Confessions of a secret shopper
My husband thinks my favourite haunt is a second-hand designer clothes shop in Covent Garden. It is a marvellous place, where you can pick up secondhand designer kit for next to nothing, along with shoes, handbags and other accessories.
What he doesn’t know is that while such a shop does exist (I’ve even shown it to him), I have never been inside it.
I am not alone in hiding the true price of my fashion fetish. According to a poll by Debenhams, women in the UK hide a total of £1.4 billion worth of new clothes from their spouses or boyfriends.
The poll concludes that 58 per cent of us lie and say an item of clothing we have bought is cheaper than it really was.
I don’t believe this for a minute. It’s more like 100 per cent.
I spoke to several girlfriends on this subject after the poll came out and every single one of them admitted to a bit of sneaky shopping.
“Everyone does it,” said one friend. “It’s all part of the fun of shopping.”
The lengths they will go to are astounding. I just buy the clothes, get them home (normally stuffed inside an M&S bag to hide the Harvey Nichols crest) and then put them straight into my wardrobe.
If my husband notices them the first time I wear them I just say something like: “Oh, this old thing. I got it a couple of years ago in the sales. Nice, isn’t it?”
But my friend Molly, who lives in Surrey, has a whole sneaky shopping strategy worked out.
Last time I went shopping with her, I suggested that instead of spending £200 on a pair of jeans in a designer shop, we could go to Gap and spend £40.
She gave me a withering look and said: “You go to Gap if you want to.”
This is not a woman who scrimps and saves when it comes to buying clothes.
But with four children to educate, funds are limited. So her husband, Jack, is not amused by her shopping habits.
She says: “I have to do commando-style rolls across the lawn to get my shopping into the house unnoticed.
“Either that, or I leave it all in the boot and sneak out under the cover of darkness pretending to take our non-existent dog out for a walk.”
Does he ever notice?
“He is sometimes amazed that by the end of the month we’re eating baked beans for every meal. But frankly a new pair of Jimmy Choos is so much more important than feeding the children organic chicken,” says Molly.
When I spoke to her, she had just seen a £700 Dachshund puppy.
“It was the cutest little thing imaginable, but it could be tricky to sneak into the house without him noticing.”
They have to keep housekeeping cash and hoard it. So instead of spending money on lunch, they eat a tin of spaghetti and pocket the rest.
Heather has just seen a designer coat she wants to buy. It costs £250. She will pay £50 on her credit card and the other £200 with hoarded cash.
“That way, when my boyfriend opens the credit card bill he’ll think it costs me £50, which even he can’t argue with,” she says.
“I even do the same thing now with my accountant; it’s become a habit I can’t break.”
My aunt, who wears designer clothes while gardening or taking out the rubbish, cuts out the label of her latest Armani purchases as soon as she gets them home.
I think in some cases husbands and boyfriends probably secretly realise all this goes on but really would rather not know. So they ignore it.
As Heather says: “They like their women to look good, but they don’t want to know the price-tag.”
Most men are just relieved they don’t have to go shopping and are impressed by our ability to find bargains.
“What a great find that place has been,” my husband said to me the other day when he spotted a new pair of shorts. Of course, I told him they came from my favourite haunt.
“You are clever,” he added.
Of course, it can work the other way. I recently found out that my husband also has a sneaky shopping habit.
Boxes of cycling clothes kept arriving at our house.
“How much is all this costing?” I ask.
“Not much at all,” he lied. “It’s a cheap online site.”
I decided to investigate this ‘cheap online site’.
It is called Rapha and sells bargains like merino wool socks at £15 a pair and African Hair Sheep leather gloves for £100.
The biggest bargain is a race-bag for £250 that keeps your dirty tools away from your over-priced cycling kit.
Judging by the amount of Rapha kit in my husband’s wardrobe, he must have spent almost £600.
I have yet to confront him about my discovery, but figure I’ll just keep it up my sleeve for the day he discovers that my new top came from Sonia Rykiel – and not the local jumble sale.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019