The Great Recession has dug its nails into our backs and made it pretty apparent it’s going to hang on for a while. People and media have been chatting about cutting back on going out, eating out, vacations, shopping—even going on shopping “diets.”
But I stopped shopping a while ago, when I and everybody else thought the economy would get over its hiccups.
My story starts with a simple proclamation: I love clothes.
When I was five, one of my most fun activities was changing my clothes for a few hours. And I loved when mymom got her bonus and we’d raid the racks at GapKids. In fifth grade, I was voted “Best Dressed.” In grad school, I blogged about fashion, often asking total strangers about their outfits and if I could take their pictures. A little forward, yes, but fun.
So naturally, an all-time favorite activity is shopping.
Shopping offers an endless amount of possibilities. I’ve read that in malls, women feel like they can safely take risks. I think that’s because each item could be the start of a new you, and the consideration of that possibility is what’s fun: am I the kind of person to wear violet pumps? Why not? Studying colors, fabric, prices, and ruminating on where exactly to wear those violet pumps can take hours, days, months, years. If you consider that the average person spends ten years of her life waiting at stoplights, I’d guess I have spent at least ten of my life shopping.
Ten years of shopping demands a lot of closet space. And time. And money. And as I got older, I started to realize how very little I had of all three.
I also realized shopping revealed something unsettling about me.
I usually realized it when I had to move, because I’d get sucked into a swirling nightmare of clothes: packing, tossing, donating, wondering WHERE they all came from, WHY I had them since I didn’t wear half of them anyway, HOW did I afford them as a part-time tutor, and most importantly:
WHO, exactly, was this girl who owned them all?
The girl who owned these clothes was part prep, part hipster, part Sporty Spice, part queen of the nightlife, part trendspotter, and mostly: wannabe.
Women have so many clothes, I think, because we dress for occasion. A stylish woman does not wear the same dress to the club as she would to the job interview or the family picnic. And the occasions we prepare for are a huge part of our identity. For example: I don’t have any outfits suitable for attending a Metallica concert. It’s not my kind of thing.
But I wandered around malls, trying to figure out what kind of girl I am, buying clothes for all kinds of occasions—occasions I didn’t really go to, because I had a pretty lackluster social life. When you do as much as I did in college (Champion overachiever! Front row! Present!), you end up with a pretty great resume—but little time for fun on the side.
I didn’t realize how much that bothered me. So retail became a social outlet—out in public, I didn’t feel alone—and a creative outlet too, imagining all of the possibilities.
Eventually, I ran out of money. Eventually, I’d start to feel purchase anxiety even before exiting the mall. I knew the clothes in the logo-stamped paper bags would just end up in black plastic bags a year later, off to charity or the trash. I knew that all of these purchases weren’t going to make me any happier. Or make me any happier with who I was, whoever that was, anyway.
So I stopped.
I won’t say that I am a completely different person when it comes to shopping. I still love clothes, I still love all of the possibilities, and every trip to Target is still likely to find me coming back with more than paper goods. But one thing I don’t do is go “shopping.” I don’t hang out at the mall if I’m bored. I don’t window shop. I don’t go looking for something unless I have a specific need, and usually I don’t have a specific need, because I have pretty much every outfit I could ever need, for any occasion, thanks to my years of shopping.
And if I do buy something, I scrutinize the hell out of it: Do I need it? Do I adore it? Do I love how it makes me look and feel? Will it last? Is it worth the money? Is it me?
The last question is most important because my style doesn’t suffer from multiple personality disorder anymore.
My style? I like trendy shapes in neutral colors, with bold accessories that pop. So a bright red belt, shiny gold flats, and a beaded artisan market bracelet add some excitement to my favorite dark skinny jeans and slim grey boatneck T with elbow-length sleeves.
This style reflects who I actually am: mostly type A, classic and safe, with a wild spattering of type B; organized and professional, but creative and innovative too. A girl who sometimes takes risks– but good ones.
Like that black sequined miniskirt that’s coming in the mail. Oh, yeah….
–By Tara Cavanaugh