I am happy to report that I now know what a Swiss bargain looks like!
As I have probably
complained mentioned before, prices for items like clothes tend to be higher in Switzerland than in the US and elsewhere in Europe (even in the absence of world-rocking economic maneuvers like the one recently made by the Swiss National Bank, which caused the value of the CHF to surge).
I should clarify that with me, the disagreeably high cost of clothing is not just a Switzerland/exchange rate issue. Before I came here, I had only been working full-time for two years and had spent the majority of my thus-far adult life as a student, which means that most of my clothes came from Target and TJ Maxx. Now, I refuse to say anything bad about either of those brands, because together they have gotten me through childhood, college and graduate school with their cute, versatile 3-for-$8 tank tops and $20 jeans. Target, in particular, is always a treat for me…I tend to hear the Hallelujah chorus play when I step into the women’s clothing section, knowing that an array of delightful outfits can be mine for very cheap, but not so cheap that they fall apart as quickly as Wal-Mart wear.
However, the sad truth is that Target clothes do not last very long either, and I have definitely begun to wear some of my favorite finds for too long. But I have been hesitant to buy more than one or two full-priced Swiss items of clothing, which are painfully pricey – an average pair of jeans will run you 150 CHF or so. Most Swiss women I have met so far tell me that they tend to wait until they are on holiday in the US or elsewhere in Europe to buy clothes, and some even drive just over the border into France to spend the day looking for bargains. I am by no means a fashionista, so traveling to a different country – even a very close one – to try on pants is not an activity that I would choose to spend my free time on. So, over the last year I have purchased several pieces of Swiss clothing from H&M, which is the European version of Target. These tended to fall apart even faster than Target items, however, and I found myself cursing my tendency to favor cheapness over quality.
What I didn’t realize, however, is that clothing sales are a huge thing in Switzerland…and they are very different from sales in the U.S. Right after the holidays (and I did not notice this last year as I was in the US at the time) Swiss clothing goes on sale in a big way. In US stores, clothes are more or less always on sale…you can’t walk by an Old Navy or Nordstroms without seeing some large percentage sign in the window to lure you inside with the promise of huge savings. I have gotten a lot of great bargains this way, but I often end up buying something ill-fitting or flimsy simply because it is on sale, and passing by the better quality items which have of course been left at full price. This is how I have ended up with a wardrobe of jerry-rigged clothes, which (given my rudimentary seamstress skills) usually end up unevenly hemmed, cuffed, or with a thread-y stump left where I have clipped off a particularly ugly bow.
But January – oh, January is the season of the Swiss SOLDES, or clearance sales…and when the Swiss say ‘SOLDES,’ they really mean it. At first I was confused by this term, because it is usually painted across storefronts in capital, red, bold letters…much like the diagonal ‘SOLD OUT’ that marks popular concert posters. Why would stores advertise that they have no more inventory, I wondered? But I was soon set straight about the true meaning of this magical word. For just a few weeks, even top-quality Swiss clothing is seriously marked down, and if you can brave the swarms of humanity rooting around the shelves and whipping back hangers to find their size before someone else takes it, then you are in for a real treat.
Last weekend, I bought two pairs of well-fitting, thick-fabric jeans and two Italian merino wool sweaters…for 160 CHF. I still can’t quite believe my luck…I had actually left the store with only one purchase before I glanced at my receipt and thought that the amount I had paid was impossibly low…I thought there had been a mistake before I went back in and realized that the tags on the clothes were the original prices, not the marked-down ones.
This experience is consistent with my ongoing education in Swiss culture and commerce: Many things come off as outrageously expensive or complicated or otherwise demanding (at least to me) at first, but with patience and time, I have found in most cases that above-average costs nearly always correspond to above-average services and/or products, and that bargains can indeed be found if you know where to look!