Karachi is a great place for fashion conscious men. All the major international design houses have outlets in the city, but for rookie buyers, here is a secret: the flagship stores are located in the high-end area of Defence and in the less expensive commercial district of Lighthouse in downtown Karachi.
The Defence 'chain of stores' is so exclusive that it opens only on Sundays at an outdoor market. To hide its true identity, it is known simply as the Sunday Bazaar. If you are looking for a like new, zero-metre Armani jacket (regular price $1500) for Rs500, this is the the right place.
Here, Ralph Lauren shirts go for Rs200 a piece, so take two before the annoying bystander eyeing them greedily snatches these treasures from your hands.
A good eye and quick decision-making are essential here.
Time and Armani wait for no one
This is life in the fast lane – every word, every gesture, every bat of an eyelid matters if you are to get the best out of Sunday Bazaar.
If Rs500 for a designer jacket is too much for you – and I admit that it is a lot of money – you can head out to Lighthouse in Saddar, more commonly known as Landa Bazaar, where better bargains are on offer.
How to justify the visit
Many well-heeled customers are reluctant to turn up at this location for reasons of propriety. Those of this ilk who do turn up announce loudly for everyone’s benefit that they are looking for a shirt for their driver. According to experts, though, this overused tactic does not always work and ends up getting sly glances and snickers from all present.
What is important, therefore, is to turn up looking like a simple and humble person who is trying to feed a family of six on a limited income.
This is business, not pleasure
As with all bargains, be reminded that serious work is required to find a diamond in the rough. You have to use advanced mining techniques to dig deep into the pile of clothes on a cart.
But before you start digging, take a few moments to stand there and carefully look at the pile. Once you have developed a trained eye, you will be able to detect a fine piece very quickly. Tuck all the good stuff you find under your arm to reserve the item – this way no other customer can snatch away the fruits of your hard work.
What you do not see cannot hurt you
Keep a low profile. Blend in with the crowd and carry yourself with the casual air of someone who could not care less about the merchandise on display.
You don't want the seller to know you are enthusiastic about any of his products. To avoid bumping into undesirable acquaintances, keep your head low and avoid all eye-contact.
When digging into the mountain of clothes, exercise care so that it does not collapse onto the sidewalk. Such indiscretion will earn you the ire of the seller and the other buyers.
The acid test
Once you have identified a good candidate, smell it. This is the conclusive test of your success.
If it smells bad, it may have been taken off the body of a long-ago deceased. The sellers in the high-end location like the Sunday Bazaar often pre-wash and iron a good item. While this makes it look and smell better, it increases the price and can also take your attention away from defects like a worn-out collar or a trouser with a zipper-less fly.
Care must also be taken that you do not end up mistakenly buying a ladies shirt or jacket. Avoid all used socks and underwear like you would avoid your mother-in-law at your friend's bachelor party.
The label test
Once the item has passed the smell test, check the label.
The label is the most important design element of haute couture. A $500 pair of trouser is worth nothing without a label confirming its authenticity. Do make sure though that Brooks Brothers is not spelled as Crook Brothers or whether an Armani has not been re-branded as Imrani.
Beware that some unscrupulous sellers even stitch an authentic label on a fake item. Due diligence is the operative word here.
Finding the right fit
So now you have confirmed through you olfactory and visual faculties that you have landed a genuine item. But does it fit you?
While you can check out a jacket or at most a shirt, trousers is another matter. This is where some risks have to be taken.
By that, I don’t mean that you be bold and try it out right there and then splat in the middle of on M.A. Jinnah Road. What I mean is that if you are not sure about the size, then take more than one and try them out at home. You can always give the one that does not fit to a younger sibling/thinner friend.
Shoes too, can be tried on but first ensure that there is no fungus residing in them. Otherwise fine shoes rescued from the Japanese tsunami are rather prone to this problem due to extended exposure to moisture.
Bargaining = No shame
Now that you have the loot in your hot, balmy hands, know this: For the next 20 minutes, you have no ego. Hell, you don't even have any self-respect.
Right, then. Now you are ready to negotiate the price.
You see, bashful customers are the biggest losers here. The winning strategy is to leave all shame and dignity at home and steel yourself for some hard bargaining.
Rule number one of good negotiations is to show respect to the seller. Gone are the days when clothes sellers could not distinguish between Burberry and Babri or Bally and Bata. Make a reasonable offer – like a third of the asking price.
Of course, the seller would show you the label and tell you that the item is brand new; that it just fell off a truck on the Champs Elysee in Paris and found its way to Karachi. But you grit your teeth and stand firm. Bargain in a loud voice – for some odd reason it results in a better price.
Feel free to tell a white lie like, “I saw the same shirt in Regal Chowk for half the price!” If you have any doubts about your bargaining approach, just stand quietly and watch a member of the proletariat as he bargains.
Chairman Mao, a sharp bargainer himself, once said, “We must learn from the masses.”
The final word
Once you have secured your bargains, head straight for the Tip-Top dry cleaners to bring your clothes back to their zero metre state.
So there you are, looking like a million dollars kitted up in your zero-metre Armani jacket, gently used Luigi Borrelli shirt, and fungus-free Ferragamo oxfords. In the circle you hang around, no one will ask uncomfortable questions on the origin of your clothes or shoes.
After all, you were in Paris last month, weren’t you?