We like to buy our clothes in C&A at Marble Arch on Oxford Street in the West End, if we’ve the money. C&A is where I sometimes go with my big sisters Rose Marie and Patsy, usually when Mum insists that they take me. We catch the Number 36 bus to the Odeon cinema and walk around the corner and C& A’s is on the opposite side of the road. It’s the first big store on the street the mannequins seem to call to shoppers dressed in the latest gear. Once through the glass doors you enter a mecca of kitsch wonderment. This is high cheap disposable fashion at its best.
As we enter the store our eyes are captivated by shiny shimmering racks of clothing and people mostly young women milling around hands caressing garments as they part hangers and gaze with delight or disgust at the offerings before them.
“Hey Pats, take a look at these,” Rose Marie shrieks to Patsy as she holds up some long patent red boots.
“Wow, fab,” whispers Patsy, “But Rosie I doubt they’ll zip up on your calves, let me try them, do they have a size 6?” Rosie’s mouth turns up ever so slightly as she hands Patsy the boots in her size.”
“Well, I’m sure these will fit.” Rose Marie is holding up a pair of black kitten-heeled shoes with a big buckle on the front. They look like the shoe’s witches wear, but I know Rose Marie, is happy that she has found this pair of shoes as they’re a size 3.
Rose Marie is proud of her tiny hands and feet. They’re much smaller than Patsy’s.
I just watch them shopping, I like looking at the racks of clothes and the customers disappearing into changing rooms with arms clutching long coats which look like they’re made of carpets trimmed with fur stuff, like you see on Christmas cards of Victorian winter scenes and lots of the girls with long hair are wearing long white shiny patent leather boots, with witches buckles, white matching polar necked ribbed tops and miniskirts in a rainbow of colors.
I don’t try on clothes or shoes. I just eat up the sights of people wearing stuff. My sisters have part-time jobs. Rose Marie works at an after-school club and Patsy works at a corner shop after school and at weekends, so they can afford to splurge occasionally. As I twirl labels around on a rack of tops, I feel Rose Marie’s arm circling my neck. Unlike sometimes when I’m sure she is trying to strangle me this feels like a friendly hug.
“Have a look at these Angie.” She points to a rack of clearance items. There are trousers, skirts, blouses and jumpers all hanging on a long rack and they’re a mixture of sizes. To the left of that rack is a row of skirts. They’re shocking pink, salmon pink, powder blue, sky blue, lilac and green and turquoise, they’re not on sale.
“I like those,” I gush to Rosie. “They’re absolutely fab.”
“Go on then find one in your size, let me see the price? Okay, yes find one in your size and try it on and if it fits, I’ll get it for you.” I run over to the rack shove rows of skirts one by one to find my size in a colour that I like. I find several but settle on a turquoise mini skirt with a kick pleat and a big blue red and green zip sewn on the front with a kind of key chain ring on it.’
Moving swiftly to the curtained off changing room I change with multiple other women milling around in various stages of undress. I didn’t like showing my underwear so I put the skirt on over my trousers and peeped out of the room motioning to Rosie who was waiting outside.
“Rosie?” I want my sister’s opinion.
“Rosie, do you think I can wear this? “ I ask tentatively.
“I don’t see why not Angie. What’s your problem?” Rose Marie asks.
“My knobbly knees, I’ve got knobbly knees and….” I’m grimacing at my knees which are covered by my trousers, Rose Marie cuts me off with,
“Stop your nonsense. Knobbly knees?” and she kisses her teeth, “Chuups” and cuts her eyes at me.
I get the skirt.
In other shopping trips to C& A, I buy a “tent dress” in shocking pink. It has a striped green and yellow Kipper tie and I know I look like the cat’s pajamas or the cat’s meow as I don’t care about my knees anymore.