People often ask us what we miss because we live in Spain and recently two people have asked me whether I miss English shops and English clothes. The answer is both yes and no.
When we moved here I had clothes for the life I lived in England, most of which I spent teaching exercise, walking the dog or working at the medical centre at Downside (for which I had a uniform). In the winter I wore jeans and jumpers or occasionally a tunic top and in the summer jeans and T-shirts or if it was especially warm, shorts and t shirts. I shopped almost exclusively in Marks and Spencer and White Stuff and would wander around Cribbs Causeway and not find anything I wanted to buy.
My first purchases in Spain were from a shop called Decathlon, a vast sports shop that together with sports equipment and clothes, sells clothes for the outdoor life. I bought two fleecy long sleeved T-shirts and a fleece sweatshirt which I wore with jeans and an old pair of track suit bottoms almost every day. I wasn’t working, we had hardly any income and were working hard in the house and garden so clothes weren’t really a priority but warmth was as the temperatures dropped and our house revealed itself to be a badly insulated fridge. In the first six months we were here the shops I went to were either supermarkets or builder’s merchants so there wasn’t much chance of clothes shopping even if I knew where to go. Sax has only a few small family run shops which I didn’t feel comfortable going into with my limited Spanish, the market had plenty of clothes but nothing had a price on which was daunting and whilst I wasn’t working I didn’t feel able to spend money on clothes, haircuts or makeup and in any case didn’t have any real need for anything new. A friend took me to a Spanish hairdresser who cut my hair nicely but the salon was in a town thirty minutes away from Sax making a haircut two hour experience. A couple of cuts from an expat English hairdresser were unsuccessful so I decided to grow my hair and cut my own fringe. We did go to Valencia with our friends who live in Spain and discovered El Corte Ingles a large department store like John Lewis, and Natura, a chain of small shops that sells candles, incense and some slightly hippyish clothes that looked great on the hanger but when I tried on a lovely tunic top in a size that looked about right for me it looked, in my opinion, dreadful. I have to admit that I was starting to feel both frumpy and grumpy.
On our first trip back to England I headed into Marks and Spencer with a sigh of relief but didn’t actually buy anything. I can’t remember why but I think that nothing felt right. The only thing I bought during that trip was a leopard scarf print which I have since worn to death.
Back in Spain, the weather started to warm up and I unpacked my summer clothes. Over six months without teaching exercise had taken its toll on my waistline, not to mention other lines and my T shirts and vest tops felt too heavy and clingy for the increasing heat. Work on the house had largely finished and we found more time to explore the out of town shopping centres and the shops within them. I had heard of Zara and surprisingly I found a Primark and H&M amidst the unfamiliar Spanish brands. Faced with too much choice I panicked and only managed to buy a black linen weave t-shirt and searched fruitlessly for some trousers that weren’t skinny jeans or high fashion flares. In desperation I bought some trousers that when I wore them caused Steve to comment that it looked as if I wasn’t wearing anything on my lower half and I realised that I didn’t have a clue what looked right or would be suitable for summer. Most of the shops seemed to cater for teenagers and I neither had the time or opportunity to spend hours trawling the shops. A friend passed me some English women’s magazines but the clothes featured seemed to be suitable only for a high powered office/social life which didn’t look anything like my life. The shopping malls are at least thirty minutes drive away meaning I couldn’t easily drift around the shops and I was struggling. I had started to get some teaching work for which shorts and T shirts were not appropriate and literally had nothing suitable to wear or any idea what or where to buy.
At this low point I turned to Pinterest, the online scrap booking site which to me is like a magazine with articles and pictures tailor made for the individual. Each “pin” leads to a website and I discovered the world of blogs. I subscribed to many and started to get up early in order to read get through my overloaded inbox. At first, most of the style blogs I read were written by American women so the clothes and fashions weren’t easily available but then I stumbled on Midlife Chic, a blog written by a lovely English woman rediscovering her style mojo in her late 40’s. Nikki worked at that time from her home in the north of England and is similarly at least thirty minutes from a decent shopping centre and therefore does a lot of online shopping. I had a light bulb moment – the cost of P&P to Europe is about what the petrol would cost for a trip to a mall but I could shop from home saving me time and Steve the agony of trailing around the shops listening to me moaning about not being able to find anything I wanted. I discovered that many familiar brands not only have web sites but European web sites together with rafts of comments on each item regarding sizing issues to help with the fit of clothes. Many sites also tell you the actual size of the garment so that you can order more accurately. I didn’t want to order lots of clothes and then have to send them all back if they didn’t fit. Reading Nikki’s blog gave me an idea of what was currently in style and also more importantly, what might work for someone my age.
Everything started, as they say, to come together. I have now ordered successfully from M&S, Boden, Woolovers and Next and have bought lots of things from Spanish shops such as Zara, Springfield and occasionally Desigual. As my Spanish improved I followed the recommendation of a customer and visited a Spanish hairdresser having my hot and heavy long hair chopped off in two stages to its current asymmetric short cut. For the summer I bought blouses in light and floaty fabrics to keep cool and even bought a dress. I loved the look of the statement necklace trend but have never really felt comfortable in necklaces so decided that my version is the statement earring. Now that it is late autumn, I love my blanket scarf which I bought over here and can wear with most of my winter outfits including my mega bargain Boden winter coat which I bought at 70% discount at the end of last season and have just started wearing with huge pleasure. I have finally learned (although I don’t always follow through) that shopping for clothes has to be done in advance of when you plan to wear them if you want the best choice and that having a selection of good quality basics in mix and match colours is the way forward. I never buy anything unless it goes with at least three other things (or I buy four things) and so no longer impulse buy. My budget is small compared with some but I make my clothes work for me and don’t form part of the terrible statistic of women who wear 20% of their clothes 80% of the time.
I don’t miss English shops specifically but I do miss English shopping centres along with a few other things that I am planning to write a post about next week.
Thank you to everyone who got in touch last week, I hope I have replied to you all and didn’t miss anyone, I love hearing from you all.