Sun, Sea, Sand...Shopping?

Holiday romance? Forget it. Nothing compares to the rush of finding some stylish clothes in a far-away land for pennies.
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Holiday romance? Forget it. Nothing compares to the rush of finding some stylish clothes in a far-away land for pennies.

Summer holidays may be about sun, sand, sea and sex for some, personally, these days I'll be more than happy with 3 of the 4 but I've always actively sought out the 5th 's'- shopping.

It began with my first caravan treks to Southern France and Northern Spain. Somewhere around the age of 12, I dragged my parents round every sports shop in the Beziers region looking for a French football shirt to take home with me. The hunt may have ruined their holiday but I hit the jackpot, eventually-Saint Etienne! It eas A beautiful green Le Coq Sportif number with horizontal white pinstripes and 'SuperTele' written across the chest, still the greatest shirt I've ever seen. Nobody had one of those back home!

The following year, a Barcelona shirt with 'Maradona' and the number 10 on the back was another prize souvenir of a trip to Catalonia. It was the summer when he'd arrived ahead of his short spell at Camp Nou.

On these missions to find something different, Football was always the theme, then the emphasis changed, from what was being worn on the pitch to what was being worn on the terraces.

So it was that in the summer of '85, the caravan parked up somewhere in Northern France, en route to what was then Yugoslavia, we went for an evening stroll through some small town. There was a sports shop, an independent, not one of those soulless Intersport places.

Given the sportswear mania back home, I soon had my nose pressed against the window. My eye was drawn to a Tacchini polo shirt, pastel blue with very subtle pink and yellow horizontal stripes, an object of beauty made even more attractive by the 'soldes' tag, reduced!

The shop was shut so I was up early the next morning, francs in hand, waiting for them to open. This was perhaps the first time I experienced the adrenaline rush associated with finding a quality bit of gear. I was thrilled but I've only recently discovered that my Dad was fuming because I'd delayed departure on the next leg of our marathon pan-european trek, apologies, but it was well worth it.

That holiday was a crazy one. The campsite was full of Italians, it was weeks after Heysel, and I was wearing the same sort of clothes, sporting the same hairstyle, I'd seen on the Liverpool lads charging across that terrace on that dreadful night. I even had a pair of Lee semi-flares in my case.

"I dragged my parents round every sports shop in the Beziers region looking for a French football shirt. The hunt may have ruined their holiday but I hit the jackpot."

I found rich pickings on that trip to what is now Croatia. I came home with a pair of dark brown suede Adidas trainers and, holy of holies, a pair of dark brown leather Adidas shoes, little metal trefoil on the side. I had never seen anything like them back home, they cost the dinar equivalent of £10. The lads in the lower sixth laughed when I wore the shoes to school, small Welsh village, see? No sense of style.

Both pairs were eventually lost to the jumble or something, I weep inwardly when I think what they'd have been worth today.
If that was the zenith, I've spent every foreign trip since searching out similar treasures. I'm 41 now but still indulging in the same search for something different. it's the look not the label these days, mind, especially with a family of four to feed on every trip to Geant or E. Leclerc.

On that basis, i've switched the emphasis again. Now I enjoy checking out the French/European chain-store labels. This very morning I've discovered  'Cirio' where I picked up a shirt, a jacket very similar to a Paul Smith one I recently reluctantly left on the rail, a lovely blue work shirt with a double button collar and a messenger bag which my wife is now coveting, all for less than 40€. A couple of days ago, it was a shop called Brice and a nice, short-sleeved linen shirt with a narrow button-down collar, looked very like the one Liam Gallagher was wearing on the front of the Sunday Times magazine recently, only that was his Pretty Green label, this one cost me. It's 'soldes' all the way here as well, so the weakness of the pound's been bolstered by 70% markdowns.

I did venture into a local Intersport despite my reservations, just to confirm it's rubbishness. Loads of stock but nothing as interesting or competitively priced as they stock in that other French favourite, Decathlon.(Brilliant retailer by the way, not many in the UK, very good sportswear at very good prices.).

Interestingly, to me at least, at one time i'd spend a fortnight looking for somewhere that sold a French football shirt, Now there's huge rails full of them, Marseille, Lyon, PSG, even Les Bleus. Given their embarrassing showing in South Africa, I thought they might have been giving those away to every customer but, no, still full price.

Still, the memory lingers on. I've spotted Chevignon t-shirts whilst I've been over here, once a sought-after label as I recall and I saw a shirt hanging in a shop window in town the other day with that little metal triangle logo on the left corner of the pocket.. Newman.

As a general observation, older French men are well turned out, deck shoes, decent pair of denims, cotton jacket or sweater over a polo shirt. Younger French blokes are a mess, all big baggy shorts, bad trainers with socks and, in far too many instances, PSG/Marseille/Lyon etc etc football shirts. Zut Alors! Mes Amis, sort it out, you're starting to dress like the English!

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