First published in the April 2015 issue of Metro.
I’m 38 and I had been in Topshop / Topman for probably an hour on opening morning before I saw someone older than me: a significantly sized man of maybe 50 in a Harley Davidson Phuket singlet and shorts. He left without buying anything.
The previous day I had been in the store with people closer to my age, most of them media, except for Willy Moon and his wife, who were judges.
This was, I think, the same day Willy Moon swore at a woman in a Kingsland bakery for mucking around Willy Moon.
The Moons were just wandering around the Topman part of the shop, unescorted. It was weird. I didn’t feel comfortable not having a TV screen between us. Willy Moon is 25.
I had negotiated a budget for a T-shirt and undies because I had thought they would provide a useful story structure: a middle-aged man trying to find a T-shirt and some gruds while being swamped by hordes of fashionable youngsters hopped up on a lack of sleep and shared objects of desire.
“Why is style so important?” I had asked Topman creative director Gordon Richardson just before I saw Willy Moon.
“We all want to belong to tribes, don’t we?” he said. “It’s human nature. It’s a lot harder to be the one that’s outside the tribe.”
I looked at every T-shirt in the shop multiple times, and all of the undies. I wanted to buy something that was going to make a difference in my life because if it didn’t, what was the point? But every time I picked out a T-shirt and held it against my chest, I thought, “What difference will it make?”
I watched kids come in and go out in frantic waves, while I stayed in like the tide. I felt old and indecisive. Whether it was the lights or the excitement of the hordes around me, or the excellent tracks (none of which I recognised) being played by the in-store DJ, I began to feel lightheaded and vulnerable.
Eventually I bought a blue T-shirt. It was a NEW IMPROVED ROLLER FIT CLASSIC FIT T-SHIRT WITH DROP SHOULDER AND FIXED ROLL UP. I can’t say for sure what combination of factors, simultaneously held in my brain, allowed it to make a decision, but part of it was definitely a feeling that the staff kept looking at me in a way that said, “Why have you been here for nearly 90 minutes?”
For a long time, I looked at the rack of undies. The three-packs were the best value on a per-piece basis, but there was a single pair with a cat wearing sunglasses and sitting on a pizza. That made me happy, and my 19-month-old daughter loves cats. After half an hour or so, I bought them on impulse.
I crossed Queen St and stood outside Whitcoulls, which to my mind has long been the most important retail enterprise at the Victoria St intersection. I looked back across at the gleaming white of Topshop and the still-outrageous queue, and I could not imagine that store ever having a creepy Santa towering above it.
Outside Whitcoulls was a table of sale crap: travel mugs were two for $10 and deluxe soft toys were 40 per cent off. A staff member stood behind the table with a microphone and hawked the goods to the rushing pedestrians.
“There’s a lion,” he said, “a tiger, a cheetah I think. There’s a… I think it’s an ape. No, it’s not an ape, it’s a cheetah. I can see a cheetah through the window there… Check it out: 40 per cent off deluxe soft toys.”
A man of maybe 40, dressed in sensible business attire, approached me, pointed to my Topshop bag and said: “Are they giving stuff away?”
“Not to me,” I said.
“Then why’s everybody queuing up?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess because it’s something new?”
He looked perplexed. “Just clothes and stuff?” he asked.
“Yep,” I said.
He looked back over at Topshop. The pedestrian signal went green and he walked off in the opposite direction.