Black Friday found me in the streets of Chinatown, waiting to enter a popular boutique with two good friends and a line of fashion-hungry women (and one grumpy young boy in tow).
Within the hour, this horde would converge on six bargain bins in a scene similar to those in supermarkets before a natural disaster. Only shoppers weren’t stocking up on bottled water and toilet paper — they were vying for chic dresses normally retailing at over $100 that were marked down to as low as $20. In the world of shopping, that’s something worth fighting for.
The Black Friday sale for this designer is our pilgrimage: we visit every year and love the experience, which is a far cry from those at most major retailers. Last year, the crowd was calm and friendly; we leisurely browsed through racks of discounted clothes, tried on as much as we liked and never waited in a single line. Given the boutique’s new location and larger-than-usual-crowd, however, we revamped our strategy and agreed to go straight for the bin items, grabbing sizes and styles for the whole group to sort through later.
It seemed like a good plan, but once the doors opened, I felt as though we were transported to an African savanna: women surrounded the bargain bins like a stampede around a water hole. I attempted to stretch my hand through the crowd for a bright green cardigan, but a hefty older woman pushed me aside and expertly dipped her arms into the $20 bin. Her arms emerged with a cache of dresses from which she swiftly tossed away items that were snapped up by crocodile-shoppers. The shop had not reached Walmart levels of chaos, but civility was slipping rapidly out the windows.
I abandoned the bins for the slightly less discounted racks, yet the aisles of the boutique swelled with bodies as a line for the fitting rooms (“limit five items”) extended across the floor. To avoid the wait, women stood in front of a large mirror, squeezing on tube dresses over their tank tops and shorts, shouting for friends to grab other sizes and jabbering about rushing off to another sale.
What makes us behave so animal-like when it comes to something as simple as shopping? I guess that we’re returned to our most basic instincts as hunter-gatherers: we see a limited pool of resources, and we fight to be the ones to attain it. It’s like the mad rush for lifeboats on the Titanic. People do crazy things. Only shopping’s not really a life-or-death scenario . . . right?
As my friends and I ended the morning over hot chocolate and pancakes, we concluded that shoppers can be broken into two categories: those who shop leisurely and submit to paying more and those who love the thrill of the hunt and scoring a good deal. I left the store with four cute bargain bin dresses, but only because one of my friends snatched them up for me. She says that if I’m a bit more aggressive myself, I’ll be a happier shopper.
On the other hand, there is a creature that has the best of both worlds — the online customer. While I rushed out of the house before the sun was even out, my boyfriend slept in and made all of his Black Friday purchases from the comfort of a warm bed. Maybe I’ll try that next year!
To complete my holiday shopping, I’ll eventually have to face the crowds that will be everywhere from now through Christmas, but you won’t see me at any doorbuster sales. Like an herbivore on the savanna, I’ll be showing up to the water hole after the carnivores leave.
— Kristine Wada is a graphic designer. In her free time she enjoys reading, living vicariously through cooking shows and, of course, shopping.