Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Clothes (Ρούχα)

I hate shopping for clothes in Hania. The kind of clothes I like to wear are comfortable cheap cotton tops and bottoms. But I can never find anything in my size that is all of that. Comfortable clothes in large sizes are often made in a frumpy style, making me, a modern EU woman, look like a dowdy bling-covered middle-aged public servant. Greek cotton, some of the best quality in the world, is expensive, but Greek-made clothes cannot be called cheap. I have made do with old clothes, but I'm getting very tired of them as they are now showing their age and most are splotched with olive oil stains. I dread the day they become unwearable because I know I will replace them with great difficulty in this town.

shanghai shopping
A typical 'kineziko' in Hania

Children's clothes can be bought cheaply at what we call in Greece κινέζικα (kinezika - 'Chinese shops' - they are always run by Greek-speaking Chinese immigrants) -  along with skinny young women's top fashion, most of which is made from nylon. You can smell it as you walk into the stores. There are still quite a few kinezika operating in Hania, despite the crisis. There's also Sprider, a Greek business selling clothes for the whole family; although the prices are reasonable, the fashion fit is mainly geared for young people (and so is the sizing). The local Zara branch sells similar hi-fashion clothes at higher prices, as do other fashion labels like Pull and Bear and Oysho. Marks and Spencer is on the pricey side in Hania, but that's the only place which I feel caters for my kind of fashion style: cheap, comfortable  cotton, made to last for at least three seasons to be worn on a daily basis in its season (although it's more expensive than Marks and Spencer in the UK; something to do with shipping costs, VAT rules, and the way the free market works - it depends on which way the wind blows).

marks and spencers hania chania 
Marks and Spencer began operating in Hania in 2008. It sells only clothing (no food store). It's not cheap: last Christmas, I spent €100 on three items on sale...

My definition of 'cheap' is anything up to €15 a piece before they go on sale. I find it very difficult to keep the family dressed with reasonable prices. It would be a different story if I had plenty of money (or if I were skinny). Very little is cheap* here, even at the kinezika, where the clothes are made with low-quality fabrics. During the sales, large sizes disappear too quickly (I hate shopping among crowds and I prefer to shop when I need something, not just because it's on sale). The same problem exists with the street markets - you need to be there early to get the bargains (this isn't possible if you work). Then there's the variety: it's very limited in Hania, not because it's a small town, but because it's too conservative. There is very little in the way of individualised clothing.

"What does this remind you of?" I asked the children. "Is this a Harry Potter souvenir shop?" my son asked. "No, it's what children wear to school here in the UK." "Do they still wear clothes like that? I thought it was out of fashion," my daughter said. "Kids wear uniforms here," I explained. "Each school has a different one. I told you I used to wear one in New Zealand." "That's why I thought they were out of fashion, Mum," my son said. 

A small sample of Primark's price range
Although I'm grateful for the clothes gifts of my aging aunts (they buy me T-shirts they like to wear themselves), I know that such clothes don't look becoming on me. Whether we are image-conscious or not, the clothing we choose to wear tells people something about us. I have been giving the wrong message to people for a long time, but my patience - and theirs - has paid off since I discovered Primark**. Apparently, Primark prides itself on the 'fairtrade' clothes they sell. Quite honestly, I don't care how they trade. I know I could not have bought such clothes for such a low price elsewhere: jeans for £10, sandals for £8, tops for £5, children's T-shirts for £2. All the children's clothes I bought carried a single-digit price-tag.

The Lewisham street market, as viewed from TK Maxx in Lewisham Shopping Centre

Check out the prices
Thanks to Primark, I don't feel like a caveman any more. Even the children are making an effort not to dirty their clothes from now on - they know their mother won't spend any of her spare time rubbing the stains off a £2 T-shirt. My husband picked up a few bits and bobs at Matalan and TK Maxx (whatever you buy from the latter is definitely worth showing off). Although I didn't buy anything myself, my children's school will have two cool-looking kids wearing highly individualised unique shoes this coming winter.

*** *** ***

Both times that I've shopped at Primark, I've taken the opportunity to eavesdrop into various staff members' conversations. They seem to have a lot of conversations between managers, all in the open. The staff wear their black uniform with pride and they take their job very seriously, like bank managers. Shopping at large stores of this kind is impersonal, completely different to Hania, which consists of mainly family-run bouitque-style shops. The owners sit at the till while their low-paid assistants hover behind the customer constantly offering their assistance. If you (the customer) show any signs of exiting without buying anything, they will try to keep you in there. So intimidating - another reason why I hate shopping in my little town.

Lewisham Shopping Centre is always bustling with people: men with mobile phones hanging off their ears, women pushing prams, children eating all sorts of offerings from the many varied food stores that are accommodated in it (warm corn niblets, shakes, sweets, etc). So much stuff stuff stuff is being sold there - it doesn't look sustainable. A warning from the other side of the continent: it could happen to you, too.

 While we shopped at Lewisham Shopping Centre, we stopped off at Ponti's for a coffee break and lunch on different days. The meals were tasty and reasonably priced: the lunch (below) cost £36 (we each had a meal and a drink). I view pounds and euros as units rather than currency: £1=€1 when I travel. I liked the cappuccino - very hot, strong and in a large cup. In Hania, it's never served that good (in my humble opinion). Husband also liked his 3-egg omelette. The kids enjoyed ordering whatever they felt like without any restrictions (for once).

*Some stores are now starting to sell at moderate prices, but there is still a lack of variety and price competition; I noticed a newly-opened one in the town centre selling mainly sports clothes with a wide range of prices in the same store.
**Primark clothing isn't perfect. The seam of my daughter's leggings came undone, but generally speaking, I can't complain, as 95% of our purchases remained intact.

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