Can pandemic shopping fill the void?

I wasn’t going to go to the ‘non-essential’ shops once they opened, largely because the government had the absolute audacity to call places like Selfridges, Fenwick and Topshop non-essential. Clearly, Boris and his pals are in denial if they think that these are non-essential, but OK Boris hun, you do you.

I resisted the need to visit the much longed-for racks of clothing, sparkly beauty halls and glass countered shoe departments for 10 whole days after June 22nd, despite a flurry of messages asking if I was excited and would I be the first one through the door, I just wasn’t feeling it. So no, I was not the Karen that queued up overnight with her god awful camping stool and sleeping bag on Northumberland street so I could officially be ‘the first person back in Fenwick’, there was no prize Karen, other than looking like a prize arsehole. But after ten long days, I decided to venture out for ‘blog research’. Now before I start I need to be clear that I fall into the Ivan Drago category of COVID protection ‘If she dies she dies’ (google it millennials - shame on you). I am not a panic-stricken covid’s around the corner kinda gal, for example; if you forget a jar of jam and have to go back on the arrows I won’t throw paint on you and scream ‘social distancing’, just get your plum conserve sweetheart, it's fine.

So after spending an age getting ready as it felt like a treat, off I went to Newcastle to be reunited with my nearest and dearest, the clothes. Here are my musings of how to experience this type of shopping and what to sack off as a thoroughly pointless exercise.

Manoeuvring the City

Holy shit, I was shouted at twice by the very deceiving people in the ‘here to help’ waistcoats, which should say ‘I’m the arrow police and here to be passive-aggressive’. I say I was shouted at twice, then I sharp nipped that in the bud and shouted back. Even if you don’t know Newcastle well, like most major cities there is the main shopping street, in our case, this is Northumberland Street. The council have, ‘helpfully’ put in arrows so that you walk up the street one way and come down the other way. This does not work, however, I naturally did my best to follow the system. Veering around the corner by the beautiful jewellery store ROX I was crossing over to the right-hand side to get to the arrows that were going up the street and then smart arse Dave in his ‘here to help’ jacket screamed ‘GET ON THE RIGHT SIDE’, I would like to say here I acknowledged Dave with a forced smile and slinked off to the right, but I just couldn’t help myself could I? So I said to Dave, ‘how would you like me to get there? Levitate or use my special turbo flying backpack?’. Dave muttered something under his breath, I was foaming, then I watched Dave from a distance, he was actively looking for people that came round the corner to get on the right side because Dave knew that there was no way to do this otherwise. Also Dave’s pal, 'Trevor' was ‘monitoring the area’ a third of the way up the street and told me I would have to walk to the top and cross then walk down the other side to get to Fenwick (this would be a 10-minute walk in a circle) and the street was pretty much empty. I now had a choice, fight or flight….. I’ve never envisaged myself as an NFL player but my lightning-quick reactions, dodging of Trevor wearing his street warden tabard was merely a blur as I sprinted into Fenwick like I was Tom Brady scoring a touchdown on Superbowl Sunday, I did not look back.

My arrow hell.

Entering the stores

Everyone was doing things a little differently so I just felt I was getting it right and then I would balls up somewhere, I didn’t have to queue as I went through the week when it was quiet. Some stores you have to sanitise (and are militant about it) and others say that it is there if you want it and a few don’t have it at all. The oddest part is going to each store and making nervous eye contact with the person on the door to see if you can enter, it is now like every store is a cool nightclub and that has the power to turn you away in an instant when all you want to do is buy a vest and a hair bobble. All of the systems are in place but once you are inside it pretty much goes out the window and people are just going where they like other than at the entrance and exits, so if you are a ‘follow the arrows to the letter’ type of person, I would give the shops a miss.

I wore this Balenciaga dress for shopping to help with my social distancing, totally blended in.

Reuniting with the clothes

This is almost too painful to write about. How I thought that I would feel when I could see them and touch them was a very different experience in reality. A lot of places had sales so there wasn’t the usual set up, the clothes were now out of season and sad as no one had given them a new home or even tried them on. I am not a great sales shopper as I can’t rummage for things very well so I didn’t look at a great deal. A lot of stores have removed a lot of their usual stock levels on the shop floor to make more room for social distancing so there isn’t as much to see. All in all, it's a bit of a washout. The biggest thing for me is not being able to try things on. I initially thought that this wouldn't be an issue, I know what suits me and what size I am in each store, oh how wrong I was, I didn’t realise how much I try things on in-store. Particularly as I am still on the quest for the perfect pair of non-skinny jeans, buying jeans without trying them on is right up there with trying to lick your elbow (who has just tried that?). I watched a guide by Billie Newland, an influencer and fashion blogger from Iowa, who has invented a guide for you to buy jeans without trying them on. Billie reckons that you can check the waist size with your forearm and the leg length with your wingspan, Billie is also full of shit. She has never bought jeans this way, I attempted it, not one pair fit, don’t listen to her, buy the size you think that you are and then in jeans, a size up. I bought 9 different pairs of jeans on this day, all returned, I have given up and will just wait I think. It is also worth knowing that most clothes when returned are quarantined for 2-3days when you return them, this is also impacting stock levels so keep checking if there is not something in your size, see, not as daft as I am strange-looking fashionistas.

The disappointing bit

Shopping without coffee is like a pencil skirt without a pair of spanx, something just doesn’t sit right. I know you can get a takeaway coffee and carry it around with you but it is not the same as sitting down with your shopping buddy and having a much-deserved coffee or a glass of fizz, it's all part of the experience. It's not just the coffee date, the lunch break or the glass of fizz that is a miss it's the being in the cosmetic hall and hearing that buzz that only a large department store has, it is strangely silent and a lot more clinical (yes, I know for obvious reasons) but it just doesn’t have that usual feel and it makes me sad, I know it will return but I am unsure when that will be.

Mason and Rye Fenwick, Newcastle, you're a big miss.

The sad bit

I can't write about visits to the shops without mentioning those that have left us during the lockdown and unlikely to return. Although for some there is the chance for a buyout, for some it looks like that ship has sailed. Oasis and Warehouse are the least likely to reopen, both their stores and online presence have ceased to trade leaving a big hole in many a shopping mall or concession. I wasn’t a big shopper in these stores in the last few years but Warehouse was my sixth form uniform and where to get a nice top underneath your suit for an interview, they are a little piece of high street nostalgia. Victoria’s Secret is looking ropey, at the moment they are closing several stores and marginalising their high street presence which is the same sort of thing that JCrew is doing. Monsoon and sister brand Accessorize have also closed 35 stores and are hoping to remain open for now whilst in administration. This lockdown has been the final nail in the already nearly shut coffin for Debenhams closing several stores including the Metro Centre. It is quite sad to see such large and long-established stores closed and of course, the amount of jobs lost is heartbreaking for many people that have slogged their guts out.

God, I didn’t mean to end on such a low note but I couldn’t not mention it. I would love to hear about your experiences getting back into the world of retail, please get in touch or leave a comment. I am off to Fenwick tomorrow to work with them on an exciting project about how styling is going to work in the store during the current restrictions. The style team are top-notch so whatever they have up their sleeves will be epic and intuitive to what shopping is currently like, you need to watch this space. I just hope that if I do have the luxury of trying anything on in store, then they have a range of sizes as COVID hasn’t been kind to the thighs. Stay safe out there fashionistas.

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