“How shopping like a 90s kid saw me fall back in love with the high street”

Posted by
Billie Bhatia
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High street shopping has become as much part of routine as getting dressed in the morning thanks to the convenience of online shopping and apps. But when was the last time you went shopping on the high street IRL? Fashion news editor Billie Bhatia makes a case for reclaiming your space on the Great British high street. 

There was a time when our Saturdays didn’t revolve around avocados, trying to tick off a never-ending list of life admin (really, who needs ironed bed sheets anyway?) and being too tired from adulting to actually go out. Remember the golden era of laidback Saturdays, when you spent the whole day with your first love? No, not your school crush (or at least not in my case), but The Great British High Street.

Aged 14, the agenda was simple: meet your friends at the town centre landmark – in most cases a clock tower but it may also have been an abstract sculpture erected by the local council in a bid to be more ‘cultural’ – then spend the rest of your day dipping in and out of your favourite shops like an elongated montage from an Olsen twins film. Job done. 

The main destination was dependent on what kind of girl you were, or rather what kind of girl you wanted to be. I wanted to be a Jane Norman girl. The reality of the situation was that I was actually a whatever-would-fit-me girl. Lacking in both funds and figure to sport the signature Jane Norman midriff-baring lower-than-low slung jeans, my friends and I would scour the store for the cheapest item possible. Tearing open my Velcro Rip Curl wallet to pay for a single hairclip, I would plead with the store assistant to pack my purchase in the largest bag going. Why? Because this was an entirely wasted exercise unless I had a noticeable Jane Norman bag to carry my books into school on Monday morning. 

Aged 16 and a considerable number of baby-sitting weekends later and we were moving up the high street ladder. Striding past our usual haunts in favour of the store with the ultimate high street status: AllSaints. You pretended to be interested in the black/white/grey t-shirt with skulls on, but in reality you knew there was only one item worthy of your jangling pocket: a ‘Jesus Loves You’ studded belt. My Kookaï circular leather belt had served me well over the years, but with a new high street hero in town, my jeans were never the same again.

For me and for every other teenager out there, developing a sense of self every Saturday on the British high street was a key experience of our youth. Jamie skinny jeans from Topshop, logo printed hoodies from Gap, blush-pink ballet pumps from Office, a grown-up blouse for your work experience week from Dorothy Perkins - these were the building blocks of our wardrobes. And the more we aligned with certain brands, the more we built our own sense of identity beyond school uniforms and prescribed ways of expressing ourselves.

Kate Moss at Glastonbury wearing the infamous studded AllSaints belt

Before long, our student years with their endless Saturday hours available for trawling rails of clothing had come to an end. The growing demands of adult life, social commitments and careers meant that the undeniable convenience of online shopping overtook our urge to shop in real life. No time to get to the shops this weekend? No problem! You can order an entirely new outfit at your desk, in front of the TV, even from your bed at 3am after a night out (having been that person, I wouldn’t recommend this). 

Gradually, digital life got even easier. Thanks to technology constantly streamlining our lives, online shopping has gone further than we ever thought possible. We no longer have to wait for the blue line of the URL to load our favourite online stores, we just open the app. I have a whole folder on my phone of high street apps. Ordering an outfit on the bus into work for drinks the following evening has become so much part of my routine that my thumbs work mindlessly adding to basket and double tapping to pay with me barely noticing.

Sure, it’s convenient, but is it any fun? Not really. 

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Online shopping has become as much a chore as hoovering or changing the bed linen. ‘I don’t have time to get out to the shops’, ‘Oxford Circus on a Saturday is fresh hell’ I hear you say. But what if you treated shopping like you would getting your nails done for a holiday, booking a spontaneous blow dry or applying a sheet mask on a Sunday afternoon? It could be a little indulgence because you, you know, deserve it.

I did just that a couple of weeks ago. I took myself off to the high street for some Billie time. It was on a Monday night – which I couldn’t recommend more because 1) it’s quiet 2) no one makes social plans on a Monday, so FOMO is at an all-time low. 

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Armed with an album I wanted to listen to and a hit list of only the places I planned to visit, I plugged in for some me-time and made my way onto the great British high street. A peruse here, a gander there and I discovered so much newness – pieces that I hadn’t seen online or on the relevant apps (trust me, I know exactly when that ‘New In’ ends and yesterday’s drop begins).

What fun it was to touch clothes again, to hold up a hanger against my body, to return an unwanted item to a rail without going to a post office. The best bit? To swing the store branded bag in my hand as I left grinning from my purchase, like I had just welcomed an embrace from an old friend. After all, a first love is hard to forget. 

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Images: Getty / Instagram 


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Billie Bhatia

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