A funny thing happened on November 10. My friend/former colleague John Jannuzzi, who many of you know as a disgruntled-but-occasionally-poignant Twitter celebrity, declared that he was going on a shopping cleanse. “I tell myself that I will not spend selfishly until 2014,” he wrote on Luckymag.com. “No more impulse purchases, no more justifications and no more coping through retail benders.”
Just a week later, I was eating brunch with my college friend Victoria Locke at the Breslin. Vicky, an administrator at a real estate firm in Connecticut, had ventured into the city for another friend’s bachelorette party and a Hunger Games matinee. Since we were meeting for brunch, I figured we’d stop by some 5th Avenue shops before the movie. We did, but Vicky — an avid shopper who has never met a Target collaboration she didn’t like, or a subscription box not worth trying for a least a month — didn’t buy a thing. She explained to me that she’s given up shopping for a year. In fact, she’s even documenting it on the blog Itsaversayce.tumblr.com. (If you don’t get the reference, go home and watch Showgirls immediately.) She’s made it 11 weeks without purchasing anything for herself: not clothes, not makeup, not jewelry.
“I am a shopping addict. Not jokingly, but for realz,” Vicky wrote the day before she started the fast. “It runs in my family and I am no exception. I amassed a very large amount of credit card debt in college, which I thankfully was able to work my way out of. I married a frugal man – which has helped slow my roll to a point. But in all honesty I still have a problem. I rationalize purchases that I do not need (“but it’s such a good deal” “it’s limited edition!” “I need it to wear with my xyz”) and have a closet filled with items worn once or twice, if that.”
While John and Vicky’s challenges and goals are very different, they have one thing in common other than the desire to lay off of shopping for a while: me. I’ve enabled both of them at different points, telling John that yes, he definitely did need that Marc Jacobs cap, or sneaking Vicky into the 3.1 Phillip for Target shopping party. But that’s only because I empathize. Indeed, I’ve got a bit of a problem myself. And so does pretty much everyone I know.
Shopping addictions, if you want to get serious and call them that, sometimes feel like a job requirement if you work in fashion. The only person I’ve met who writes about clothes that doesn’t feel compelled to shop constantly is Leah Chernikoff, the editor of Elle.com and the former editor of Fashionista. I’ve actually pressured Leah to do more shopping, which is pretty ridiculous and further proof that I have my own issues. (For the record, Leah is one of the most measured people I’ve ever met — she has no discernible addictions in a world where everyone is legitimately addicted to something.)
Leah is rare in this field. Even Lauren Indvik, the current co-editor in chief of this site and an incredibly disciplined, serious person, admits that she shops too much. “I know, at heart, I’m both a shopping addict and a bad shopper: Too many things I bought because they were on sale, or bought without figuring out whether they’d work with my lifestyle (hellooo, 4″ Manolo stilettos), and so they reside in my closet, gathering dust, making me feel guilty when I remember the prices I paid for them,” she says. “In July — the time I usually start buying fall clothing — I told myself I could only spend $1,500 until January. By Sept. 1, I’d already spent that sum, and it wasn’t even cold yet. Two weeks later, I realized I needed cashmere. And three weeks after that, I found out about my new job — a justification for a shopping spree, if there ever was one.”
There are hundreds of stories like Vicky’s, John’s and Lauren’s, and many shopping obsessives have documented their shopping fasts. Elizabeth Jayne Liu of Flourishinprogress.com did it in 2011, LearnVest writer Lyz Lenz did it in 2012. Much like a juice cleanse makes you realize that you don’t need sugar every day to function, these writers talk about how letting go of shopping helped them to reset their systems, to realize what was valuable and what wasn’t.
For me, shopping is part of the job, and it’s also part of my extracurricular life. My husband and I spend our weekends walking the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn, often popping from shop to shop not looking for anything in particular but buying stuff anyway. He likes to shop, too, but not as much as me — and I’ve definitely made him into more of a consumer, maybe for the worse. Right now, I’m not in debt, but I’m not flush either, and we’re about to go to Tokyo — the global capital of shopping! — for the Christmas holiday. Luckily, the clothes are too small for me there, which means I’ll have to limit my consumption to sushi and Japanese stationery.
Right now, I’m contemplating buying a pair of Yves Saint Laurent Chelsea boots. (These ones.) At $855, they are pricey — even pricey for me, the kind of person who once bought a $3,000 Chanel bag as a “new job” present to herself. But I will probably buy them. My excuse is that they are the only thing I will buy this season. I find that binging on one pricey thing does keep me off of shopping for a few months, much like overeating at Thanksgiving ensured that I’d watch my calorie intake throughout the weekend. Plus, it’s conscious consumerism, right? Buy less, buy better, they say. I’m contributing to the cause!
It’s easy to joke, because part of the problem is that shopping addictions do not feel particularly legitimate. Physical addictions: alcohol, drugs, food, heck, even sex, affect you physically. And they cause clear damage to those around you. If you’re in debt because you shop too much, then sure, it’s going to cause tension in your relationship. (I know that the thing my husband and I disagree about most is money. And how we should be spending or saving it.) But in general, shopping a lot — especially if you can afford it — is seen as a non-issue. A problem that middle-class people have because they don’t have real problems.
But here’s the thing about that: even when I was a broke college student, I had too many clothes. Even when I was a teenager living with a broke single mom (and man, were we broke), I had too many clothes. Now it’s just worse because I can shop without accruing large amounts of credit card debt.
Yet it doesn’t always feel so great. So maybe I should go on that shopping fast and see how not doing it for a while makes me feel.