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I spent this afternoon at Bicester Village, the Disneyland High Street of outlet stores in Oxfordshire. Equal parts weird and fascinating. Most frequently overheard was “darling, can I get you this sweater/bag/pair of shoes for Christmas?” You know, the sorts of people for whom all shopping from mid-October on is a part of Christmas shopping. There are a hundred or so (yes we were given lots of figures, but I wasn’t paying full attention) stores there, mostly clothing, but also homey places like Le Creuset, Bose and Wedgwood, a Books etc plus a Starbucks & a Pret. Lines are all last year’s with between 30% and 60% discounts.
The day was facilitated by Helen Keegan (brilliantly, I have to say, even though she’s one of my longest-standing friends, everything just worked without any fuss), who’s working with BV on their online marketing strategies and there were a range of other tuttlers there. We were given a nice goodie bag including a 10% off card (though that was refused me at L’Occitane on purchases less than £25) and a generously endowed gift card. I found it quite strange, going shopping, going shopping in luxury brand stores, going shopping in luxury brand stores having been given money specifically for spending there. But somehow I managed to make some purchases. I had to have a good walk round first, and probably popped into every store except that very posh one at one end of the village that’s so posh that they don’t want us to talk about the fact that they’ve got a store at BV. I then had to go and sit down with a cup of coffee before I ventured out to actually buy something – it showed me how conservative I’ve become in my wardrobe choices (or rather, just stuck, there was plenty of conservative clothing but not what I’d want to wear). I tried to get some chino’s in Ralph Lauren but they didn’t have anything in my size. I had to ask one of the foppish young men assistants to explain the labelling because I couldn’t believe that some of the trousers had 38″ legs, but it was true, I unfolded one pair and if they’d hung right at my ankles the waistband would have been tucked under my armpits. There was only one pair in anything resembling my size according to the label, but either I’ve got tubbier or they’d been cut on the small side – I fear the former is far more likely.
In the end, I settled for some smelly stuff from L’Occitane, some notelets from Smythson and a scarf from Jack Wills. The last purchase took me very slightly over the limit on the gift card, which proved quite a trying experience for the poor girl who was serving – she had to work out 10% off, then get two of her colleagues to check how to make the till understand the combination of gift card and my debit card. All part of the entertainment.
All of the assistants in the stores I visited seemed to be county boys and gels either working through college or in a gap year, I got the feeling they were all quite excited to be there, presumably they get even more of a staff discount on the discount on the discount.