Irresistible temptation for the shopaholic

The traveling weekly market

Robert Nordvall
March 20, 2008

I confess to an addiction that has caused me to have to find ways constantly to expand the clothes storage space in my apartment. Others, however, may be able to enjoy the experience of the traveling market in a more balanced fashion.


In most Italian cities, the traveling market arrives once or twice a week. In Florence, it comes to the Cascine on Tuesdays. From cosmetics to shoes, from jewelry to gadgets, the markets offer a wide range of goods. The substance of the market, however is clothes, new and used.


The stalls selling new clothing tend to specialize in a single type or a few types of garments. The inventory tends to be constant; you don't find a lot of new items every time the market comes to town. The prices also are usually stable. The lowest-cost merchandise, no surprise, comes from China. Often a vendor will note if his goods are made in Italy. These stands provide an excellent reference point for the shopper with a specific item in mind. If you want a cashmere/merino blend sweater, it is easy to compare prices and styles between the market table that has these sweaters and what is available in local shops. Usually the market price is cheaper, but this may not be the case during the sales at the shops.


For me, the true pleasure of the market is the bargains at the used clothing sellers. Of course, thrift shops and Salvation Army stores exist in the USA, but they can't compete with the variety of selection and quality you find in Italy. The inventory at the used clothes stalls changes weekly. Among the items are always some brand new pieces that have found their way to this table.


Where do the clothes come from? Various groups that collect used clothing for charitable purposes sell lots to market vendors. Some pieces have been rejected by a store or individual because they have defects. (If a flaw is in a hidden place or hard to discern, I say, ‘who cares?'). Some come from dry cleaners where, apparently, the owner did not redeem them. Most of the inventory is made up of garments discarded because they are no longer on the cutting edge of style.


Not infrequently the sizes are mismarked-if they are marked at all. But the vendor can always give you a good estimate of the size. Unfortunately, the facilities for trying on clothes are usually limited or nonexistent. You cannot return what you buy from these sellers.


But the price of a mistake is not high when you are paying three euro for a shirt, skirt, dress or pair of pants, or six euro for a sports coat.


If what you like doesn't quite fit, consider whether it can be easily altered, particularly well-made men's clothing. At these low prices, it may be a bargain even after the cost of the tailor. For example, a size 56 cm pair of men's pants can easily be taken in to fit a 54 cm waist, and a 52 cm size can be let out to 54 cm if there is extra cloth in the back seam.


Although the majority of these pieces are from Italy, you find clothes from many European nations, especially Germany. I have even occasionally found clothes from the US (who knows how they got to the used clothing world of Italy). You soon learn the difference between labels that say ‘Made in Italy' and those that declare ‘Styled in Italy'. Occasionally the provenance will be only ‘Imported product'.


What about counterfeit name-brand clothing? Is the Armani jacket an original or a knock-off? Sophisticated buyers can probably answer this question upon close examination. On the other hand, if you like how it looks, and it cost only five euro, does it really matter if it is the real thing?


Clothes from Italy make an excellent gift for friends in your home nation. Italy has a high reputation for quality. The cloth in Italian garments is often exceptional. I usually mail such items in padded mailing envelopes, for which you do not have to complete a form indicating the contents and their value.


A warning. The market is a favorite locale for pickpockets. Keep your money in a safe place.


One final hint. The only source I have found in Florence that compares with the weekly markets for price and quality is the monthly thrift shop usually held the first Wednesday morning of every month (except during the summer) at St. James American Church on via Bernanrdo Rucellai.



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