Tuesday, January 12, 2010

More Praise for Garnet Hill

New Hampshire–based Garnet Hill carries luxurious bedding and intelligent clothing and shoes that real women of any age can wear in comfort. There is nevertheless a decided lack of frumpiness, elastic waists, and trapeze tunics (although there are always a few). You also won't find painful-looking high heels, sheer or otherwise nonsensical tops, jeans that start below the hipbone, or skirts you can't stride in. You will find boots made for walking, down coats that don't resemble sleeping bags, sundresses that can be worn with a bra, and an overwhelming quantity of sweaters.

In short, it's as though J. Crew got a dose of reality from L.L. Bean, via mutual friend Eileen Fisher. (I like the idea of Eileen Fisher, a featured label at Garnet Hill, but I won't be ready for her line until I'm  70, or have doubled in size, like pizza dough.)

I usually place an annual order for an item or two from Garnet Hill — flannel sheets, matelassé coverlets, waterproof boots (I can view my order history online, beginning in 2000). But this year I was unusually inspired by their winter sale, which started before Christmas. It ends tonight, and was a doozy: loads of cashmere; clothing and shoes from several very good labels, their signature bedding basics, and much more, at good discounts. And I found an online coupon code (G9KMENT) for additional savings.

I ordered these Børn boots and saved $70. They look gorgeous in person.

Cashmere socks were $9 instead of $24, so I stocked up. (Most "cashmere" socks contain only a token amount of the fiber; Garnet Hill's are a sumptuous 81%.) I also ordered a few duds: a sweater in appallingly bright pink and a couple of "small" tees that were much too large.

When the boots and tees arrived, I was concerned about their sizing, so I had a "live chat" with a sales rep. She suggested that I wash and dry the tees to see if they'd fit better afterward. "But I wouldn't want to keep them if they're still too big," I said. She said, "It's okay, you can return them after you've washed and worn them if they aren't right."

Whoa. How many companies let you do that these days? L.L. Bean does, but their clothing and homegoods never appeal to me, as much as I love Maine. I buy shearling slippers for my dad, and that's about it. Sorry, L.L., maybe someday I'll take up duck hunting and buy some boots. Garnet Hill has more style to offer, even with its practical New England philosophy.

Back to the boots: Børn comes in European sizes, which is tricky for us American size 7s. Size 7 translates to a 37.5, but European shoes don't often come in half sizes. So we must choose between a 37 (6.5) and a 38 (7.5).  The 38s I ordered felt a tad too roomy. The sales representative offered to send me 37s at the same bargain price (even though my coupon code was for one-time use). And there's free shipping on exchanges. When the 37s arrived, they felt a tad too snug. So I spoke with another rep, who encouraged me to take both pairs of boots for a walk outside to help me choose the better pair.

I was stunned. Try returning boots you've tested outside to Zappos, which gets raves for allegedly bending over backwards for customers. Try returning obviously worn boots almost anywhere (you'd probably succeed at Nordstrom). Who else wants you to be that confident about your purchase? A lot of places say they want you to be satisfied, but their reps don't go around advising you to crash-test their products until you're sure about them.

I kept the larger boots because they'll accommodate cushioned insoles. I returned the others in pristine condition.

The effect of a no-risk satisfaction guarantee is that we ordinarily skittish customers become fearless about shopping. At the last minute tonight, I ordered a Siberian down pillow ($60 off) and flannel and jersey sheets.

I usually make investments in housewares (or anything) only after hesitating and comparison shopping for weeks or months. I've been unhappy with my fancy down pillow for ages; it gave me only about 7 months of comfort (or unconsciousness) before it flattened into mush. When I complained to Cuddledown, they suggested I buy another one just like it. Right. Ridiculously expensive pillows should last for at least a few years, not a few months. So, for more than a year, I've spent random hours lying awake on it, considering the various catastrophes that might result from my slitting it open and trying to fatten it with down from an old pillow. Instead, I am springing for an even better-quality pillow (at a lower price) that I can return if it should die on me, too.

In the past week, I've been awakened twice by the sound of ripping fabric close to my ear. I somehow put my hand right through both an embroidered flannel top sheet and a matching pillowcase in my sleep, ruining both with long, messy rips. I'm not a violent sleeper, so I'm interpreting this as a sign from the retail god to buy sheets. If they disappoint me, I can return them, too.

And I promise I won't wait until they've been worn to the consistency of Kleenex. Although I'm a stickler about quality, I'm never going to abuse Garnet Hill's generous guarantee. Heaven knows I want them to offer it for a long, long time.

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