I’ve finally finished hauling my shedload of returns back to the shops after another disastrous round of ‘bargain hunting’ in the January sales. This Herculean task, an annual ritual rigged by everyone from Mother Nature to Philip Green, is seemingly designed to be as arduous and miserable as possible. From paper bags destined to dissolve at the first drop of drizzle, to rigid and wide-ranging refund policies, to stowing the returns desk in a distant lair so well-hidden even Bear Grylls would struggle to find it – it’s almost as if they don’t want you to get your money back.
Perhaps you saw me struggling down Oxford Street in the rain, sweating like a doner kebab on a stick with an armful of soggy sacks, reams of till roll billowing behind me like toilet paper in the wind in a mad dash to beat the receipts and get rid of the goods – a scene almost as deranged as the one witnessed during their original purchase. I’m not sure what kind of substance they pump through the ventilation units (crystal meth, perhaps?), but it works like a charm.
Every year we lose our minds at the sight of the sale rail, clawing through yards of foundation-streaked rags and snatching at hangers of tattered sequins and lace like buzzards scavenging in the desert.
The invisible fumes cloud our vision as well as our judgement. Fabric nightmares we’d struggle to work into a Halloween outfit morph into viable office-wear staples before our very eyes. We buy things that are five times too small as ‘thinspiration’ for the body we know we’ll never have in time for summer; we buy heels so high they could only ever feasibly be worn with crutches and tell ourselves we’ll learn to walk in them later. And God forbid I should spot the last one on the rack – that’s when my inner Gollum really comes out. I might be too far away to know whether I like it or sometimes even what it is, but I will literally roly-poly like a secret agent to grab it first – it’s like a reflex. Case in point: the navy feather jacket.
Buried amongst a pile of tat on the lower ground floor of Topshop, it revealed itself to me like the glint of glass on snow, and I lunged (the beady-eyed fashionista to my right never stood a chance). It was five minutes to closing time as I slipped under its soft, snuggly spell. This lovely thing was a giant powder puff of fluffiness. It was like they’d skinned a thousand ducklings – and I didn’t give two quacks, because I looked fabulous in them. Even the security guard, who’d presumably come over to kick me out of the store, ended up encouraging me to run to the nearest till.
I was practically foaming at the mouth with glee as I skipped to the cash desk – the kind of buzz that only comes from bagging a one-off, bona fide bargain (and crack, presumably). The jacket made me look a million dollars – and a quick beep at the till revealed it almost cost as much. I asked the lady to scan it again as clearly there’d been some mistake – they’d barely knocked off a tenner! But the computer said no. The weird thing is the price was clearly stated on the tag, but the pesky retail meth had rendered me blind – I hadn’t seen any of those extra zeros; it wasn’t a bargain at all.
And just like that, the spell was broken. Suddenly the jacket didn’t make me look fabulous; it made me look like Emu. An incredibly glamorous Emu. But Emu nonetheless.
On his final round of the shop floor, the security guard found me forlornly taking that beautiful jacket back to the rack. “Ohmagaaaaaawd – but it looked so good on you!” he gasped, clasping his cheeks. “Why didn’t you buy it?!” I showed him the price tag. Once he’d finished choking on his expletives, we hung it on the dreaded sale rail together, to lie in wait for the next unsuspecting gas victim.