I generally associate markets with cheap basics, maybe a few fake designer handbags, often decent street food, and if you’re lucky, some lovely local growers and artisan shops. My main point being that they are generally independent and low cost.
Yet sitting on Haymarket, Dover street market is anything but cheap. With a concept originally based on the Kensington Market of the late 1900s, it opened in Mayfair in 2004 and now has locations all over the world.
I have to admit when I was instructed to take just a ten to Dover Street I laughed audibly – this is the place where sausage and egg on toast is £14 and were created by the same founder of the fashion brand. Like boys. But I was determined to find something; they would surely have some fluff that I could afford. Surely?
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Approaching Dover Street Market first, I nearly missed it. The main front entrance appeared to be completely closed off with barriers down and instead of the windows being filled with elegant mannequins as I expected, they each had a giant white ball hiding what was inside. This kind of quirky, contemporary simplicity screamed expensive right away – if you’re outdoors, you can’t even watch to them, let alone afford them.
When I finally found the way to a small side road, an empty but busy space opened up in front of me. There were very few shoppers browsing, more contrasting clothing sections side by side. Next to a sunglasses cabinet was an ethereal selection of cute clothes next to a corner of black metal bars containing plain black bags and Nike t-shirts.
The first dress I saw downstairs looked straight out of Bridgerton, designed by Simone Rocha with jacquard detailing, floral embroidery and a ruffled tulle bottom, all for the pretty price of £2,200. In contrast, in the industrial style BLACK Like Boys section, a plain black shirt costs £300. And personally I can understand the justification for the high price for the nice dress but not for a completely boring shirt.
The store is filled with these kinds of themed nooks and crannies, from a section filled with polka dots to a stunning wardrobe that looks like it belongs to the Royal Shakespeare Company. Then, of course, there are all sorts of items that aren’t even priced and with a budget of £10 I don’t bother asking. Because as JP Morgan so aptly said: if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.
There was one section in particular that baffled me – The Beatles collection. Growing up on the outskirts of Liverpool I’ve seen my fair share of Beatles branded merchandise and general tattoos. But that was on a whole other level – a plain striped t-shirt with two little apples for £120? You can afford a return trip to Liverpool to buy something for the same price as this.
Although I was excited to see something else related to one of my other favorite scouseurs. On the top floor of the market is a Molly Goddard collection, with a dress similar to the pink one worn by scouser queen, Jodie Comer as Villanelle. A gorgeous short, yellow version of the design is priced as an eye watering £2600.
And it was a long way to the top floor. One thing that struck me about Dover Street Market is its sheer size. Fashion lovers, or just those who can afford it, could probably spend hours browsing the rails for expensive clothes and accessories.
Still, wandering aimlessly through the expensive collections, I couldn’t find anything for £10 or less. Even a tiny pocketbook of magazine lunch was £12. The item of clothing that shocked me the most was a pair of socks. Comme des Garçons’ plain neon green socks are £40. Whole forty pounds for a pair of socks? I couldn’t take anything seriously after that. And don’t tell me that’s the fashion, honey, because it’s absolutely ridiculous.
My favorite form of entertainment as I began to accept defeat with my £10 challenge was listening to the few shoppers around me in the store. Here are my two favorite lines from the visit: “I’ll take this one for Anne Robinson, she’s coming today.” And: ” I went to a detox spa, it was great…I lost four pounds.”
Very clearly, in my baggy jeans, puffer jacket, sneakers and beige sweater, I wasn’t supposed to be there. This was not the place for me and my pathetic little £10. I thought I had gotten lucky at one point when I spotted a handful of pearl necklaces that looked like they were made on a little holiday strip near the coast. Obviously they weren’t, they were £58 for a day by the sea.
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After looking through more price tags than I could count, I finally found the home and utilities section in a small corner of the fourth floor. And ladies and gentlemen, I could afford things here. I know you’re on the edge of your seat so I’ll go straight to it: I could afford a coaster. In fact, I could afford of them coasters £4 each. Or maybe I could go with a whistle for £9.50. Or really treat yourself to a rubber brush for £6.
There was even a pot of salt that I could afford! What a treat for five pounds. Maybe I’d get a tin of chopped tomatoes for £3.
So yes, unconventionally, I could get something with the £10. But would it be worth it? Absolutely not. I did enjoy my free ride though, some of the clothes are really amazing and I loved admiring them, I just can’t buy them.
Obviously there are people who can afford it and it’s a market for them. But to me, it’s like an upscale department store with the raw, market-ready layout. It’s steeped in history and fashion so treat it like a museum, it’s not there for the majority of us dear.