Thursday, April 9, 2009

Beturn, the dark side of shopping

I have three white dresses, a black gown and a jacket that I didn't really want and certainly couldn't afford, but I now own.

You see, I tried -- unsuccessfully -- to join the cult of the beturners, folks who buy something with the explicit intention of using it one time and returning it. It's part stealing, part retail-borrowing, and pure evil. We all know about beturning, but no one likes to talk about it.

The five flaws with beturning, as well as the barriers that keeps me safe from its tempting grasp, are as follows:

1. You cannot lose the receipt. (Bam, I am already doomed.)

2. You cannot squirt spaghetti sauce/cranberry juice/red wine on, say, your white dress(es).

3. You have to be willing to wear your clothes with itchy tags grinding on your armpits, and be willing to slither away in shame when someone sees said tags.

4. You must be versed in every store's specific return policies. Remember this one. It will come into play when we talk about the "beturn block."

5. You have to have no soul.

The only exception to No. 5 is the what I call the hurried beturn. You're scrambling for an outfit because you are too important and busy to set aside proper shopping time, or you are a procrastinator. So you grab the first five things to try on at home, or in the car on your way to the fundraiser, and you plan on returning the four reject outfits.

That is how my boyfriend ended up with three pairs of black pants and four white button-ups. Late for fundraiser. What receipts?

I told him he should get a job as a waiter to pay for the unneeded items; after all, he's now got the closet for it.

Some stores have more relaxed policies than others. For example, according to urban myth, you can beturn anything at Wal-Mart.

Here are three real-life examples of the Worst Beturns In History, Ever:

3. The hoses. It was the Fourth of July, and we wanted to fill up water balloons in the park. But parks don't have spigots. So my friend bought about 25 garden hoses, hooked them together and attached them to the spigot at her house. She then carried the hose chain through the neighborhood, across busy streets and to the park. As the tale goes, when she beturned them, they were dripping water and were covered in fresh tire tracks. Wal-Mart didn't flinch.

2. The carpet cleaner. Judy (name changed to protect the guilty) had a carpet cleaner. Her carpet cleaner quit working, but she had thrown the box away. So she bought another carpet cleaner. She put the old carpet cleaner in the new box, and used the new receipt to beturn it. Wal-Mart didn't flinch.

1. The snake. I can't bring myself to tell this story in full sentences, so here goes my best staccato effort. Toilet. Clogged. Home Depot. Plumber's snake, aka electric eel. Unclogged. Snake in a box. Snake back on the shelf. Poor Home Depot.

There is yet another kind of beturning: the beturn block.

Brittany was checking out at Forever 21 when she noticed the sales associate had accidentally scanned a nearby yellow striped shirt and placed it in Brittany's bag.

"Oh, that shirt wasn't mine," Brittany explained.

She was shocked by the associate's response: "Yes, it was. It was in your pile."

Brittany explained that it must have already been on the counter or somehow got into the mix, but she really did not want it. The woman said, "It was in your pile." The fight raged on.

"No. I don't want it. It's ugly and not even my size."

"Well, I'm sorry, but we don't take returns."

"What? This is not a return. I never wanted it."

"We don't take returns, ma'am."

"Let me see your manager."

Manager: "What is the problem?"

"She accidentally charged me for this shirt that I don't want."

"Well, our computers cannot return anything. Sorry."

I suggested Brittany just beturn the shirt to Wal-Mart. Even with Forever 21 tags and no receipt, I'm sure the Mart would take it. I mean, this one wasn't even run over or dunked in a toilet. It was Wal-Mart's turn to benefit.

Got a soul? Does the mere mention of beturning fill you with self-righteous rage? Here are two fashion-forward and socially responsible shopping options for you:

We Are Overlooked, ( designs cool T-shirts to promote and raise money for humanitarian causes around the globe. One black tee reads in white scribble letters: "This shirt feeds starving children." For $20, every shirt sold provides one person with a meal a day for one month.

We Are Overlooked even takes on the uncomfortable topic of child trafficking. A gray shirt has a Dr. Seuss-esque child locked in a cage, with the words, "Because some things were never meant to be caged."

The company also features a shirt to raise money for mosquito nets on April 15, World Malaria Day.

Annie O ( is a Boulder-based biz that works with needy artists in Peru to sell adorable belts, bags and accessories that are inspired by traditional embroidery techniques. Annie O is fair-trade and supports women who are victims of domestic violence.

The products are available in about 22 boutiques around the country. The colorful belts are hand-embroidered out of sheep wool, with horn buckles. They look great on top of a summery dress.

Plus, all of the products have a story behind them -- and not one of these stories involves an electric eel.

Photo by Flickr user gandhiji40.

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