I love to shop for clothes. I love the feel of the clothes in my hand when I touch them on the rack, debating whether or not to try them on. I love when things fit perfectly, when the version of myself in the mirror is measurably better than the version of myself I’m used to walking around with. I love going up to the register, seeing the amount on the screen, and swiping my card with the confident, very adult knowledge that I can afford it. I love the hours and hours I can spend walking, dipping in and out of stores, changing neighborhoods, getting good cardio without ever breaking a sweat. I love it all.
But it’s not good for me. I know that my relationship with shopping has never been a healthy one, and though I’m not an “addict,” in any classic way – I’m not a debter, and I have never gotten myself into trouble with shopping – I recognize that the effect shopping has on me goes beyond the material. It makes me feel like a better person, and like I am achieving something intangible, even when all I am really achieving is a 50 dollar sweater on sale for 20.
Here, the five reasons why clothes shopping is my high point, and my downfall.
1. I never actually feel like That Person.
In many ways, it’s undeniable that part of the reason I shop is to feel like this vague, better-than-me-in-every-way person, who is effortless and chic and always put-together, even when dressed casually. To me, being the “lifestyle blog” version of myself is the key to all of the success and superficial happiness I have long been denied. And having been the kid who, most of her life, wore a steady stream of Old Navy and Aeropostale, getting to be one of the “cool kids” is a desire that has continued well into my 20s – and is represented by wearing the things that I associate with success. It’s no longer a pair of Abercrombie jeans, as it was in high school, but it is the Reiss coat, or the Madewell scarf, or the JCrew flats.
But I never actually feel like that person I think I am buying myself into. I never suddenly feel like the cool girl, or the chic one, or the put-together one. I usually hate everything I buy a day or two after getting it (though this is slowing somewhat by focusing on #NeutralLife and waiting to pick out the best of what I want), and I never feel like I have achieved some sort of style plateau. I am always striving to be that girl, and won’t ever be her. (Although, on the bright side, at least my struggle to be her is mostly limited to spending too much money on shirts, and not starving myself into being a size two. But that’s another story.)
2. I love clothes, but I hate fashion.
Despite the pleasure I take from going shopping for clothes, I can’t say that it’s a passion. I can’t say that shopping is any contribution to a greater career or path, because I find “fashion” as a concept (and, in many ways, a pursuit) to be incredibly tedious and dumb. I see a picture of an “important” pair of boots from some German designer that cost 2,000 dollars, and to me they just look intentionally ugly, aggressively minimalist, and made for fools who need to be separated from their money. I can’t get any joy out of it, and I have no desire to pursue or collect “fashion” as any form of art. (Particularly when that “art” centers on worshipping women with dangerously low BMIs who are presented as something that I should aspire to be like.) I literally just like clothes that fit well and make me a better version of myself – which is somehow also still impossible to achieve – and I can’t imagine it ever becoming a “greater love,” where I truly start to love capital-F Fashion.
3. The mirrors.
Why are so many retail dressing room mirrors so profoundly unpleasant to look into? What is the purpose of putting fluorescent, overhead lighting directly over where the customer is going to be debating buying a piece of (often expensive!) clothing? Whatever the plan there is, all I know is that my VERY WORST body image moments often happen in the dressing room of a store that is both harshly lit, and intended for women smaller and more ethereal than myself. Sometimes I feel just god awful in there, my skin looking more irritated and patchy than ever, my body in some kind of interrogation of flaws and imperfections, the pearly white stretchmarks on the side of my butt and pouches of fat at the top of my thighs the most noticeable things about myself. I’ll look at the elegant, form-fitting LBD I brought into the room with me and feel deeply unworthy of even trying it on.
It’s not a good place be.
4. I get a genuine rush from shopping that should come from other, less material things in my life.
I know that it shouldn’t make me feel as good as it does. I know it shouldn’t matter that I can afford this shirt, or that coat. It shouldn’t make my day suddenly become more happy, fulfilling, and productive-feeling. I didn’t accomplish anything, and I didn’t magically become a more thoughtful, hard-working, interesting person. I just (in the very best of cases) dress slightly more like what the world thinks that person looks like.
But it just makes me feel great! It’s a great, relaxing, exciting way to spend a day. Shopping is cardio, therapy, and indulgence, all in one. The perfect activity! And that’s sad, because it’s so often tied up with spending money that I don’t need to, on things I’m not even going to like in a month or so. But when I go into, for example, Club Monaco, I am overwhelmed with the look and feel of it all, tricked by every detail of that fashion merchandising expert’s strategies to make me want to buy things when in that building. It really does feel like a place where good things can happen, and where I want to be spending my time. It convinces me, if only for a moment, that all of my insecurities can magically be cured, if only I were wearing that perfectly neutral, understated-yet-beautiful outfit on the mannequin. It’s a rush, and one that’s hard to replicate with anything else.
5. I want to be the person who feels like myself in sweatpants and a tee shirt.
And I don’t, and I can’t. A big part of the “self” that I perceive and embrace is tied up in looking a certain way – and I don’t even achieve it, most of the time! But I can’t just walk out with messy hair, no makeup, and a plain tee, and still feel like the person I really am. I feel that it, in some way, negates my successes and my better qualities and my achievements. It doesn’t translate all of the things about myself I want people to know about me, and is an obstacle to overcome when meeting new people. I just can’t be comfortable in any old thing, even though I know that that is the very particular quality that makes those effortless European actresses I idolize so sexy and untouchable.
I could drain my entire bank account trying to paint a portrait of the person I think I am on the inside, if only people would get to know me. I could buy the entirety of Club Monaco, and still not feel like I am exactly that person I have in my head, and I know this. I know that it’s a never-ending, totally psychological, uphill battle. But I can’t stop trying. I can’t stop convincing myself, in the moment, that that one grey sweater will be the difference between happiness and missed potential. And sometimes it feels like I’ll be spending money for the rest of my life on the one perfect outfit that will finally change it.
Image: Ella Ceron
Like The Financial Diet on Facebook here.