I don’t like shopping.
Okay, that’s a total lie. I love shopping for books. I love shopping for art, knitting and sewing supplies. I also, strangely enough, love shopping for make-up. I just don’t like shopping for clothes. I like having lovely new clothes; I just hate the actual process of acquiring them.
I hate queuing up for changing rooms with my arms full of garments in different sizes (because these days no shop seems to have any sort of consistency in their sizing policy) and then trying them on under unflattering lights while my face gets redder and redder and my hair gets messier and messier.
And I really hate having to wrestle with my conscience. It’s not that I regularly go on shopping sprees; my fear of consumer debt and my desire to buy stuff that wasn’t definitely made in a sweat shop, combined with my hatred of changing room cubicles, have saved me from that bad habit. I genuinely don’t go clothes shopping very often, I don’t shop casually, and I only buy stuff if I actually have the money in the bank to pay for it.
And therein lies the problem. I have what could be described as mildly extravagant tastes. I don’t seriously crave things that are clearly insanely priced. I can lust after the new Miu Miu collection (and I do – oh, it’s so pretty), but I can accept that these garments are completely and utterly beyond my price range. I know there is no way on earth I can ever afford them, and I have no desire to get into debt in order to buy them. That would be crazy. I also think it’s essentially wrong to spend £3,000 on one skirt. If you have a spare three grand lying around, there’s got to be something more productive you could do with it. And anyway, not being able to afford these lovely things doesn’t bother me, just as not being able to fly doesn’t bother me. There’s no way on earth I’d ever be able to do it, so why waste time wishing?
My problem is my yearning for the stuff that is expensive, but not totally and utterly out of my grasp. It’s the stuff I could technically buy and still have money in my bank account to buy food and pay rent. I crave clothes from labels like A.P.C. and Built By Wendy, the sort of brands whose garments, when their sales are on at least, are usually under €150. I don’t give a shit about Creme de la Mer or that Sisley moisturiser that costs about 200 quid, but I do like Origins and Nars. I can buy these things every so often and stay out of debt, and I’d rather do that than buy lots of cheap shit. But should I really be buying anything at all, even in the Built By Wendy sale? I mean, it’s not as though I’ve literally got nothing to wear otherwise, much as it might feel like that when I’m flinging things all over my room in an attempt to get dressed to my own satisfaction.
These are the thoughts that plague me on my way to the cash register, or at least haunt me on my way back from it. Take my most recent purchases. Two weeks ago I was passing by Harlequin, the well-known vintage clothes shop on Dublin’s Castle Market, when I saw a flash of a gorgeous ’50s floral print. I ran over to behold a perfect ’50s cotton day dress whose price-tag revealed that it was – oh, what a miracle – a size 8. I love cotton frocks from the 1950s and ’60s and have quite a lot of them – they’re pretty, flattering and incredibly easy to wear. Alas, they are also very hard to find, let alone in sizes that fit someone unwilling to wear an authentic ’50s-esque padded bra, so whenever I see one I leap on it like a lioness who’s just caught sight of a particularly lazy antelope. And so I grabbed this dress and ran for the changing room, hoping that the tag (which was an estimation) was actually right.
It was. The dress fit perfectly. It was beautiful. It was an amazing pattern in flattering colours. I had to buy it. When would I find another dress like this? It was about three years since I’d last found a decent ’50s frock, and that was in Paris. However, that Parisian dress, I recalled, had cost me about 25 quid. This dress was €85.
Now, that isn’t an insane amount of money, at least if you have a job. I mean, high street stores sell dresses for that price. It is, however, more than I can just throw away on a whim on something I don’t technically need. If I was a bit richer, maybe I could spend that much on fripperies every week. However, I am a freelance journalist, and so every time I spend that amount of money on one thing I have to ask myself two questions. One is, “Can I afford it?” And the other is “Do I actually need to have it?”
This would be sensible if I answered those questions, well, sensibly. But I don’t. When trying to justify buying a Chanel lipstick (Rouge Coco in Mademoiselle! Most flattering colour ever!) or yet another hipster craft book I won’t make anything out of, I’ve developed a ridiculous habit of telling myself things like “well, if you still smoked regularly, you’d spend this much every week on cigarettes.” I tend to forget that the most I ever smoked was about 4 a day, and that if I had continued in this vein I would spend, at most, about 15 quid a week on fags, which wouldn’t even buy one Chanel Rouge Coco lipstick. Then I expand it beyond my own personal history and think things like, “well, plenty of people smoke 60 cigarettes a day. My dad used to smoke about 40 a day! Look how much I’m saving by not being an emphysemic chain smoker!”
As well as fags, here are some of the other things I don’t do that I’ve used to justify spending money on stuff I don’t need:
“I know people who get taxis everywhere. I always get the bus and I only ever get taxis home if it’s really late. I’m saving loads of money! I can easily afford this over-priced moisturiser!”
“I never go on fancy holidays. At most we go for a few days via Ryanair to a European city where we rent an apartment and eat lovely cheapo cheese and wine in a tiny kitchen instead of eating out every day. We even did this for our honeymoon. Other people, and not just billionaires, go and stay in hotels in the south of France. I never do anything like that! I’m saving a freaking fortune.”
“I don’t drink very much. There are people who drink, like, ten pints whenever they go out. On an average night out I drink three, max. I’m saving loads of money! Give me those jeans.”
“If I was a drug addict, I’d spend this much every day on crack. This is NOTHING.”
It has dawned on me that regularly justifying my expenditure by comparing myself to drug addicts and shameless spendthrifts is probably not a good idea. I never ask myself whether chainsmokers and drug addicts can actually afford to fuel their addictions (I suspect in many cases the answer is no). I should ask myself whether I, based on exactly what I earned last month, can afford to buy this and still have money in my savings account so that I don’t end up as a bag lady in my old age (my pension currently looks as though I’ve been throwing money into a black hole every month for five years).
Anyway, I bought the dress. Come on, when was I going to find another one? And then last week I bought a pair of Acne jeans. They were even more expensive than the dress, although they are gorgeous and well-cut and also fit ridiculously well, so technically they should last me for years and years, unlike cheapo jeans which start sagging around the arse after one wash. But that’s it. I’m not buying any more clothes for the rest of the summer. I can’t afford it, for one. Although….. I do work from home, so I’m saving an awful lot of money on lunches and bus fares and that sort of thing. If you put it all together it really does add up. Doesn’t it?