800 words written on the subject for a competition run by Company magazine
I shuffled my feet and looked up at the sky as the first icy drops began to fall. I’d been standing in the same spot for three hours and knew the maze of creases in the girl in front’s olive parka like the back of my hand. According to my watch, there were still five minutes to go until the doors would open and the hoards of us stood shivering and snaking across the pavement would be offered solace amongst the sales racks.
As time had passed and numbers had grown, so had the palpable excitement. Conversations drifted delicately between swaddled bodies and bags were high on everyone’s list. “No trying on and always useful,” said one voice in a thick Liverpool accent. “Easy to grab in the scrum!” added another, before adrenaline and coffee-fuelled laughter rippled along the line.
I smiled and cradled my own cardboard cup. Although I’m partial to a beautiful bag, today I was exclusively part of the ‘shoe crew’, my target being a pair of McQueen boots. I’d lusted from afar after spotting snaps of the perfectly crafted peep-toes on Twitter, but knew that at over £600, they were out of my reach.
However, on this cold December morning, prices were about to drop and I’d decided to try my luck. I was confident; I had enough money and I had a game plan. I visualised my carefully devised route to the shoe department and imagined zigzagging rapidly towards the entrance.
Suddenly, I was snapped from my sleep-deprived stupor by a crushing surge of shoppers. Whoops and squeals were muffled by the sound of soles on concrete as we flooded onto the shop floor. We were like cattle, wildebeest, an army of fashionistas going into battle… or at least that how I imagine it would have looked, had I been there.
You see, I have never queued with such dedication in the name of fashion. My prized designer purchases are few and far between and were not fought for with elbows and determination in a post-Christmas scuffle, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate why people are willing to patiently stand in line to get what they want.
It is ridiculously easy to avoid queuing thanks to the internet, yet processions continue to form inside and outside stores worldwide because people want to connect with fashion in a way that they can’t online. The inescapable truth is that the immediacy of e-commerce strips away some of the joys of the shopping experience; the feel of a garment and the way it moves. No matter how high-quality the pictures or from how many angles a statuesque model’s strut is shown, nothing can match the assurance gained in person that clothes are comfortable and fit.
Physically getting your hands on a piece also insures that you get it in the best possible condition. On countless occasions, I’ve heard internet shoppers bemoan the lack of care taken by those transporting their precious packages after a scratched or snagged purchase has turned up on their doorstep.
You’re practically guaranteed ownership of an item the moment you join a queue as well. Once you’ve experienced the agony of a website crashing or an item magically going out of stock the moment you try to add it to your virtual basket, you become wary of taking chances come sale season. In fact, many limited edition collections don’t even make it onto a brand’s website, and stock can often be found marked down further or in more plentiful supply in stores.
The most underrated aspect of shop queues is the time they give you to rethink impulse buys. The passive nature of online checkouts makes it all too easy to spend more than you intended to and to forget about your budget-busting blowout until the doorbell rings unexpectedly. It’s only then that you’re reminded of the one-size-too-small dress that you ordered after a glass or two of red last Thursday night…
Aside from American chains where loitering outside has become a status badge and marketing tool in itself, whether you frequent Prada or Primark, sacrificing part of your day (and sanity if children are involved) expresses just how much you value and want to own an item. The unpleasantness of waiting is outweighed by the joy you imagine you’ll get from your purchases and a frustrating few minutes (hours if you happen to be camped outside Selfridges) are often tempered by bubbling anticipation which lingers until you slip on your new outfit.
I may not have found that special item which coaxes me into freezing for the sake of fashion, but since each season brings new obsessions by the Birkin-load, I’ve no doubt that when it comes along (and I have enough funds at my disposal) I’ll be first in line.