions and the career of Noel Edmonds! You've made it through everything the 20th century had to throw at you, and you've done it all without your hair even moving! Can you really not cope with this?"

"Just put your tabard on and think of England, there's a good pensioner."

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TO round off my consumerist theme this week, I'd like to issue my congratulations to Worthing for the long-awaited arrival of its new H&M. About time, too, and yar boo sucks to Horsham.

Now, as far as I can see, there are only two notable gaps left in the town's retail landscape, if we are to claim our official crown as the Shopping Jewel of the South Coast (when you can't for whatever reason go to Brighton): Primark, and Pret A Manger.

Once the day comes when I can spend an afternoon bulk-buying £2 knickers and then celebrate with a nice crayfish and avocado wrap, I might just find reason to abandon Oxford Street and visit my homeland more often.

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