As I’m sure we’re all aware, I am a fashion icon and I am currently wearing the red, fleecy, star-spangled onesie to prove it. So, naturally, when I had the opportunity to go to a big, fashion-y sale, I jumped at the chance. Also (mainly) a lot of my still-quite-new friends were going, and I didn’t want to look like a bargain-hating square.
I’ve been to a ‘buy the bag’ sale before. It was a couple of years ago, in a charity shop warehouse in the arse end of Brooklyn, and it was great. The warehouse took all of the donations to the charity before they were checked and sent out to stores, so you just rummaged through giant metal bins of clothes. Some were great. Some were terrible. Many were hideously stained in truly suspect ways. My friend had a Groupon for two bags for the price of one, because when you’re already buying peoples’ unvetted castoffs why no take it one step further? So I got a $12.50 plastic bag and was free to take home anything I could stuff in there. I ended up with enough knitwear to see me through three polar vortexes in as many months.
So, I’m an old hand at the concept of ‘buy the bag’. This one took place in a Cornish warehouse by the sea, so I figured it would be sedate. After all, if they can manage to be chill about things in Brooklyn, surely we could keep it together in a county that John Craven very recently hosted Countryfile from.
Guess what? I was wrong.
We turned up on the very first evening of this weekend-long sale because we are keen and also because, it would seem, nobody wanted to hang out with us on a Friday night. The world and his wife were already queueing out of the door. It felt how imagine cool people would feel when they’re trying to get into a club. Except if they were actually cool they’d be let in straight away, so I suppose it felt how it would feel if I was trying to get into a club. Basically, there was a lot of grumbling.
On entering the warehouse, I bought two bags (ever the optimist) and was greeted with a live performance of the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan, guts and all. My friends disappeared into the seething mass of people, and I wondered vaguely whether I could justify going home with the world’s most expensive empty carrier bags.
I eventually decided to brave it, and took a couple of steps into the fray. Stepping over the twisted dresses and tops that littered the floor, I took one coat from a hanger and contemplated it at length. Then I decided against it and neatly replaced it on the rack, before meekly taking another down. I put it in my bag even though I hated it because I honestly just wanted to feel like I was involved. Around me, clothes flew into the air like the people who threw them just didn’t care and I knew I needed a rethink.
I circled the floor a few times, feeling like I was finally making progress. It took a good few laps to realise that all I was actually doing was walking between two crowds of people as they rummaged through tables and boxes on both the inside and the outside of the room.
I picked up a few size ten items and, even though I don’t physically have it in me to ever be that small, I took them because they seemed stretchy and I needed to not feel like a failure for five minutes. My pupils dilated a little bit, and I felt briefly determined. I picked up some ink-stained sandals. They were my size, which is rare even in an actual designed-to-sell-only-shoes-to-everyone shoe shop, so I shoved them deep into my bag. If I’d personally stained them with ink I’d still wear them because they would make me look intellectual, and these ones were free. I could feel something dark stirring within me.
Over the next half hour a curious thing happened. Suddenly I was getting to the front of crowds as we sifted through random assortments of clothing. I dug through heaps of dresses on tables and stuck my hands right to the bottom of the boxes of extra stock underneath those tables, even though nobody had told me I was allowed. I shoved things around with reckless abandon, not even stopping to fold anything. I even (whisper it) got my elbows out a few times. It felt good to rekindle many of the skills I used to use on the regular while just trying to get through the day on public transport.
Eventually, I snapped out of what I can only assume was a rage and/or bargain-induced blackout to find myself standing in a nearly-empty room. There was barely anything left to give any clue as to what had just happened, apart from a few torn scraps of fabric fluttering gently to the ground. I had a bag in each hand, and both were full. In fact, they were so full the handles had cut into my hands leaving my fingers looking like misshapen, slightly blue claws.
It was time to go home.