Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Chengdu thrifting: Capes

At Chengdu's mostly unknown* secondhand shops near Chunxi Lu last weekend I was persuaded to try on a cape by the savvy shopkeeper who caught me eyeing it in semi-adoration, semi-confusion. She said something like, "Hey, you should try that on! It'll look great on you since you're tall!" Before I'd even responded she'd pulled it off its hook high on the wall and handed it to me.

(An aside: Here's a link to a great if heavy read on clothes shopping, with a long glance at secondhand-clothes shopping, from one of the very best blogs on fashion that I've seen.)

I wasn't sure about it because it didn't seem all that warm, nor all that functional (where would I wear it to? the opera? the Sichuan opera?) but when I asked the price, and was told it was RMB25--pre-negotiation--I was drawn in. To make a long story short, after much hemming and hawing I ended up buying two wrappy/capey garments--for a total of RMB25 (less than U.S.$4). I'm a sucker for a bargain, and I think that was a good one.

The culprit that started it all is some sort of synthetic woven that seems to want to be wool; it's fully lined with ties at the front, a ruffle trim, and a fake fur collar. It hangs about to my knees; I'm wearing it today for the first time and I have to say it's surprisingly warm. Today was a rare sunny day so I decided it would be warm enough and thus a safe time to take it for a test drive. I do wish it had arm holes so that I could keep it wrapped around me while I'm typing, but all in all I think it wasn't a bad investment. My legs are a bit cold (two pairs of stockings and shorts) but my upper body with just the Heatteach turtleneck, a shirt, wool sweater, and the cape is quite toasty. A female friend told me I looked "so cool" today; the man told me I looked like Zorro.

The second, which I've yet to wear because even after a washing and an overnight airing out, is still reeking with that musty thrift store odor, is basically a giant scarf shaped to drape over the shoulders and with a ruffle. I guess it's not technically a cape.

During the shopping one of my friends also picked up a cape that doesn't look all that far off from the one picture above; a plaid, hooded variety with small armholes. It's also quite cute, and apparently, we're right on trend for 2010.

*Certainly unknown to most foreigners; penny-pinching yet stylish middle-aged women know about them, as do Tibetan men and younger, "Bohemian" locals--at least that's usually who I see shopping there, in that order.

Photo credit

Review: Uniqlo Heattech

My more well-funded friends in Chengdu have been raving about the opening of several Uniqlo shops since their opening months ago, so this past weekend during a secondhand shopping spree I decided to stop in the newest one, a behemoth and the Japanese retail giant's second Chunxi Lu shopping street location.

Mostly I was interested in the chain's HeatTech line. Since these days I Windows shop more than window shop and far more than actually shop, I did my research online first and was charmed by the retailer's own Heattech advertisements, in which models walk down wintry city streets in just their Heattech tops and a thin coat while passersby are spotted bundled up, and captions flash on the screen with the city name and sub-zero or near-freezing temperature. And the few reviews I was able to dig up spoke of the Heattech shirts favorably. There's supposed to be some milk proteins that trap warm air or something in them.

We found the Heattech rack of women's items--camisoles/singlets, scoop-neck T shirts, scoop-neck long-sleeved shirts, turtlenecks, and leggings in a range of colors--near the back of the store. The merchandise is packaged in space-age-looking silvery sealed plastic bags with clear size markings, descriptions in English and Chinese, and a window so that shoppers can see the color of the item easily. A sample of each garment in each size hangs on a rack nearby, and leading me to believe I should opt for a large turtleneck rather than the XL I initially grabbed.

I chose grey; it's a very light, almost silver, shade of grey. I would have gone for the black and white striped affair but it was only available in XL. It was on sale for RMB59--more than I would normally pay for a shirt but I was expecting some Japanese magic from this baby to combat my fifth Chengdu winter (let me tell you, they don't get any less painful with time).

Performance: Not as magical as I was hoping for. I've been wearing it under another shirt plus a sweater or vest and coat the past two days and while it might keep me a bit warmer than the average cotton shirt, I certainly wouldn't wear it with only one thin layer on top. The large is form-fitting on me so I wouldn't have minded the XL for a slightly looser fit; also, the sleeves are shorter than I'd like (a common problem for Westerners buying clothing in China). Given the numbers on the packaging (XL is made for a height of 165cm, and I'm 173cm), I guess I'm not too surprised.

On the plus side, I think it does look pretty slick and sophisticated to wear peeking out from other layers, and it's soft, smooth, and comfortable on the skin. While I was back in the States I picked up some long-sleeve cotton tissue shirts that were $9.99 each at Nordstrom Rack. Those shirts are my winter staples. The Heattech shirts have the added benefit of being turtleneck style and just slightly cheaper; if I have some money to spend I would consider picking up a black one and possibly the leggings--although the sizing issue is even iffier there.

While at Uniqlo I also bought the furry fleece coat, on sale for RMB199 (I see it's now marked down to 149!)--and I'm very glad I did. It's not the most flattering piece of clothing I own (it looks far better unzipped than zipped, when it looks kind of body-bag blobby), but it's so soft, comfortable, and warm that I think I'll be living in it for the rest of winter. I can wear it with just an ordinary long-sleeved shirt underneath and be warm enough; I can't say that about any other outerwear item I own. I bought the XL in grey; again, the sizing is a bit funny. It's a bit narrow in the shoulders, a bit wide in the waist, and the sleeves are as usual a bit shorter than I'd like. But with long gloves it's no problem.

Update P.S. Whatever you do, don't wear fleece to a bar. Some jackass will undoubtedly drop ashes on you and/or your coat, and your coat will sport a nice melt hole or three. Dammit.