A GLEAMING set of scales takes pride of place in Liverpool's latest boutique. Far from being a kitchenware outlet or greengrocer's, this vintage clothing shop has brought new meaning to heavy shopping. For at Bulletproof, weighing is the new paying.
The philosophy is really quite simple - for each imperial pound of clothes you pay pounds 4, and there is a ceiling price of pounds 28. So, on my visit, three slips and two T-shirts or a jumper weighed in at 1lb.
Inspiration has been taken from the rag-and-bone men who used to sell their goods in this eccentric way. Of course, Bulletproof's stock appeals to an altogether classier clientele. Steptoe and Son won't be looking over their shoulders just yet, unless they happen to pass a Liverpudlian clad in Bulletproof's carefully selected clobber.
Bulletproof is run by the American husband and wife team Gail and Eddie O'Callahan, who opened the shop at the end of August. They already have a shop in San Francisco, and thought the idea would work well in the UK. Gail explains: "Eddie is English, so we already had a lot of close friends here. I think Liverpool has had a bad rap in the past - it's actually a really nice place, there are a lot of students so you get to meet a whole different group of people."
According to Gail, Bulletproof is unique in this country, although the US boasts quite a few examples of this novel way of shopping. France and Germany have similar set-ups, although they tend to be in warehouse environs where streetwise kids strengthen their biceps by digging around for the best bargains.
Because Gail pays for the clothes by weight at cost (they are all imported from America, by the way), she says it's an easy way for her to price, and an easy way for us to spend. The novelty factor plays a part as well - where else can you get involved with clothing in this way? It's hands- on, try-on and buy.
The general reaction from the buying public has been general bafflement but, in the long run, this is positive. Popular psychology tells us that excitement spawns spending - you are more likely to want the T-shirt, remember the shop and go back for more. Trying a garment on, coupled with the anticipation of how much it weighs in at, leaves you aching for that one-off. Which is exactly what is happening right now in the North-west.
Bulletproof has a fantastic range of mainly Sixties and Seventies shirts, skirts, dresses, trousers and coats. I noticed a pretty pink jumper embroidered with birds, and exciting alternatives to the fur-trimmed coats of the high street such as parkas and duffels. Chances are, these items will have been replaced with a new generation of vintage clothing when I next visit. As with all second-hand shops - it really is a lucky dip.
For those without luck on their side Bulletproof also stock new clothing, but if you want any of that you'll have to make do with staring at an archaic old price-tag. The combination of new and old works well, helping to pull in two sets of punters - students counting out their pennies for the vintage and clubbers fighting their way through for the new.
There are no plans to open an outlet in the capital, as Gail fears for her sanity. "I have friends who own shops in London and their stress levels are too high."
Personally, I can't wait for summer, when light, floaty dresses and the like will be pretty cost effective. My bank balance will be just fine, as long as they don't put me on the scales.
Bulletproof is at 41 Hardman Street, Liverpool (telephone 0151-708 5808)
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