April 3, 2013 by kmwelden
Our Craigslist chat yesterday reminded me of an essay I wrote when I spent a Maymester in Italy. So here is a story about how I spent almost $200 on a backroom leather jacket in Florence. Whoops.
I never really considered myself a leather person. To me, it always connoted some sort of middle-aged biker with a desire to be young or the 1980’s and a girl in red leather pants with huge hair and heavy eyeliner. I am neither. I do have huge hair, but heavy eyeliner makes my eyes look too small. And red leather pants would make me resemble a fire truck in both color and size.
This is why I felt impervious to the excited clamors of my fellow travelers when we ventured to Florence, and they talked about a mysterious “Leather Alley.” It felt outlandish, the things they said they were going to spend valuable Euros on. Who really needs a leather jacket? Leather suitcase? Leather journal? None of it sounded appealing to me. I was having visions of all of the other things I could spend my money on (Food money! Wine money! Trip to Venice money!).
That being said, I arrived in Florence with a plan. Or, part of a plan. And because I am a 20-year-old girl about to be in a shopping Mecca, the only step in the plan was not to blow all of my money at Zara or H&M. But leather? Leather I did not have to worry about.
The first night we arrived in Florence, my professor, Mr. Lott led us down Leather Alley to get to dinner (I can’t help but add, Bret Lott once had a book on Oprah’s Book Club. The guy has actually met Oprah. This has nothing to do with anything but GOD isn’t that cool?!). Cara Beth and Gabbie squealed with excitement. I sulked behind. I just wanted to get to
a dinner table wine. Then suddenly, the pungent aroma of leather reached my nose, and I realized that there might be a problem. They must put a mixture of nicotine, Kenneth Cole Black perfume, and brand new books in the leather, such was the intense desire that seized me and implored me to buy, buy, buy the leather.
My eyes zipped along the stalls faster than I could register. The narrow street between the stalls seemed to close in even farther. Italian men motioned me to their stalls that held such great treasures. I caught a glimpse of a jacket that I would wear. Then another one. And another. I think “would” wear is the wrong phrasing. It was more of an intrinsic need. There was a sign on a stall. “Good prices for nice people!”
Nice people? I thought. I’m a nice person! Well…I can be a nice person!
We stopped just long enough to steal a glance at a price tag. At 430 Euros, the fantasy I had managed to create in a short five minutes (a particular talent of mine) of me sashaying down King Street like a model in a one-of-a-kind, fierce leather jacket came crashing to a halt. I got a handle on my out of control mind, and reminded myself that I am just not the kind of girl who wears a leather jacket. Simple enough. Fantasy squelched.
I continued to think this, until the next day, when Cara Beth, Tyler, and I went back to Leather Alley “just to look around.” Famous last words.
It all began with a purse. Cara Beth fell in love with an Italian leather one, not even two stalls into the long alleyway. We had been told that haggling was absolutely necessary, and street vendors would mercilessly rip tourists off to make a profit. Apparently, this line of thinking went out the window for Cara Beth when she found the bag of her dreams. “Oh my god, I loooove it,” she gushed, and I saw the merchant’s eyes become dollar signs. The girl ended up paying the full price of 68 Euros and became quite possibly the only person in history never even to attempt to haggle in the Leather Alley. However, she did now own a beautiful bag, and I immediately developed the urge to spend my money, too.
It’s a terrible thing when girls shop together. They encourage each other to make the most irrational purchases with phrases like “Ohmygod that’s adorable,” or “That (insert fashion item here) is so you!” No matter how high the combined IQ of Cara Beth and I, we receded almost instantly to the intellectual and verbal level of a ninth grade girl drinking wine coolers. Add to this, Tyler, the third of our trio, who apparently thinks it’s funny to watch us try to negotiate with salespeople and encourages irresponsible purchases.
We continued through the Leather Alley, and a sense of impending doom combined with the hope for something shiny and new came over me. We happened upon a jacket. It was white and fashionable and leather and perfect and only 380 Euros. Before I knew it, my fingers were caressing the beautiful fabric, and a man named Jimmy approached me.
“You like?” he asked.
“Very much,” I said. But I did not exclaim it (note the absence of exclamation point), because I was trying to maintain my poker face.
“I have many like it. Follow me!” and off he ran, ponytail flapping in the breeze.
I shot a brief quizzical look at my companions, but we followed, without question, behind the stalls, through an alley (in which my hands began to sweat a little), and finally, into a legitimate looking establishment filled to the ceiling with leather jackets.
It smelled like Heaven.
I tried on the original jacket, which didn’t look as brilliant on me as I had hoped. I thought I may just leave, but Jimmy was a smooth operator, and he had other plans. “Try this,” he said authoritatively. “It’s classic. The style of Dolce and Gabana. It will look perfect on you.” He handed me a caramel colored beautiful jacket, with elbow patches and detailing on the back, and I knew that I was in very big trouble. I put it on, and he immediately began to tell me how flawless it was. I looked in the mirror, and the daydreams of strutting down the streets of Charleston like a movie star came back with a vengeance. I literally had no other choice.
“How much?” I asked, and braced myself for an answer.
“Because you are student, I like to give students good prices. 160 Euros.
I could feel myself caving. I was moving closer and closer to the edge. My hand was twitching to pull out the Visa card that held the money I had spent all year saving. Jimmy could probably see I was close to going into some sort of cardiac arrest, because when I asked him if we could go a little lower, he said that 140 was a steal, but he would give it to me for that. Before I knew what was happening, I was signing a receipt for 140 Euros. That’s $197.50 in US dollars. Though it may not sound like much, it was the most expensive clothing purchase of my young life. It still is. It could have bought 197 dollar menu cheeseburgers from McDonalds. A new cell phone I so desperately needed. I probably could have fed a family in a third world country for
Before I could even comprehend what I had done, I turned to find Cara Beth stroking the same one I had just purchased. Her eyes were transfixed by the double zippers, the pretty collar and the perfect cut. She was a woman possessed, and in under 30 seconds, she too was handing her debit card to Jimmy and buying the same exact jacket.
We walked away from the store in a daze, but not before Jimmy called after us. “Thanks for coming! Bring your friends! I’ll be here till seven!” We looked at each other and just tried to fathom the gravity of the purchase we’d both made.
“We have to get out of here,” she said.
“We have to get back to the hotel,” I replied. We stiffened our lips, held our breath, and marched swiftly out of the leather alley, collectively $400 poorer, but both of us owners of the most beautiful jacket in the world.
I guess now is the right time to start considering myself a leather person.
In all fairness, it is one of my favorite items of clothing. Just to get a visual, this is the jacket in question:
Moral of the story: don’t take me to haggle with you. I collapse like a house of cards.