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Don't Look A Thrift Horse In The Mouth

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Late one night I was heading home on the train, gingerly fingering the free paper next to me, unsure if it was damp or just very cold (a small but important distinction). I was then snickering at the word 'fingering' as I am only human.

My high-octane vida loca fun was interrupted by a group of young teenaged girls walking past me to the train doors. The train stopped, the doors opened and then one said to the other "Oi, you forgot your jumper." It was about four feet from her jumperless body. The jumper-owner shrugged, made a weary "meh" noise and they all got off the train.

Now I remember being a teenage girl (just a few years ago, I lie coquettishly to blind men) and back then I loved my clothes with an unhealthy fervour. I'd save up for them with hours of waitressing and once I'd finally got something new I cherished it to an unhealthy degree.

I didn't get the impression that this Jumper-Abandoner was a spoilt rich girl, I guessed the reason for her cavalier attitude and a glance at the jumper confirmed it. The label said "Atmosphere" and I nodded like someone off CSI who just KNEW there'd be semen all over the window sill. It was a Primark jumper and as such possibly cost her less than a sandwich and she couldn't be arsed to move her body four feet for such a cheap thing.

When I was her age clothes cost more than sandwiches. I'm sorry if this makes me sound like a deranged old lady but it's true, they did. And chocolate bars were a decent size, but that's an argument for another time. Now Primark has shuffled clothing down the list of valuable items until it's hovering just above earbuds and jam. When I was a teenager I'd no sooner leave a jumper on the train than I'd abandon a leg, with a breezy "Oh whevs, I'll pick up another one." Whenever I fight my way into the heaving morass that is Oxford Circus' Primark it's always full of foreign tourists aghast at the prices. They're convinced that they're looking at a huge admin error or they've misjudged the exchange rate ("Are we billionaires in this grey and backwards land Julio?")

Clothes can now retail for as little as a pound, which kicks the arse of charity shops and even jumble sales. Hurray for a bargain, and YET I worry that this sartorial elysium is only achievable because somewhere a kid is sighing "Well, there goes my last finger...Come on thumbs, time to up your game." So how much is that jumper now worth? In money terms, clearly so little that a 16-year-old can't be arsed to take two steps towards it, because she knows her babysitting money can buy her 10 more. But in finger terms, it cost far too much. It's two things at once, a Shrodingers Cat of a jumper. Or is that bollocks sophistry? I mused as I pulled the jumper over my head. (I should've mentioned earlier, I was drunk. And also Finders Keepers. My two reasons why I was wearing her jumper before the train had even left the station. She looked a little snitty but I styled it out with a "Yes? Problem?" face.)

It's nutty that I am broke and powerless, and rightly so, and yet I feel like a tyrranical oligarch whenever I pick up a dress and think "But HOW are you six pounds? Explain it to me slightly wonky shirt dress." It goes against my instincts to object to this cheapness because I love a bargain, I grew up poor and this attitude sticks with me, which is why so many nights out end with some poor sod trying to talk me out of a skip ("Honestly Nat, we don't need half a filing cabinet.") And also explains why I can't resist the lure of cheap clothes. If you ever tell me I look nice I will respond with boasts about how cheap my clothes are, despite being constantly told not to. Apparently if a man says "you look nice" and I gesture at my bottom half and announce "Five quid in the sale!" the whole interaction suffers a shift in tone and I look like a hooker on special offer.

I try to justify my love of cheap clothes with several weak and flimsy arguments. Firstly, that no matter how cheap they are I still value them, I'd never leave them on a train and I care for them like they're Lagerfeld. Made by Lagerfield, not Mr Lagerfeld. If I had to care for an dainty old German man I'd hope I'd do more than shove a shoetree in him. I'd stretch to a biscuit. Secondly I try to limit my cheap clothes-buying, though I find it embarassingly difficult. Over the years I have become more and more of a consumerist whore, buying a lipstick here, a pair of shoes there, to "treat myself" though I never noticed I needed so much "treating" before. Am I a child, or a fungal infection?

Advertising has finally trickled through my skull and now I need, nay demand, my treats! What, I've done a whole day's work? What selfless, brave dedication. What a huge achievement, somebody get that girl a treat, preferably from the Rimmel collection, no, left a bit, the new Kate Moss things, lovely. Buying these little treats gives me an almost physical sensation of pleasure, like a breakfast cigarette. It's a little jolt in my stomach as I fight my way along Oxford Street, six quid shoes clutched to my panting chest. It may be a jolt of joy, it may be a fellow shopper's elbow in my diaphragm, who knows, but I like it.

I've decided I'm going to stop buying whenever possible. I'm 29 and I reckon I own the clothes for whatever life wants to throw at me. Funeral in a hot, rainy country? Got a dress for that. Moving house but with handsome removal men? I have just the outfit for that. There's no need for any more stuff, so I'm going to stop accruing.

I should've done this years ago but my personality is nothing but a collection of vices that I try to keep in check, while retaining enough pleasurable feelings to keep me sanguine til bed. So I've decided to stop quitting smoking and start quitting cheap clothes. Not that I'm going to start buying expensive clothes, a quick google tells me their origins are rarely more ethical AND they have the sheer cheek to not even be cheap. Stuff that. I acknowledge that this system of self-improvement is a bit limited but I am flawed person trying my best. I'm trying to be a better person one tiny step at a time.

I anticipate an uphill struggle, but I've never been lazy, as I announced with an epigrammatic flourish to a friend the other day: "Work will set you free!" Nice phrase, I forget where I first heard it, the second verse of Love Will Tear Us Apart? Um Nat, she said, google that phrase and then stop using it IMMEDIATELY. I'm an awful person. First step, stop accidentally adopting mottos of pure evil in a zesty can-do spirit.