I have always been a shopper. In fact, one of my earliest childhood memories is of shopping. We lived out in the sticks, and it was an hour drive into town to the K-Mart (our only option). It was there that I remember seeing a madras plaid jumper with tie shoulder straps and a crisp white ruffled underlay skirt that peeked out the bottom. I remember snatching it from the rack and clutching it to me with two little fists. I remember the flushed feeling of desire, a rush that I call the “gotta have its.” I remember placing it in the shopping cart while my mother was engaged elsewhere. I remember her shaking her head at me when we got home and she realized that it was a size too small for me. 30-some odd years later, not much has changed.
In a recent Kon-Mari closet clear out, I felt haunted by my shopping past. That impossibly brilliant Jacquemus dress that sparks all the joy but has no practical use in my life. The sailor pants that turned out to just reinforce my insecurities about having “child bearing” hips. The trendy pieces that lost their relevance as soon as the Zara sale was done. The boring mom clothes bought at Target in the midst of PMS bloating. The dreaded “politeness purchases” bought in vintage stores or little boutiques with hip or nice shop girls that I felt somehow obligated to buy something from. The nostalgic pieces plucked from musty thrift stores that I believed proved my sartorial superiority. Staring at my giant pile of clothing, I wonder what my shopping habits say about my self-worth. Perhaps I have something to prove, and perhaps it is that I can transform into someone different than who I am. Someone thinner, with smaller hips, someone wealthier, someone who fits in and is allowed in to the cool kids club.
When I was a child, it was easy to identify the things that set the popular kids apart. The price of admission to the cool kids club was a B.U.M. Equipment Sweatshirt and L.A. Gear sneakers. In my tweens it was Esprit & United Colors of Benetton. In my teens it was Contempo Casuals and Betsey Johnson. This didn’t end with adolescence. In my 20’s it was American Apparel and Marc Jacobs. In my 30’s, indie slow fashion brands and indie fast fashion brands. As I look around now, at 40, it’s a never ending scroll of “instagram brands” and instagram vintage shops, all with tightly cropped photos of skinny torsos perched on stools in high waisted trousers with chunky belts and creamy knits. As a child, the price of admission into this world was too high for my hard working single mother. As an adult, I claim these things as victories, I make them mine. Through extra shifts, long hours and, at times, credit card debt…I find a way.
That early memory of shopping that I have is about more than the madras plaid jumper. The memory is not only about getting away with something, it’s about getting something. That memory is just the first of many about shopping from my childhood, and really the memories are about reward or about punishment. They are about excess & abundance (“Throw it in the cart! Even if it’s too small!”) or, more frequently, they are about restriction & lack (“We’ve got to tighten our belts. We can’t afford that!”). There were extremes involved, the experiences were as black and white as yes or no. Have or have not. You’re in or you’re out. You deserve it, or you don’t.
What I’ve learned, through 35 years of shopping experience, is that most purchases for me are essentially impulse buys. If I like it, I want to have it. I do not want to be told no, by anyone- even myself. There is an emotional charge to shopping that is about more than just a beautiful outfit for me, more than fitting in or achieving cool kid status, even. All of the shopping fasts and strict budgets and closet clear outs have not served to diffuse the little bombs of beliefs beneath the surface. Understanding and confronting those memories and the emotions tied to them gave me a sense of what I am dealing with when I am staring down a pair of vintage YSL harem pants or Saks Potts logo tights. In those moments, I come into contact with my childhood self, with all of the longing and hunger that permeated my youth. Maybe we never really grow up.