Friday, September 12, 2008

The Lure of the Outlet Mall

So, back in July, my dad and his wife stopped in town for a 4 day visit and the shopping dynamo stepmom wanted to know where the closest outlet mall was.

You see, they used to live in PA and she had literally dozens of malls within a couple hour drive and she rotated every weekend then they moved to OK and now she is starved for retail therapy.

The closest outlet to me is 45 minutes away but not worth the trip. It’s boring to the point that you’d rather kill yourself in a head on collision on the way there then to actually shop there, so I suggested the next closest, which is an hour and a half away and it has the high end, designer places she prefers.

So, we hop into my dads BMW and armed with my iPass (see? I bring something to the table), we set course (with the help of their GPS unit, affectionately called "Dorothy") and we trekked to the outlet mall.

You'll see a variety of things at an outlet mall - “irregulars”, “uglies”, “WTF is that?” and “um.. yea, there are no words” but it’s the thrill of the hunt and you might actually walk away with something fabulous.

Now, here is the thing about outlets: Very few people know that most outlet stores carry two types of merchandise. They have the product sent from the retail mall stores in your home town that doesn’t sell and then they have their own outlet brand line that is created solely for sale in the outlet stores. It’s usually lower quality and not worth the bag you take it home in. (of course that is just my opinion). You want to be shopping in the back, trust me.

So.. tell me, if it wasn’t interesting enough to buy at the local mall after being marked down 5 times, placed into the clearance section and then marked down an additional 50% on the sidewalk sale, why does it suddenly become interesting at an outlet mall store?

It’s because we think we are getting a bargain. I mean, if it was $98 retail and now it’s $12.99 then we HAVE to buy it, right? I mean, we’d be an idiot not to. Look at the money we’re saving! It doesn't matter that it's a lime green top with elastic sleeves and a pink and cucumber colored flower print with a bow .... it's $12.99!

Let me tell you. If it was ugly at $98, it’s still ugly at $12.99 and most outlet stuff is ugly.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I buy things at outlet stores but I have been known to be drawn to the ‘odd’ stuff and things that no one else likes. I call it my ‘OJ Simpson might be innocent’ frame of mind. I’m a Libra so I tend to choose the underdog side of things. I like to believe in people. I like to rescue the ugly little coin purse that no one wants.

I like strange and unique so the outlet mall is a mecca of otherworldly treasures and giggly “oh, no they didn’t” moments when I discover something that is both horrific and yet strangely alluring at the same time. (much like the ‘as seen on tv’ products) I am both hopeful and scared that someone else thought it wasn't so bad.

Outlet malls are not for the mainstream shopper.

You need to be quirky enough that you give yourself the creeps sometimes.

So.. there we were. Me and my Wednesday Addams self and my upper crust stepmom, shopping at Dooney & Bourke. D&B is quite amusing in that they sell ‘irregulars’ which either means that the stitching is flawed, the handle is upside down or it’s just so hideously ugly that no one in their right mind would want to carry it – unless they got it at 30% off retail.

I’ve seen it happen before my eyes… women in search of status who buy the print or color that makes polished women cringe. (I won’t name prints or colors because what if I’m talking about you? That wouldn’t be good manners and we’d both be just a little bit embarrassed)

Anyway …. Then we hit the various shoe stores, now I am not a shoe girl (I know, gasp, the horror!) but it’s true. I very rarely spend money on shoes and I’ve been known to buy two or three of the same exact shoe should I find a fabulous one. (and that would be from Sears – I know, it’s frightening)

Shoe outlets are the worst because you will have one of three things come over you… you’ll be thrilled and excited to find the exact pair you’ve been salivating over at Macy’s for 6 months, in your size and color and 74% off retail price! It’s both satisfying and exhilarating. It will put a spring in your step and cause you to have a blast of confidence that you haven’t seen since you saw that girl from high school who is now fatter than you. Or, maybe you’ll find a pair that isn’t really you but at 86% off retail, they are so inexpensive that you’d be a fool to leave it there for someone else even tho you know damn well it will collect dust in your closet and you won’t wear them – even tho you have very good intentions. Then.. it’s possible you will find nothing and you’ll get depressed about your big ass gargoyle feet and how all the cute shoes are one size bigger or smaller. You’ll probably be with a friend who finds 34 perfect pairs and has to get your opinion on which ones to actually buy. (yea, she can bite me too) so, I suggest skipping the shoe outlets and going straight for that weird food court, just to say you saw it with your own eyes.

The weird foot court is so called because they usually have ‘chains’ that exist only at outlet malls across .

Souki of Japan, Cinnamonster, Paulo’s Pizza & Yogurt, Sub & Grub, Potato Pen … I mean, it’s like being stuck in a strange sort of alternate dimension where things look similar to familiar things but they aren’t real or right. Oh, and they are all priced as if they exist in the airport.

I once paid $7 for a baked potato and an iced tea.

Outlet malls make perfectly normal people buy and eat scary and uncharacteristic things.

I did find a very cute purse at Fossil and I’ve gotten quite a few compliments on it. I think if you go to an outlet mall with the right frame of mind, you can have fun … but you need to realize that it’s like going to the zoo.

You are so excited to be going, it takes forever to get there and get parked and once you get there you can’t wait to get the hell home. You usually remember you had the same exact feelings the last time you were there but had forgotten and now you’re just hot, tired, hungry, pissed you spent so much money and weaving your way thru the slow moving reptiles, stinky bears and uninteresting farm animals while waiting impatiently for the monkey pen to show up in your travels.

Ok.. so it isn’t nice to compare other outlet shoppers to zoo animals but if you’ve been to an outlet mall, you know what I’m talking about. It’s unfortunate but very true. I try hard to be a monkey in that zoo – projecting human qualities while maintaining a healthy distance from the people on the other side of the glass.

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