The thrill is gone

You know when you embark on a little, peculiar challenge to amuse yourself and maybe stem the haemorrhage of your ‘savings’ account while deciding to share the mundane and reputation-diminishing intricacies of that strange and arguably trivial personal quest to a transient and disinterested internet community, you never really expect it’s going to ruin your life.

But then, you know, it goes and does.

Ladies and gentlemen, the thrill is gone.

Tuesday was a textbook case of when the stars align to present a single individual with the optimum shopping opportunity. Tuesday was the first day back at work after a long weekend. It was also the fourth day after my shopping detox ended and five days after pay day.

After a breakfast meeting in Soho, I tore myself away from the good lighting and nice folding of the local boutiques to trudge down to my office out of the city. Oooh, I thought. If only I could shop, but gosh darn I am on the clock.

I arrived at work to a total blackout. No computers. No telephone. The kettle worked, but alas, no one else could. We were sent home at midday.

And so there I sat: with a full pay packet, a half day spare, store credit at my favourite shop and needing to go past it (albeit on a tube) to get home. Visions of sugar plums danced in my head. Today was the day. I was back on the wagon.

I entered the shop and the world fell before me, in all its embroidered, bustiered beauty. After whirling around the shop desperately trying not to appear frantic – during which point my eyes may have rolled back in my head as I muttered to myself – I whisked up about 8 items and dragged them into the amber lit change rooms, where a pretty girl chatted to me with the bright-eyed over-confident over-friendliness of a baby sitter I was about to leave my fictitious young children with for the night. She wrote my name on my change room door and referred to me repeatedly by it. I turned around and faced the skirts and tops and trousers I’d temporarily scarred my forearm carrying around the store.

Ah, methought, I’m back.

Not quite. Not at all. Maybe not ever.

I started to get frustrated at the soft lighting. I couldn’t see anything, although the lights around the mirror did give some part of my eyes a strange but self-hypnotising twinkle. The vanity sizing was so extreme as to be insulting. Don’t play with me Anthropologie, I am not a size zero. Do you think I’m a big  flabby idiot? I started checking the fabric content; synthetic, synthetic-cotton blends. What was this? Was I totally blind to the con? Had I been so taken by the ironic use of astroturf that I allowed myself to feel some bizarre love/loyalty to a store that wrapped each item in tissue paper and had good looking staff talking into their expertly frayed lapels like some kind of folk-chic secret service?

And then I had to pay for things. And that’s when I really noticed the change. Gone was that post-purchase giddiness. That ‘ooh, no I shouldn’t have but ooh’. That imagining of when and how the items will first have their public airing.

Just a resentment that I’d paid for anything, really. Stuff I know I’ll use, but whatever. Blah. It’s just blah.

In news just in Trixie The Enabler, after a month back on the wagon, has decided to go back on the detox for another month. For her too, the thrill is gone.

This is a new, scary world.


The final day, being cured and the fear of Australia

Today is the final day. Tomorrow I will cast off the shackles of this detox. Tomorrow I will be free. Tomorrow, I can shop.

But I don’t think I will.

In fact, I’m a little sad to be ending my miniature social experiment. I think I’ve become addicted to not shopping. Which sounds like the problem has been me all along; that I’ve some kind of pathologically addictive personality that will hook on to any habit with masochistic vigour.

As I plod through my final day of my shopping moratorium, I feel a sense of calm. I’m all zen. As the universe would have it, tomorrow is the final day of an Orla Kiely sale. Like a proper sale – special town hall venue and all. But even though I have to, kind of need to go to that exact part of town this weekend, I think I’ll avoid the sale.

What has happened during the past 61 days is that I’ve readjusted my perception of need and want. I don’t think I should buy just what I need, that would leave me limited to buying sports bras and facial cleanser. It’s the want that’s really changed. As reluctant as I am to have any kind of ‘revelation’, coming to the end of two months totally opting out of fashion-consumer culture means that I have re-claimed my own wants. The peripheral stuff, the stuff I don’t love, that’s all dead to me now. I just want what I really want. Not the stuff that’s constantly shoved under my nose, through my mail slot, into my inbox and in the bloody display window of Powder in Crouch End.

The UK fashion and footwear market was worth £48.55bn in 2007. In the US in 2008, the accessories market alone was worth $16.3bn.  I do not believe the UK clothes-wearing public required or even wanted £48.55bn worth of clothes, accessories and shoes in 2007.

Meanwhile I own more than 30 dresses. This is probably a more than sufficient number. When next I’m looking at a slightly ridiculous, probably odd-fitting vintage dress crammed into rack and reeking of charity shop, I’d like to think I’ll stop and consider whether that is truly what I want from my 37th dress. I’d like to think that’s what the future holds for me.

However, information has come to my attention which is exceptionally disturbing. Australia, my home country, has become very expensive. The dollar has gained totally inconvenient strength. White singlets cost $40 and friends are taking shopping trips in New York because it’s cheap.

All of which suggests, I’m going to have to start stockpiling.

Sweet Lord, mamma need a new pair of shoes

Alright. It’s T-minus-I don’t know, a week or something. But I tell you something, mamma need a new pair of shoes.

I do. I’m ‘mamma’.

What I have is too ratty, too wintery, too summery, too high-heeled, too lost in the back of my closet. I need shoes. Dare I say it, I need sensible shoes. What has this detox done to me?

I do feel that I need new shoes. Mamma don’t lie. However, I wonder what warped thing has happened to my concept of need.

In truth, I believe I have more than 30 pairs of shoes – in this country. I also have a stockpile in Sydney, some of which is being held in secret by a friend who promised them a safe haven at her house during my time living in London after my very own mother – and the holder of my other stuff – threatened to throw out anything that couldn’t fit in a single closet. She has no heart, you see.

What I have is not a true need. I will not die nor any ill be visited upon my person should I not acquire a new pair of shoes. I do, however, have a genuine aesthetic need for new shoes. Shoes to wear to work in the interim seasons – spring and autumn – so as to perpetuate a guise of professionalism. These, I am lacking.

Was Lapland cheating?

Forgive my silence, dear readers, but for the first part of April I have been holed up in a small town in Finnish Lapland visiting my partner’s family.  As you do.

With limited internet access, I could not blog. With a 45 minute walk into town down paths hemmed in snow above my waist, I could not shop. With the need to wear hand-me-down ski pants from a teenager and over-sized walking boots from her 70-year-old great aunt, I could not care less.

In fact, I could be cured.

In truth, that last sentence could be exaggerating.

But while I spent ten days in Finland blissfully removed from the consumer culture I have been unintentionally absorbed by in London, I could not but wonder: is Lapland cheating? Is it not a bit too easy to resist shopping when you almost can’t? But then I decided what I had done, if you want an analogy (and I suspect you really, really do) is akin to going to the kind of rehab where noone ever mentions your addiction. Where it is as though drugs never existed. Instead of lusting over what to wear, I was consumed by calculations of how many layers I could stuff myself into before my coat would be unable to button up.

Because in Lapland – while there were your black hair-dyed teens with H&M skinny jeans –  people largely dress for need. Coats which balloon you to bear size, thermal beanies, shoes which can cope with getting stuck in snow and navigating gravel. Here what you wore was what you needed to wear. It was refreshing.

Not enlightenment-level refreshing, but relaxing nonetheless.

This for me, however, was a bit extreme. I did not feel quite like myself (and not just because my Finnish is limited to remarking that things are either ‘good’, ‘beautiful’, ‘fun’ or ‘tasty’). I have come to define myself in part by the choices I have made in terms of purchasing things to wear. This is not the sole basis of my identity, I’d like to add. It is, however, constantly reinforced that what we wear reflects ourselves as a person – and within limits I reckon there is truth in that. Decorating ourselves is an important part of expressing to people who know and don’t know us who we are – or who we want to be. For me, wearing a large puffy coat just tells the world ‘I’m cold’, and somehow that just seemed a little too brief a conversation with the aesthetic universe.

I thought there might be a slight chance that this detox might woo me over to the sensible shoe camp, away from my mid-heel, heavily discounted shoe that I probably will rarely wear but really love despite its limited applicability camp.  I thought it might. But actually, my not-quite epiphany in Finland has suggested that consumption based simply on need isn’t the solution – it’s not bad for a while though.

I have been reduced to manual labour

So, this is what has become of me. Sewing.

Pushed to the limit of how long I can go without having anything new to wear I have been reduced to making it myself. And – my sewing skills being limited, as they are, to faint memories of lessons from Mrs Tsunaklis’ year nine and ten Textiles and Design classes – I have been reduced to making very basic things. Very politically incorrect things.

I should be worried that the thing I most wanted/was able to make was a floral apron. I would like to imagine myself swathed in irony as I wear it while, literally, baking. But I am not sure irony was my chief motivation. Nor is it – having tested the apron out this evening – my chief joy (aprons are an incredibly practical addition to your kitchenwear wardrobe). The pent up frustration has clearly fried my brain and sent my whole being back into more  frugal times.

On the the less troubling side, ’twas indeed a fun day with fellow ladies trying to resurrect crafts of women much more skilled (and time-rich) than ourselves.

We cooked. We sewed. We drank herbal tea. We did nothing more than fix things we had already bought, but could not wear. This shit could end up surpassing shopping days as the zenith of productive female bonding. But yet, somehow, I’ve ended up with something new. And in my impartial and discerning judgement, items procured through my own manual do not constitute cheating in the slightest. I’m safe.

The law of returns

I had been fearing the day. Dreading it with the same anxiety that I have traditionally reserved for the return of results from exams for which I strategically decided to study only two thirds of the course work, discovering upon turning over the page that the entire exam was on the unstudied third, and which subsequently destroy my grade point average in Government and International Relations.

That kind of dread, you know?

So, point is I had an unwanted dress; one which I had bought in a fit of passion for a yellow brocade trim on a skirt lining that would ordinarily not be visible to anyone, other than individuals with low morals and high determination. It had been on sale, dear readers, for about a quarter of its original price. But, alack, it was (as I had known at the time at which I bought it) too big and had to be returned.

On Tuesday, I took the dress, folded neatly in its tissue paper inside a pretty paper bag in to work so as to return it to the shop that evening. It sat beside me all day, like a tell-tale heart from my shadowy past. But it wasn’t returning it that was the problem. I should never have bought a dress that doesn’t fit me in the first place. It was the store credit.

Having lost the receipt, I could only get store credit. And receiving store credit is pretty much like being given free money. It’s like tax returns or something, as though I never had spent that money in the first place. What is worse, it was store credit in my favourite shop. And a favourite shop with a permanent sale section. I was, methought, in trouble.

I took Trixie (aka. Trouble). It was nearly four weeks into our detox and I thought we were due to test ourselves. Walk through the crack den only to collect our sneakers.  Walking up to the shop, we drew breath. Trixie mentioned something about my cruelty in taking her there, while also suggesting she would walk around to ‘price’ things so that she could plan future shopping ventures in New York.

I did lose Trixie a few times. But we stayed on the ground floor. We – more or less – walked in the general direction of the checkout counter and then – more or less – walked out.

I had store credit in my wallet. Money that, by definition, has to be spent on clothes and accessories. But while I could have reasoned that as it was a pre-detox purchase I was returning, buying something with that credit – and for the precise value of that credit – would have only brought me back to where I started from and so, technically, was not a breach of my challenge.  Yes, dear friends. It could have been all too easy and I could have conveniently decided such an action did not really warrant a blog happening, as it technically did, in the past.

But if there is anything I’ve learned about myself over these last few weeks, it is that I am endlessly objective and fair. I could not redeem my store credit on that day, nor will I redeem it at any point before May the 1st. I made a promise to you, dear readers, and I could fear to think of how I would fall in your esteem had I taken that perfectly legitimate opportunity to re-immerse, albeit briefly and technically in the past, in the rush of buying something new to wear. I just couldn’t do that to you.

The vanguard marches forward (with store credit!).

Card for store credit at Anthropologie

Gareth thinks I should have learned something by now

Gareth, a colleague of mine who provides exceptional berry supplies in the mid-afternoon, thinks I should have learned something by now.

I haven’t though. Indeed, just as I wrote these first few sentences I have sent myself an email with a list of newly-discovered online US boutiques to crack open as soon as I unburden myself of this experiment. I have spent the last three weeks and one day thinking about what I will buy come May the 1st. Spending money superfluously after all is surely in the truest spirit of May Day traditions.

In fact, I am dreading the next five weeks.

But I didn’t expect this detox to be pleasant, nor for enlightenment to arrive at week three. I’ve only ‘detoxed’ once in the past. It too was an odd affair, with the peculiar exclusion of tomatoes in addition to alcohol (prizes for guessing which contraband I actually refrained from consuming will be withheld). Going from that, somewhat mixed, experience I would conjecture that enlightenment will arrive in the final quarter of the detox, stick around briefly after at which point I will find myself rather made heavy with the re-entry into consumption for a little while, but before you know it I could be back having yellow cheese and white bread again.

So I say to Gareth, and anyone else marking my distinct lack of growing maturity on the topic, patience. Delayed gratification is the name of the game.

Indeed, just as I wrote these first few sentences I have sent myself an email with a list of newly-discovered online US boutiques to crack open as soon as I unburden myself of this experiment.