Thursday, April 10, 2014

The local shopping challenge

The thing Brian and I like best about where we live is that it's so walkable. With a good library, a supermarket, a big drugstore, a post office, and a good selection of eateries all right here in town, we can actually run many, if not most, of our errands on foot. Sure, we probably hop in the car at least once a week in order to pick up something at a home center or a supermarket that's running a sale—but if we really had to, we could buy all our groceries in town and our hardware at either the tiny local hardware store or the bigger one about a mile out of town. (Well, I guess we'd need the car to haul home anything particularly bulky, but at least we wouldn't have to haul it far.)

One thing I can't really shop for here in town, or anywhere within a reasonable walk, is clothing. There are three stores here in town that sell clothing, but I haven't had much luck at any of them. Simuel's Closet on Raritan Avenue appears to cater to a younger and hipper clientele; on the rare occasions when I've seen something there in a size and style that I might conceivably wear, it's usually priced higher than I'm willing to pay. Covered Girl Clothing, by contrast, caters to "modest women and girls," which you might expect to be just right for my typical jeans-and-turtleneck style in the cooler months—except that they're using "modest" as a synonym for "ladylike," which apparently doesn't include jeans or trousers of any kind. So it's mostly below-the-knee skirts and three-quarter sleeve tops, which don't suit me at all. As for the third venue, our local thrift shop in the basement of the Reformed Church, I've occasionally found useful items there, but it's very hit-and-miss. The selection is quite limited and seldom changes, and it tends toward the heavily used or even slightly damaged (I guess a lot of folks around here are too frugal to discard "good" clothing). If I do manage to find something I like, I can pick it up for a song, but most of the time I walk away with nothing (or, these days, with a few cheap books instead).

Now, there are a few other stores in town that have a few items of clothing in amongst their other offerings. The Rite Aid, for instance, has a small selection of T-shirts and even a few cheap summer frocks on a rack at this time of year, along with such accessories as hats, sunglasses, scarves, underwear, and sometimes even cheap shoes. The dollar store has been known to sell little items like scarves or tank tops and, in the summer, flip-flop sandals, while the Ten Thousand Villages has much nicer (and much pricier) small items like scarves, bags, and jewelry. And it occurred to me, as I walked along the street yesterday peeping into shop windows, that among all these various stores, it ought to be possible to assemble just one decent outfit somehow.

The idea, in my mind, promptly blossomed into a challenge. Supposing, for some reason, that I absolutely had to have a new outfit, and that I was not able to drive anywhere or place an order online, could I do it? In my mind, I dubbed this the Local Shopping Challenge and started fleshing out a few ground rules:
  1. The outfit must be entirely new—in the sense of "new to me." Buying secondhand items is fine, but mixing in any items already in my wardrobe is not allowed. (The one exception is footwear, since there aren't any stores in town that sell it—aside from a few pairs at the thrift shop, and usually there aren't any in my size.)
  2. It must be an outfit I would actually wear. It can be for any occasion—formal or casual, winter or summer—but it must be something I would be willing to be seen in public in.
  3. All the items must be acquired in Highland Park itself (no fair going to a store in New Brunswick that's still within walking distance and calling that "local"). However, I am allowed to modify the items in any way I wish. For instance, if I find a jacket at the thrift store and I don't like the buttons, I'm allowed to replace them—so long as the replacement buttons also come from within Highland Park, either purchased at the drugstore or snipped off a different garment.
  4. Since price is always a consideration for me when shopping, there will be a price limit of $120 for the entire outfit, that being the maximum I can imagine spending on one under normal circumstances. (Actually, I would normally expect to spend quite a bit less than that, but setting the limit high allows me to pick one or more higher-priced items from local stores if I choose.) This price will include all the materials used to make the outfit, including anything I picked up at the thrift shop just to snip the buttons off and sew them onto something else.
  5. There will be a time limit of three weeks to complete the challenge, meaning that I must have the entire outfit by the end of this month.
So those are the parameters of the challenge, and we'll see how it turns out. If it's a success, maybe Local Shopping Challenges can become a regular feature on this blog, perhaps involving other shopping categories like books or home furnishings.
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