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Stepping foot into Primark is a bit like stepping off a rocky bargain cliff into a sea of materialism and hoping you remember how to swim.
You bob up and down among the waves of cheap leggings and knock-off cartoon socks and question your entire fashion existence.
I love Primark, and part of why I want to write this guide to shopping at Primark is because I think there are some quintessential tips for shopping at Primark that everyone needs to know, whether you’re a study abroad student in London or American expat in the UK.
Hey! Sidenote! Traveling in the UK? For tons more advice, beautiful photos and friendly help, click here to join my UK Travel Facebook group to carry on the conversation with fellow travelers and UK experts.
One does not just merely “go” to Primark. No, no. I love Primark because it’s a challenge, an expedition, a momentary threat to your sanity that leaves you both crying and laughing at the other end.
Guide to Shopping at Primark
One of my best tips for shopping at Primark is to ask yourself the important questions.
You know, the ones that keep you up at night.
Do I really need £6 yoga pants?
I don’t even do yoga. I could take up yoga, though.
Will these make me look fat? Should I buy two pairs in case one rips?
Where are the yoga mats?
The options are endless, and the clothing displays make you feel right at home by appealing to your own inability to fold correctly or separate the wash by color.
Unfortunately, sometimes, Primark beats you down with its rock bottom prices until you’re pretty sure you’ve passed through all nine circles of hell and one planner with incorrect spellings.
Patterns blend together and you lose all sense of your surroundings.
Is this a safari or the city center?
Is that a fellow shopper or a rabid animal lunging for the last pair of jeggings?
You start to lose faith that you’ll ever find your way out and begin to stockpile pillows from the home goods section in case you find yourself sleeping amongst the wreckage that is your dignity.
You wonder if the candles will work as SOS flares and start fashioning a shelter out of last season’s trenchcoats.
Your energy is running low, and your ability to stave off the hunger is waning.
You have to resort to the “Primarket” for sustenance, and you’re starting to forget all of my tips for shopping at Primark that you once knew by heart.
But then you catch a glimpse of a questionably-fashionable item you never knew you needed, and suddenly, your spirits are high.
After all, Primark is the ultimate fashion freedom.
Sometimes you just want to dress how you want, and Primark doesn’t deny you that pleasure.
YOU DO YOU, Primark says. YOU WEAR YOUR MICKEY MOUSE TOP WITH YOUR MICKEY MOUSE HOODIE AND YOUR MICKEY MOUSE SWEATPANTS! DON’T EVEN THINK TWICE.
Primark is also knowledge.
It’s hard to remember your favorite characters on Friends, but Primark has you covered.
No, I mean, they literally have you covered in the names of all the Friends characters.
Most importantly, Primark is the opportunity to make bad decisions and learn from them.
Those shiny silver shoes were a risk at 5 pounds.
They were even a risk at 3 pounds.
But for 1 pound?
You go, girl.
You rock those shoes all the way to the moon (or the 36 steps they last for, whichever comes first).
You grab your overflowing bag of items you’ve already forgotten you needed, power your way to the front of the shop with your newfound confidence and fashion self-esteem, and do 8 laps around the building to find your place at the end of the mile-long line.
Time drags on, and you occasionally ditch items in nearby racks to lighten your load because your arm is falling asleep and you’re pretty sure you’ll never actually try yoga anyway and why-did-you-even-pick-up-that-NYC-sweatshirt-when-you’ve-never-been-to-NYC.
By the time you get to the end, the checkout, the promised land, you throw your heap of clothes onto the counter and collapse into a fit of exhausted tears as you slide your card into the reader.
The cashier stares at you blankly as you punch in your PIN and offer up this week’s lunch money in return for a Mickey Mouse shirt you’ll never wear and a pair of fuzzy socks that your boyfriend will return behind your back tomorrow.
Primark may have won the battle, but you will win the war. Until next time, Primark.
Until next time.
…Anyway! Now that we’ve recreated what it’s like to shop at Primark, here is my guide on shopping at Primark, including…
7 Necessary Tips on Shopping at Primark
1. Decide the purpose of your trip in advance
Before you start shopping at Primark, you need to actually figure out what your goal is before you walk in the store.
Is it to find a cheap dress that you can wear to an event and never wear again?
Or maybe it’s to update your whole wardrobe because you lost 60 pounds.
Or maybe it’s to find a costume for Halloween.
Whatever it is, you are going to get less distracted if you walk in knowing exactly what your ultimate goal is.
You shouldn’t be mid-shop and then realize that actually you came for something else.
Make a list, check it twice, and if you’re just coming to browse and see if anything sticks out at you, then God bless your soul because you’re in for a treat.
2. Don’t bring anyone who hates shopping
People who hate shopping for clothes might think that they would enjoy a trip to Primark, but if you take away anything from this guide to shopping at Primark, make it be this – Primark is not the place to take someone who hates shopping.
“The prices are so cheap,” you say, “She’s studying abroad in London! She loves cheap!”
They may love that, but they’ll also hate you when you eventually leave and they’re covered in piles of mis-marked clothing they had to spend the past 4 hours sorting through.
If you have someone who hates shopping and wants to be “in and out,” pay a little extra for a more organized experience.
3. Set yourself a budget
Primark has a way of trying to send you home with everything from every aisle, even though you went there because you were trying to study abroad in London on a budget.
You go in for a pair of sweatpants, then despite your best intentions you’re sidetracked by the Disney aisle, then you realize you need a new pair of slippers and suddenly you’ve spent your whole last paycheck.
In addition to simply setting yourself a budget, you should go into Primark with a certain amount of cash if you have a tendency to overspend and have buyer’s remorse.
That way, you can’t physically spend over that amount and you’ll really have to make some tough decisions and figure out what you want out of your Primark adventure.
Go through your London packing list carefully and see what you actually needed.
Things suddenly look less appealing when you have to give up something else for it – make your clothing options work for your love!
4. Expect things to be all over the place
You’re going to walk into Primark and stuff is going to be strewn everywhere – all over the aisles, all throughout the dressing rooms, over the counters, maybe even hanging from the light fixtures.
This is a necessary evil and decorative appeal to Primark.
This cannot be changed, no matter how many people they hire to clean up after the hundreds of shoppers who leave the store a mess every day.
As long as you go in expecting things to be all over the place in Primark, you’ll be well equipped to emotionally handle it when you have to wade through a 10 foot pile of jeans to get to the shoe rack.
5. Try things on – no matter how long the line is
If you follow my next tip on shopping at Primark, it will be easier to figure out when to go to the fitting rooms with shorter lines, but overall, you need to remember to take the time to try things on.
It feels hard at Primark because you’re already overwhelmed and exhausted and the last thing you want to do is put the actual clothes on your weary body, but you are going to save yourself so much time returning things in the long run and standing in line AGAIN if you try them on as soon as you find them.
If you need to psych yourself up for it, just promise yourself a cookie or a milkshake or a pizza or whatever food floats your boat.
Pull yourself together, get yourself in line for the dressing room, and do not come out with anything that doesn’t fit you perfectly enough for a £7 pair of shorts.
6. Don’t go on the weekends or right after work
If you value your life, you won’t go to Primark on the weekends or right after school/work lets out for the day and everyone is there rushing to find the perfect interview outfit or swimsuit or awkward onesie for the next day.
Weekends are just horrible because, well, a lot of people are off work and have nothing better to do than go get lost in a maze of retail hell, but also because it’s when you see a lot of families shopping at Primark together.
Nothing says “get me out of here” like needing to snake your way through a family congo line of shoppers lining up to tell the granddaughter if her flower girl dress looks good or not.
Obviously this tip won’t work if you, yourself, aren’t free anytime but on the weekends or right after work, but do everything in your power to either go on a weekday (maybe add a shopping trip on to a doctor’s appointment or some other excuse to be off of work), OR go closer to closing time when the store will be a complete disaster, but you will have fewer people shopping.
7. Be a good Primark citizen
The number one tip for shopping at Primark is to be a good Primark citizen and do unto others, and to the store, what you would want done for you.
This means putting things back where you found them, not getting huffy when you have to stand in a line of 20,000 people (they don’t want you in the line clogging it up, either!) and generally being pleasant to the staff and other shoppers.
If you ever feel yourself get in a situation where you can’t be a good Primark citizen, then remove yourself from the store and vow to go back when your head is in the right place and you have the patience of a saint that’s needed for a shopping trip like that.
What are your best tips for shopping at Primark? Any great deals you’ve found? Tell me in the comments!