“Consuming Passions”: The Sales!

apple“Mery-llllll, I found the shoes in your size, come over here! Meryl? I got the Man-o-llllllos, hurry up!”

So shrieks the lady from New Jersey across the floor in Bergdorf Goodman’s shoe salon (trust me, they call it a salon), as she pounces on several pairs of shoes on a sale rack. All of a sudden, I lose my interest. I no longer covet the Manolos, the Jimmys, the Emmas, the Christians; whatever the shoe, however much I had wanted it the week before last, however much I felt that it was THE shoe that would change my life, it has lost its lustre. This shoe will not bring me sex in the city. If Meryl wants it, I do not. Because if it sits, neglected and unloved, tossed on a rack by size and not by designer among the other sad-sack shoes whose prices have been slashed, is it even the same shoe it once was?

Does a tree that falls in the forest make a noise if no one’s there? We’re talking philosophical essence here. The problem with sales – apart from the fact that they seem to start earlier each year (less than three weeks to go now, folks) – is that they make things cheap and thus cheapen them. Mostly, anyhow. Would you buy other goods no one wanted? Food, for instance? Would you really patronise that salad bar after 6pm where the stuff may be half price but the mayonnaise looks suspect? The sheer fact that something is on sale is already depressing. Wholesale shopping is great. Outlets are fabulous. No one in New York or London or any other civilised city would buy retail unless absolutely critical to the sustaining of life. (You’re going out somewhere hot; you have nothing to wear; it’s four in the afternoon.) But sales involve the shoes that even Meryl left behind, having tried them on her sweaty feet. And you can’t resist, right? You’re drawn in like a rabbit to a snake, like a fly to fly paper, like a mosquito to human flesh.

So my absolutely iron-clad number one rule for shopping in sales is this: don’t buy anything unless you wanted it before it went on sale. ( R emember: most shops bring in goods just for the sale, some of which they wouldn’t otherwise touch.) If you’re in Harvey Nichols this weekend, say, and you spot a little leather jacket that you just adore and then, when the sales begin, you see it on sale, go for it! But a lot of sales are cons. Not long ago I passed a shop with a sign in the window that read: 70 per cent off until midnight. Who could resist such a deal? I bought the bag. The next day the sign was still in the window, as it was months later. “I thought the sale was only until midnight,” I said to a guy in the store. He didn’t actually say that no one had mentioned which midnight, but it was there on his smug little face. “Mery-lll, I found a bag for you!”

Dull but true, the only sales really worth shopping at are those featuring large items such as refrigerators or washing machines. They take up space in showrooms. There are new models waiting in the warehouse. So if you need a fridge, OK, go for the sale. Designer sales are different. You know that this might be the only chance to get the bag, the coat, the semi-couture frock that has always been just out of your price range. And that little voice inside you is whispering that it won’t matter if it’s last season’s because it’s still so stylish and so desirable. And here’s a tip for free: get to know the doorman or a sales person at stores you’re crazy about. When sale times come, good relations with the staff can do wonders.

My mother was a sucker for the Hermès sale in Paris, and she got to know someone on the inside of the shop. (Call it an inside job.) S he would line up with the other women, all exquisitely scarved, all with only one thing in their minds – an Hermès bargain. My mother, who barely spoke French, always got in first and she always got what she wanted. But for her the sale was an event in itself, an expedition, a thrill. It had the allure, the seductions of the bazaar. A great sale is institutionalised haggling in a western idiom. And if you want real satisfaction, try to get something off the sale price. I once heard this referred to as R obo-shopping. Finally, the worst pitfall of sale shopping is the purchase of items in multiples. Dedicated shoppers sometimes believe that if it’s on sale, why buy one when you can get two? Or six? I’ve been seen struggling home, trying to hide the bags, trying to hide the fact that, in spite of all my principles, I’ve bought three dozen pairs of Fogal tights in all the wrong colours. Or shoes. In the wrong sizes. I mean, OK, so they hurt, but they’re Manolos. They needed a good home. So I’ll get my toe chopped off. I’ll put the shoes on the mantel. After all, they were on sale! ✦