Belfast Telegraph

Changing room rage averted by shoppers' serenity

There are a few things from which celebrity cannot protect you. They include parking tickets and taking a restricted number of garments into shop changing-rooms.

Zara Phillips does not need to shoplift, but then neither do many shoplifters. Last week, she was stopped from carrying too many Superdry items into a changing room.

I don't quite understand why she needed to try anything on, since the only point is the name of the brand and, in the end, a T-shirt is just a T-shirt.

If you want to see what the complete breakdown of society looks like, visit a store's changing room at the end of the day.

You could do worse than start with the High Street near me. Shop assistants are on all fours trying to make sense of the clothes mountains.

I have worked, in the distant past, in the swimwear section of a department store during the Christmas sales.

Perhaps the algorithms genius who has worked out how to speed up boarding on a plane could turn his mind to hustling clients through the changing-rooms while working out if a bikini counts as one item or two, and later, if it has been returned, whether it truly is unworn.

The four or five items (on average) you are permitted to take in sound reasonable, but remember: women are likely to want to try at least two sizes of each item.

In the case of bikinis, they will then mix and match, say, a size 12 top with a size 14 bottom. All this has to be calculated in sauna-like conditions, made more cloying by the clashing perfumes and anti-perspirant deodorants.

Then there is the further issue of how many people you allow in with the clothes.

Few women shop alone: there will be a mother, or a best friend or, in the case of my own experience, a coach-load of Chinese students, wanting the sizes recalibrated in various time zones plus VAT exclusion forms.

It is like being a waitress with covers. There is a good reason why changing-room assistants knock on the door and call out 'How is it?' knowing the customer is still fighting to pull the zip up past first base.

All the profit is in the fast turnover. Also, once you have established personal contact, it is harder for a customer to wriggle away without buying anything.

In New York, the assistants say their names slowly and clearly - 'I'm Sarah' - so leaving the store empty-handed becomes a matter of personal betrayal.

The number system can exhaust shoppers into submission. If you are on your 10th item, it is tempting to buy it rather than return the last four and join the back of the queue all over again.

I am surprised at how little changing-room rage one witnesses, considering that the place resembles an airport departure lounge - in actual fact, an airport departure lounge on a summer bank holiday where there has been a spontaneous walkout by baggage handlers and flights have been halted by a terrorist alert.

Last weekend, on a last-minute pre-holiday shopping trip, I watched a teenager and her friend try on two T-shirts and two pairs of mini-shorts. They then queued to buy one of the T-shirts and left victorious with their bag.

Ten minutes later, they returned the item, which was found to be damaged. Then back to the changing-room to try on a replacement.

The whole process took just under an hour, but they were perfectly jaunty. I, meanwhile, was in a coma of boredom outside the changing room, waiting for my daughter.

But she would not be hurried. She understood Plato's wisdom that a good decision is based on knowledge and not numbers.

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