By Deepthi Nair
I am, by no means, a shopaholic. I religiously avoid the mall on weekends, except for when I scamper to get a birthday gift at the ninth hour, or when bitten by the FOMO (fear of missing out) bug, I step out to catch the latest movie everyone’s talking about.Something about the crowds, with their umpteen shopping carts, wailing kids in tow, and congested food courts is an instant turn-off for me. Even when Dubai hosts super sales with 90 per cent off, I steer clear. It doesn’t help that I have recently discovered the joy of e-commerce, which drives a wider chasm between me and the brick-and-mortar stores.
I haven’t always been this way. Till three or four years ago, I was a regular at Dubai’s sprawling malls. I would diligently look up my favourite brands every week to suss out new collections and special offers. Employees at some stores I frequented became so well-acquainted with me that they started requesting me to find them jobs and shared their sob stories.
In time, I reduced my visits to malls. I no longer enjoyed trying on new stuff amid the cacophony of other shoppers, preferring to browse in peace, with no one offering suggestions.
This could be why I wasn’t particularly excited when my family in the US broached the idea of a visit to a mall during my trip to Pennsylvania last week. My cousins, on the other hand, lug empty suitcases to the US, and return loaded with merchandise. I scoffed at the idea, what with Dubai boasting the best malls in the world. Plus, I had visited enough malls in Dubai.
On a rainy day last week, my sister-in-law decided to brave the downpour and take us bargain shopping to an outlet mall on the outskirts of Philadelphia. I was more interested in the scenic one-hour drive through the lush countryside than the prospect of splurging on branded goods.
However, the plan was set. My husband had prepared a check-list. He wanted active wear and sneakers (since he plays tennis and goes jogging). I kept my priority list short: just a few pairs of work outfits — maybe.
My wardrobe is already bursting at its seams, despite spring cleaning almost every other month and contributing to the neighbourhood recycle bins. It was time to chip away at the profligacy, I had told myself. And I had been making progress. My last non-essential buys were in March. The pretext? My birthday.
When we reached the mall, my husband was like a man on a mission. He made endless visits to the change room. I chided him about how unnecessary his purchases were, how he didn’t have to buy everything. I was irritable because it was no fun being on the other side of the fence, I realised, waiting as someone else tried on outfits. I was getting impatient. It didn’t matter to him. He said there were killer deals, not to be missed, and he kept rifling through athletic wear. Later, going through his purchases, mostly workout gear for $6 and running shoes for $25, I had to agree.
After a couple of stops at outlets like Old Navy, Aldo and Asics, it was time to step up and explore the bigger brands. I was warming to the idea of this being an opportunity that doesn’t come around every day. Stopping by Steve Madden, I stumbled upon an irresistible deal: a luxurious tote bag for $15 (Dh55). I stopped in my tracks and rechecked with the shop assistant. Much to my delight, she reaffirmed the price. There was no looking back. I was a convert, back to my old ways.
This was followed by visits to Kate Spade, Tommy Hilfiger, Coach, Calvin Klein, Jimmy Choo, and Banana Republic. I too now felt it was criminal to let go of the opportunity of finding upscale brands at throwaway prices. I felt like I was in a shopping heaven. I had heard theories that damaged goods sometimes account for the majority of outlet mall merchandise, so I checked thoroughly to make sure my buys were in good condition. I made a note to myself: don’t rely on hearsay, check it out yourself.
I ended up spending a good six to seven hours on retail therapy. Although I’ve been to outlet malls in Dubai, I have often found the collections in stores very unorganised and no fun to browse through. Moreover, in the US outlet mall, all the store assistants welcomed me with niceties: “Hi! How’s your day going so far? Do you need any help?”
Ultimately, instead of the work wear I had intended to purchase, I ended up buying three pairs of shoes, a couple of handbags, clutches, more than half a dozen pair of dresses, jewellery and more. What I particularly thought was a bargain were my Tommy Hilfiger handbag for $40 (Dh150), Kate Spade earrings for $25 (Dh90) and New York & Company dresses for $15 apiece.
And to the fashion critics who insist outlet malls store last season’s inventory, I don’t frankly care if my Tommy Hilfiger bag is ‘so last season’. For someone not all that into brands, it’s a feat to snag a luxury item (fine, ‘accessible luxury’ item) at a solid discount. I am sure it will last for a few years and still look fabulous, unlike the ones I bought for a steal at Walmart and Target. Besides, who doesn’t love the thrill of sporting something by a brand you normally can’t afford? Or showing your friends a high street buy they think you spent a fortune on? My secret’s safe with you, right?
Deepthi writes on Dubai property but loves to be in the thick of all that’s fun in this city