Fashion on the Road: An Education

Colombia, fashion, travel

So far, I have been living away from my easy one-click travel necessities and spontaneous charity shopping expeditions to the local high street of my home of England for six months – and I have been coping. Well, for the first few months I was living in the US, that was easy. But for the last two and a half I have been living in Colombia, in South America, and access to that fashion fix isn’t so easy.

Our time here has consisted of one trip to the local “charity” shops – except they aren’t charity shops as such. The small shops, located in the part of the city of Cali in Colombia that you are warned never to visit (because its poor), are butted alongside each other and are like little clothes cornershops. You shuffle from shop to shop and rummage through the shirts, skirts, and endless masses of clothes that have been stuffed into these places. Every time you step into a shop a sudden gust of heat hits you in the face, and it that second hand smell hits you.

Unlike charity shops, the money, obviously, doesn’t go to a charity, but what it does do is support a community that is struggling to survive. The clothes, like charity shops, are second hand, but instead of being given to the sellers, they are sold to them for a small price. Unlike the English charity shops I am used to, the sellers are desperate to both sell and get a good deal. As tourists, we are of course pounced upon to buy, buy, buy, and so I look, look, look, desperately wanting to find a diamond in the rough to both help out the shop and provide me with my fashion fix.

Of course, when you are searching through shops like these, 99% of the time you don’t find anything. It’s bad quality, too big, too small, something. But as it happens I found a very cute shirt, a little but 90s and with a lot of character. I knew I wanted it from the moment I set eyes on it. And as soon as I grabbed its hanger, I was grabbed. “Just 4,000 pesos! Looks so nice on you! And if you buy something else, I can do a special deal”. I’d heard that before. Shopping in India was much the same. I’d find a scarf I adored, cling to it, and make my feelings far to obvious to the seller to get a good deal.

But for me, it’s not about that. I want my fix, and in England I was prepared to pay a lot more for it. Ok, so I am travelling now for three years, and I have to learn to survive without ordering an outfit on a whim on ASOS or Topshop to arrive the next day. My fashion conveniences have gone, but maybe it’s a good thing, maybe it’s a good lesson for me. These new fashion experiences have given me a lot more than just a nice 90s shirt. Every time I see that shirt I remember that experience, traipsing from shop to shop in the humidity, desperate to buy something, giving into the price, not out of pity but out of want.

Obviously, I still have a lot to learn. And if I am going to survive for three years I need to get better at this “buying” thing. But I think it’s a good start, a good follow-up to my obsessive Alibaba (the famous trousers of India) purchasing. Let’s wait and see how educated I really get.

p.s. – the photo is me in the new shirt!


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