This story was written for Man Repeller. Photos by Marlen Mueller
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.
The dark side of shopping is the over-consumption, the fast-fashion production. For as much as I donate that which I no longer wear and try to be smart about what I buy (and why), I know shopping means I’m inherently part of the endless cycle. I also know that the heady rapture of buying something can fade into boredom or disappointment, or both. Often, a new purchase that looked like the last missing piece of a puzzle at first glance will turn into an empty, emotionless piece of fabric only weeks later. Suddenly, you realize you’ve been fooled.
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.
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