The other day, my friend P. announced over dinner that he’d decided to quit shopping. I’m used to these kinds of announcements, like friends telling me they’ve quit gluten as I finish my pasta. Now, shopping seems to be the new gluten. I walked home later that evening and pondered my shopping habits. I know exactly why I eat gluten. I know what pasta and bread give me: pure delight. But what about shopping? What does the experience really give me, apart from more clothes?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been able to “save” new clothing purchases. I need to get into them immediately. The prospect of wearing something fresh, of trying out a yet-unexplored version of myself, has always electrified me. I’ve climbed over cash register counters to have electronic tags removed so that I can wear sweaters right out of the store. Whenever an online order arrives to my office, I take the package straight to the loo and try it on. As for the items I do save, I dream about the moment I’ll finally wear them. (I’ve been dreaming about wearing the boots in this story since August.) I will then wear my new prize two or three times in a row until the post-purchase high starts to fade and the item doesn’t feel like a foreign object anymore, but becomes a natural ingredient of my daily outfit recipe.
I was three years old when I first experienced the invigorating effect of sartorial newness. It was a pair of black patent leather Mary Janes. When I put them on, I felt at one with the world. These shoes completed and comforted me. I wore them non-stop. Thanks to the clattering sound of the half-inch leather heels and my habit of emphasizing every step down the stairs with a subsequent pause, my family knew I was approaching the breakfast table before they could see me. Clack, clack. My parents joked that I loved them so much I wouldn’t even take them off to sleep. I’m 23 now; I still know this feeling.
Wearing a new piece of clothing is like being freshly showered, listening to a new song that lifts your spirits, or like walking out of the house on a bright, crisp fall morning with that new song in your ear and a boundless will to make this day a great one. Those fall boots I mentioned, for example? They’ve filled me with an eager energy to tackle the end of autumn, the start of winter. They bolster my mood; they make me feel hopeful. Life always gives you another chance, even if only in the form of a new pair of shoes.
Scientific studies have proven that when we buy something, it’s not just the reward of taking a new item home that makes us happy; the anticipation of reward releases dopamine, a chemical known to be energizing and motivating. Shopping, these studies seem to conclude, can be a dangerous drug. So I understand my friend’s wish to win back control, and thus his decision to quit shopping entirely.
But for me, shopping wisely is like eating mindfully. I have faith in my ability to judge whether I’m really hungry or when I just want to eat because I’m bored. I try my best to avoid hasty purchases – those midnight munchies. I sleep on almost every piece before I buy, even if I think I desperately “need” it. Around 70% of my wardrobe is second-hand. I try as much as I can to resist the allure of high-street bargains and save up money for investment pieces, especially in autumn, when a really good pair of boots is worth a thousand nice-to-have-but-unnecessary tops.
And it works. Some pieces in my wardrobe are three years old and still make me feel freshly-showered when I wear them.
Before I swipe my credit card, I always ask myself a few questions: Can I think of five things in my wardrobe this item would go with? Do I still dream of it 48 hours later? Is it worth the money? The final test is one that goes back to childhood: If I know I’ll love something so much I won’t even want to take it off to sleep, that right there is my answer.