Saturday, 1 October 2005

Never pay retail

I went to TK Maxx (TJ Maxx in the US, go figure!) earlier today; I was looking for more cashmere to satisfy my new-found obsession with goat hair. I came across a strange garment: a kind of knitted tabard, i.e. a sleeveless, collarless, rather charmless nothing piece of clothing. It was originally on sale at French Connection for £50. TK Maxx was selling it for £16.99. And even at that price it was too expensive.

I was brought up in the rag trade district in Paris, aka the Marais – pre-art galleries and bijou boutiques. My father was a confectionneur de vêtements imperméables (he made raincoats) and we never bought any garments in shops: we bought everything at wholesale prices. It was great but it also meant that I never had any interest in clothes. They were things that my parents’ friends and acquaintances provided, and choice was limited to what those people could offer.

But those people, who had workshops in the area, also supplied famous labels. I’ve always known that even prestigious prêt-à-porter garments are made in less than prestigious surroundings. In the ‘70s, I lived just outside the Marais, in a quiet back street, next door to the workshops where Louis Vuitton bags and accessories were being made: every night, dustbins full of scraps of that horrible plastic LV-stamped material would be put on the pavement outside. I smile when I see people queuing to be admitted into the Louis Vuitton boutique in Selfridges and see the prices those bags are sold for.

In 1962, my parents opened a shop in Nice and started selling not only raincoats, which my father no longer made, but leather and suede garments, and I learned to recognize quality. I know what good leather should look and feel like. And, more to the point, what it’s worth.

Today, in TK Maxx, faced with that ridiculous piece of knitwear, I wanted to slap retailers who charge outrageous mark-ups so here goes: slap!

PS. I bought a lovely purple sweater (not cashmere), from some American label: it’s beautifully cut and finished. The original price was ludicrous: £146. It was reduced to £12.99 and probably worth around £30. A real bargain.


  1. Which TKMaxx do you use Bela? There's never any cashmere in the Hatfield one although there is a Pringle outlet in the Galleria where TKMaxx is situated.

  2. It's true: not all TK Maxx are equal. I once went to the Ealing branch and it was a mess and a big disappointment. Mine is the King Street Hammersmith branch. It's very near to where I live and I couldn't do without it now (I'm not joking). In the past year, I've bought four cashmere sweaters of one kind or another for an average of £35 (two were £49.99 but the other two were much cheaper). The other day, I got a lovely cashmere scarf for £16.99 (original price £55). I also own two pairs of Lulu Guinness shoes (£40 each, reduced from... you can imagine); some cute merino-wool tops from French Connection (appr. £14.99), etc. etc. I regularly come across Nicole Farhi and Betty Jackson stuff, and even the occasional Versace (prêt-à-porter range). At the moment, they have some wonderful winter coats

    As for their home and kitchen stuff...

    Since I go there so often I know the stock very well, which means that I don't have to spend hours going through everything: I can spot the new arrivals straightaway. It can be overwhelming if you can only visit the once. You should devote an entire day to it (with a lunch break).

    Last year, I took a French friend there: he was very dismissive and still is because he doesn't have the patience (men, you know!), but I've noticed more and more French people. There's nothing dismissive in their behaviour.

  3. ooh. Once my no-buy is over I feel a trip to Hammersmith coming on

  4. I like TK Maxx because it has clothes in big sizes from Italy and France that don't assume you want to dress in middle-aged purple flowery viscose or enormous jeans and bomber jackets like a big-bottomed biker. I also love the handbags! I find I experiment more when things don't cost much. eBay too has instilled the 'why pay retail' ethic. And Amazon - I now get all my CDs from the 'used' section, and when I go into a music store I look at prices like £15.99 and think 'You must be joking!'

  5. GSE, check out the estate agents too, when you visit: you'll want to move to the area straightaway.

    Oh, Lulu, how could I forget to mention the handbags?! We're all getting a lot wiser, aren't we? Power to the shoppers!

  6. I don't like clothes well enough to overpay. I always forget about TJMaxx here though.

    To buy books, try:

    My husband is in a book group, and I've bought the very book he needed for his group this month for one cent. Yes, one penny. Of course the shipping costs brought it up to $3, but so what?

  7. TLP blasphemy! It's a good thing I am lying down or I would probably faint from the shock... not liking clothes.
    After working 10 years in the high-end retail industry, you do get a bit spoiled. Although you also begin to have an eye for well-made garments as well. The only problem being that once you get spoiled by the high ticket goods... it's oh so difficult to go back.

  8. i resent it when retailers are charging the earth for flimsily put together garments

    and, like you, i'm incresaingly mindful of who constructed the garment (chinese woman locked in a factory for ungodly number of hours every day)

    makes me wonder whether i should take a sewing/dressmaking course, but i won't, of course, as it would please my mother-in-law too much!

    [believe it or not i have never been to tk maxx, but might have to take a look some day soon...although i don't hold out much hope for the woolwich branch -or am i being unfair?!)

  9. SL, until the advent of TK Maxx I wasn't interested in clothes either (for the reasons I gave in my post). I used to go shopping for them twice a year - all on one day, to get it over with as quickly as possible. Hated it, especially shopping for shoes. Now it's a real pleasure and, for the first time in my life, I can afford slightly more upmarket stuff.

    Thanks for the rec., TLP; it's obviously a great place for books. Just now I'm trying to get rid of some of my books so I have space for new ones. I have this huge pile of books waiting to be read... I will save that URL. :-)

    UC, I made some of my dresses when I was a teenager (trying regain some control over what I wore, I suppose, LOL!); I wouldn't have the time now.

    Do visit TK Maxx soon. I can't tell what the Woolwich branch is like: they usually adjust their stock to the kind of customers they might have. They got it wrong in Hammersmith, to start with: they thought they would just have people who shopped at Primark, across the road, but not everyone there is a harassed mother of four or a teenager with little pocket money (not that those are the only people shopping at Primark, but... you know what I mean). The offices of L'Oréal and Coca Cola are just around the corner and they're full of people who can afford more expensive stuff. TK Maxx's stock changed after a few months (hence the leather, the cashmere, etc.). Hope your branch is just as good. Let me know.

  10. I love bargains, they make me feel as if I've gotten away with something. And yours sound particularly appealing. xoxo

  11. I'm with you, J. I can't bring myself to pay astronomical prices for anything, I just can't! Eek, and brand names. No thank you.

    I did chuckle at your phrase "to satisfy my new-found obsession with goat hair." Bwah! I don't know why its simplicty and honesty just killed me.

  12. Hi, J! I blame the generous and talented Laura, aka LaureAnne (have you seen her sketches? Aren't they wonderful?), for that obsession: a couple of years ago, I mentioned on MUA that I'd never owned a cashmere garment and she sent me a pair of lovely gloves. I was doomed from that moment on. LOL!

  13. Cashmere! You remind me, It's time to find a new cozy button-down cardigan. I've worn my old ones down to shreds. Once I find a garment I like, I tend to wear it until it disintegrates, so I need sturdy clothes.

    I love TJ Maxx, but I rarely have any luck in the clothing dept. The one in NYC is an unholy disaster of things falling off of tangled hangers. I have much better luck in Filene's Basement, which is much the same thing, only better organized (here, at least) and with a regular infusion of decent brand names.

  14. I too wear my favourite clothes until there's nothing left of them.

    Ooooh, we don't have Filene's Basement here. Wonder what I'm missing...


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