Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Shopping: The International Language of Teen

I've joked that my daughter's and my trip to London and Paris last week was a "greatest hits" tour. Indeed, between the compressed schedule and all of our wonderful bat mitzvah commitments, there was no time to dilly-dally. We had to cram as much into as few days as possible.

On Saturday, we had four hours or so between services at the synagogue and the big celebration that evening. I considered suggesting a trip to the Tate Modern or a visit to Kensington Palace, but I knew what would make my little globe-trotter happy. 

Shopping! And, we knew just who to ask for advice. 

The younger sister of the bat mitzvah girl is a determined tweenage fashionista. She plans to make a career as a designer and I look forward not only to buying some of her certain-to-be fabulous ensembles, but also to attending the retrospective of her work they will someday present at the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute. Until then, we will have to settle for her expert insider tips.

She immediately suggested Oxford Street if we were looking for the latest trends. And, specifically, she encouraged us to visit one very special place.

Now, I've always loved England: Shakespeare, Jane Austen, high tea, nice manners. When I think of the nation's capital, I picture Buckingham Palace, Parliament, Westminster Cathedral, those adorable red phone booths. But now and forever more, when I hear the word "London," I will think of ... Primark.

Primark is a mecca for London's hip and stylish, a vast, colorful temple of overstocked, underpriced frippery. Anything you're looking for — from lacy lingerie to sky-high heels, shorts, tank tops, pocketbooks, flip flops, mini dresses, maxi dresses and dresses somewhere in between — at prices that start at £1 and £2, and go up to maybe £25 for a not-so-very-Burberry trench coat. 

This isn't exactly investment shopping. Will the stuff you buy last long? Oh, I sincerely doubt it. But, that's jolly good and hunky dory because those stonewashed, acid-rinsed, low ride, leopard print jeans are only going to be in style for the next five minutes anyway. And, speaking of the latest and greatest must-have item, my daughter was desperate for bright orange denims. We had looked everywhere (trust me, everywhere, everywhere, every-frrrrkin'-where) but to no avail. And, you guessed it.

Right there, right on the ground floor of Primark, right between the career blouses and the ladies' pajamas, was an entire ... rack ... of ... (wait for it, wait for it) ... bright orange jeans! OMG!!!

Having spent considerably more time shopping than we had planned, we quickly gathered our purchases: the holy grail of pants, some shorts, a cotton shirt, some bras, and a tunic for me (yes, even I was not immune to the power of Primark). I suggested that my daughter choose a size or two larger than she would wear in the states to be on the safe side.

Back at the hotel, we tried on our treasures. My tunic, which was an XL, fit as though it was an XS. It was silky polyester printed to look like a classic scarf. And, it did look like a classic scarf — like a classic scarf wrapped tightly around an enormous sausage, thank you very much. I was only out a few pounds so I decided to bring it home and donate it to the school's thrift shop. Oh well.

Unfortunately, I was not going to get off that easy. My daughter tried on her jeans and, alas, found that they too were cut much smaller than they were labeled. Everything was, in fact. "All right," I told her. "We'll go back to Primark after brunch tomorrow."

For our second Primark pilgrimage, we brought both our young British friends along. Their parents deserved a bit of a break after all the festivities, and it gave the girls a chance to hang out. We arranged a place to rendezvous, and I went in search of customer service. For future reference, it's in a hot, dismal corner of the store behind Primark's gigantic shoe department. One hour and fifteen minutes. I was on line for one hour and fifteen minutes. That's one hour and fifteen minutes that I will never get back again. 

Meanwhile, the girls were going gaga over all their options. Once I left customer service, I found three very happy campers and we quickly paid for everything and moved on. 'Farewell, Primark,' I thought to myself. 'At least I won't have to come back here until my next trip to London.'


Back at the hotel that evening, my daughter tried everything on again. At home, she wears a size 3/4, so she had originally bought a pair of size 6s. This time, to be safe, she had grabbed a pair of 10s. We were shocked to see that they were at least as tight as the first pair. Shocked, that is, until we realized that the hanger had said 10 but the pants were a 6. Oh no.

Our train to Paris was the next day at 11:30 am. I pulled out my iPad and checked Primark's hours. They opened at 9. If we were there early and if the customer service line wasn't too crowded, we just might make it. So, I spent my last morning in one of my favorite cities in the world, once again, at Primark.

"You know," I told my daughter, as we settled into our seats on the train a bit later, the third and final pair of orange jeans packed safely in her duffel. "You do have the best mother in the world."

"I know," she smiled. And, I think she actually believed it. For a full hour or so.

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