The high street never used to be a scary place. When I moved to London, aged 21, it was the most exciting place in the world. The first time I went into Topshop Oxford Circus, I didn’t come out for four hours. FOUR HOURS. It was dark when I finally emerged. On a Saturday afternoon, I used to enjoy nothing more than meeting up with my friends to go and have a shop. It was the kind of shopping that involved so much walking I’d need a nap when I got home, even though, often, we wouldn’t have bought anything at all.
That was 20 years ago. Even though the high street offers far more choice than it did back then, it became less and less appealing to me throughout my thirties. The whole experience was making me feel old, irrelevant and, sometimes, downright angry. There’s the awful music, for a start. The hideously unflattering lighting in changing rooms. The fact that the very nature of fast fashion has made shopping less exciting – because there’s always something new, it becomes less of an occasion. But, since turning 40, I have decided to reclaim shopping as my own. There’s nothing quite like a trip to the shops (be that online or IRL), and I’ve missed it. Luckily, I’ve found a few ways to make it fun again, so I thought I would share them with you.
Make your own soundtrack
This was my first lightbulb moment. Even though music is a huge part of my life, I never listen to it when I’m out and about – I like to have my wits about me. This often results in me leaving a shop not because I don’t like the clothes, but because I can’t stand the songs that are blasting out of the speakers (I also do this with pubs/bars/offices). But one day, I decided to drown out the dross with my own playlist (I Miss The 90s). Suddenly, I was shopping on my own terms again – and it was brilliant. Almost immediately, I bought a corduroy baker-boy cap, while listening to Suede’s Stay Together. This can’t be a coincidence. It’s one of the best things I’ve bought all year.
Always try a new shop at least once
Although there are now lots of stores that market themselves to the non-twentysomethings among us (thank you, Arket and COS), when a new brand opens on the high street, it can be easy to dismiss it as somewhere meant for those who can’t remember dial-up. I had assumed this of Weekday, the sister-store to H&M and & Other Stories, but, in the name of investigative fashion journalism, I headed in to check it out and was pleasantly surprised. Once I’d sifted through the velvet micro-mini skirts, Weekday turned out to be my new go-to for basic T-shirts and long-sleeve striped tops.
Timing is everything
I retrained as a fashion writer when I was 30, and it was before my Saturday morning fashion-history classes that I discovered the joy that is early doors high-street shopping. My train always got me in half an hour early, and I would while away the extra time on deserted shop floors. The freshly cleaned stores, combined with the lack of people, made for a much more pleasurable shopping experience. This approach meant I discovered items I really liked, in shops I'd written off. I still try and hit the high street pre or post lunchtime rush and never – never – on a Saturday.
Head to the back of the shop
There’s absolutely no reason why anyone of any age shouldn’t shop in Mango, Zara or Monki. But I get that those initial trend-focused windows and entrance displays can be a bit off-putting, particularly if the trends they are showcasing are those you remember first (or second) time around. My advice? Walk to the back of the shop, or upstairs, where you’ll find less of the cycling shorts and space-age trainers, and more of the cropped trousers and quality cashmere sweaters.
Wear a shopping outfit
Wear an outfit that’s easy to take off and put back on again. It’s that simple. Your Me+Em fancy trackpants really come into their own here. Don’t wear a top with loads of buttons or a T-shirt with a neck so tight it will ruin your hair whenever you take it off. No red lipstick. And swap your hiking boots for slip-on Vans. This rule applies regardless of your age, but as I’m increasingly more easily put off shopping, it’s the most important point. If I get it wrong, I’ll give up and head home empty-handed after just one go in the changing rooms.
And once you’ve done all that…
Of course, online shopping IS brilliant, but I tend to only buy from brands I know and trust, so I’m familiar with their sizing. For example, now I’ve found Weekday T-shirts, I can bulk-buy all their different colours when they have a special offer. Give as much thought to your online shopping as you would if you were in a shop – don’t buy after a few glasses of wine or, as my friend did recently, as a distraction during a particularly tense football match that you can’t deal with watching (she returned the item in question). It’s also good to keep an eye on your favourite influencers on Instagram, as they often speak about the size and fit of the items they’re wearing, which is helpful when you can’t try them on yourself.