10 February 2009

The “Feel Good Factor” (No snobs allowed!)

Monday, 9 February 2009

Who knew? For once in my life I am actually ahead of a trend.

I sat down this snowy, Monday afternoon to have a cup of tea and a leisurely read of yesterday’s Sunday Times. I pulled the Style magazine gleefully from its cellophane wrapper, and, I swear, just as finished perusing the cover, which declared: “Jourdan Dunn on ‘Why Oxfam’s the New Prada’” – there was a hefty knock on our front door. It was the postman, dutifully delivering two large parcels: Flower girl dresses that I’d just purchased last week, from, you guessed it, Oxfam!!

Let me explain, I somehow missed that vital female shopping gene, the one that enables a woman to endear countless stores (and shop assistants) for hours upon hours, the capacity to survive as the last girl standing in the quest to “shop till you drop.”

Frankly, and I know I risk my forfeiting my “Girl License” here, but, truth be told, I get bored. And my feet start to hurt. I get cranky, fussy and tired. I recall a notable shopping episode some time ago, in downtown Manhattan, when I was out with my wonderful, dapper, gay, male best friend. He stopped, mid-shopping stride, in T. J. Maxx, and turned to me and enquired: “Do you need your diaper (nappy) changed, or what?”

Online shopping was invented for me. But, while I may lack the essential female “Shop till you drop” gene, I do have the standard “never trust it, unless you can see it” fear that most people have about buying things off their laptops.

So, as the fates would have it, I had to venture out. A few weeks ago I decided I wanted to have the D.E.B.’s two utterly adorable, and truly angelic goddaughters as Flower Girls in our wedding. Thus began a quest to find two, identical Flower Girl dresses. Easy-peasy, I thought.

Who was I kidding?! While I was in town working at the Shakespeare Trust last week, I did a brief investigation, just to see what was out there. I dragged myself through Laura Ashley (nothing) and Monsoon (nothing). Then, took a deep breathe and tackled the big guns: Debenhams and BHS (British Home Stores). I was quite surprised at what I found. Beautiful, gorgeous, divine, little dresses. The stuff of little princess dreams. Taffeta, Organza, Silk, Chiffon, Charmeuse. You name it. With prices to match, of course.

That’s another point. Why, I often wonder, that no matter what the item is, if you place the word “wedding” or “bride” in front of it, the price suddenly quadruples! And, people are willing to pay it! Don’t get me wrong, I adore “The Angel Goddaughters,” and want them to have nothing but the best. But let’s face it. The girls are 7 and 10 years old. So, at best, on the day, they will wear their dresses for what? Roughly 3-4 hours, tops? 

And, at the worst, they will probably have outgrown these dresses altogether before they even have another opportunity to wear them a second time. Ta da! Another instance of: “Romance vs. Practicality.” Add to this equation one’s desire to be frugal and thrifty, and you have the recipe for a right royal headache!

Enter: Oxfam.  The solution was right at my fingertips.

“The time is right for charity shopping to come into its own.” – Sarah Farquhar, Oxfam Retail Operations

Oxfam now has a brilliant online charity shop, where you can peruse the fashion (and other) offerings of a variety of its numerous shops across Britain. Who even knew that they have a dedicated Bridal Collection?! As an added bonus, once you find an item you like the look of, the website gives you details and contact information for the local Oxfam shop offering that item, so it is possible to go and see the item in the flesh before you purchase, if you so wish.

What’s nice about this online shop is that you are able to see a selection of items from Oxfam shops, beyond the one in your local vicinity. What could be more heavenly: Thift, convenience and a cup of tea.

Now, to do the impossible: Find two identical Flower Girl dresses in two different sizes. To be honest, I held out very little hope of finding the like on Oxfam.com or another such outlet, i.e., eBay and etc. I mean, come on, TWO, IDENTICAL dresses? Well, worth a gander at least, I thought. And what do you know! Voila!  

Lo and behold, Oxfam had a flurry of flower girl dresses, and--shock of century-- two identical BHS flower girl dresses in sizes 7-8 and 9-10. (God, I hope they fit!) Before making the purchase, I dropped a line to the Oxfam shop in question (in Market Harborough, Leiceistershire) to check on particulars: were the dresses White or Ivory? Were they truly identical, as they were listed separately? Detailing? and, etc.

I had a friendly and speedy reply from Kate, the manager. Kate kindly sent me additional photographs of the dresses, including close ups of the lovely silk bodices, and more images of the detailing. Her note was so sweet, she said: “I’m sorry to inform you that the dresses are not solid Ivory. There is a bit of lilac embroidery on the silk bodice. Hope this will be okay?”

I nearly fell out of my chair, and you could have knocked me over with a feather! Suddenly, these only “hopeful” dresses, where now utterly ideal! (The DEB and I have decided on a “lavender” theme for our wedding.)

Kate signed off by saying: “If the dresses don’t work for you, feel free to return them.” Excellent. Without taking a breath, I logged on and purchased them both immediately.

After I made my purchase, another message from Kate:

“Thank you for your purchase, Alycia. You will have an extra bright smile on your day because you know that you haven't been fleeced, but also because those dresses are putting food in the mouths of babes.”

You can’t really argue with that.

Kate also shared with me the extraordinary recent example: Her shop recently sold a St. Patrick wedding gown, brand new. (Yes, she did say a brand new St. Patrick) Original price - £1,800.  ($2,655.75 USD) Oxfam price - £750. ($1,106.18 USD) Kate added: “Ok [the Oxfam price is still] a lot of money, but it will go an awfully long way.”

Due to snow and Royal Mail Second Class parcel delivery, I have been eagerly awaiting my Oxfam parcels for almost a week. They arrived today, and they are even mre gorgeous than I even imagined! They are absolutely flawless and in immaculate condition. And what a bargain! The same dresses available from BHS’s wedding collection (bhs.co.uk) are £65.00 ($96.00 USD), each. I got them from Oxfam for £14.99 ($22.09 USD) each!!

Not only is this the smart option for the thrifty-minded, it is a choice that, as Kate said, comes with a guaranteed feel-good factor. Everybody wins.

Have a look: Oxfam Bridal Collection

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