“I’m just going in here,” I say to Ni with breezy fake confidence. “See you on the 4th.” I’ve been to a writers’ meeting and Ni and I are walking back to the car park when I see the vintage shop. I slow; hesitate; I want to go in, but feel intimidated by what I know I’ll find inside: the close quarters of browser and owner; the rails of uncategorised, un-priced clothes; the expert decisions needed to discern a fantastic find from just plain crazy.
Vintage shops tick all my boxes regarding re-use: getting more from items before they go to landfill; not stripping the world’s resources to get new items when there are adequate alternatives; and adding more worth and dignity to the work of people who make things by extending items’ useful lives. And anyway, vintage clothes are funky – old is good, better made, built to last, fit for purpose. But I feel apprehensive; it’s all too personal. This isn’t how we shop these days.
Ni shrugs. “Okay,” he says. “See you later.”
I push open the door. The shop is empty except for the owner: an Amazonian six-footer in red lipstick and a fake fur coat perched beside an antique sideboard reading Audition Pieces for Women. It’s dim and musty. I look around in panic, immediately regretting my decision: I’ll feel obliged to buy; she’ll be watching from behind her book. I should’ve stayed in the safety and bright lights of the anonymous multi-national clothes retailer, browsing through cheap conforming clothes made by exploited developing-world workers, sold by uniformed shop-assistants who couldn’t care less if I bought - not needing my purchase to pay their rent.
Quickly, I decide to flick along a rail or two, look at my watch, feign lateness and get out. But after a few minutes, I relax: I enjoy the quiet of the room, the scrape of the hangers on the rail, the girl turning a page. I savour the fusty scent and the feel of old fabrics: crunchy nylon, slippery satin. There’s a green tracksuit, a floral dress, a purple cardigan; towards the back I see rails of evening dresses and coats, sequins and fur, lamé and big buttons.
I buy an over-sized shirt and two dresses.
On the way home, I relegate the map in favour of modern methods. My satellite navigation leads me down a valley to the bottom of a steep single-track hill where I get my car stuck in a ford. Two men stop and try to push me out until a handsome fifty-something in a Range Rover comes and tows me off as if I weighed nothing. I’m still blushing from all the chivalrous attention when I get home.
I show my finds to Mark, slipping on the shirt.
“Is that for me?” he asks.
“It’s too big for you.”
“Is it?” I look in the mirror.
I take the shirt off. It cost £5 – much less than a new-item mistake. I get ready to put it on the Oxfam pile, but I can see Mark eyeing it.
“Can I have it?” he says, picking it up as the girls rush into the room.
“Mummy! Is it true you drove your car into a river?”
“Yes,” I say. “But if I’d planned my route in the old-fashioned way...”
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