YOU know you’re getting to A Certain Age when you stop “going shopping” and just start “going to Debenhams”.
When the terrifying urban jungle that is the high street starts overwhelming you, when you’ve done one this-way-that-way pavement dance too many, when you need the reassurance of knowing there’s a café where you can have a nice cup of tea and a sit down just an escalator ride away.
That’s when the department store comes beckoning from the shadows.
“Come to me!” it whispers in your ear, as you lie supine on the floor of the River Island changing room with a taffeta playlist stuck halfway over your head.
“I have everything you need.
“Don’t waste your energy gadding about like a fool – within my doors you can buy a pillowcase, some pants and a teacake in 20 minutes.”
Until now, I’d never fully understood the appeal of the department store.
I’d assumed department stores always just covered every base, weakly, instead of selling one thing really well.
Guarded by their army of terrifying make-up ladies (original skin tone unknown), department stores felt to me as a teenager like somewhere you would always leave having purchased a towelling dressing gown, no matter what you originally went in to buy.
But no longer. Now, I get it.
The Are You Being Served? fantasy suddenly makes sense to me.
Department stores are like tiny, complete little worlds.
Their appeal lies in the idea that if you got locked in for the night, everything would be perfectly fine!
You’d eat all the toasted teacakes in the café, sleep in the beds, and spend the rest of the time trying on beachwear in a hilarious filmic montage. We would all, really, just like to live in a department store.
Which one, though?
In Worthing, you basically have Debenhams or Beales, with the option of BhS if needed.
Debenhams is the shinier of the two, more in touch with the outside world, but Beales has a homespun charm that can’t be matched.
In London, meanwhile, there’s Debenhams and John Lewis for sales shopping that starts on cocktail dresses and will always inevitably end up at control pants, House of Fraser for pretending to be a young urbanite who goes to drinks functions and then, the Grand-daddy of them all – Selfridges.
For years, I was as intimidated by Selfridges as everyone else.
It’s posh! It has Fendi handbags! It has people who can afford Fendi handbags!
Am I even allowed in here wearing jeans? But then I uncovered its secret. The great equaliser.
Here it is – it has a Topshop. And I can afford Topshop! “Don’t mind me,” I silently say, as I trot past the Cartier and through the millionaire’s bedding section.
“I am just a simple gal, on my way to Topshop.”
“But if we happen to get stranded here for the night, don’t think I’m not going to town on the Chanel.”