The cardinal rules of shopping
This is such a silly topic. But I’m feeling lazy and materialistic, so why not? I’m also feeling rather melancholy, but instead of indulging in retail therapy, perhaps writing about shopping will help (doubtful).
I’m at brunch with two bffs a few months ago. (This relates, I swear, but I don’t feel like properly transitioning. See: lazy.) At Zazie, specifically, and if you live in San Francisco and haven’t been, go. If you’re visiting San Francsico, also go.
So my friend – we’ll call her Anne, since that is her name – poses the following question as we dig into our various egg-and-carb concoctions:
Do you have any key rituals in your life?
(And yes, after a decade of friendship, we really do pose questions like we’re verbally administering college admissions essay prompts. Or perhaps like we’re on a really awkward, three-person first date. Which, I suppose, would be awkward by default.)
Their answers were good. Rituals around travel preparation, for instance – gathering all the pertinent flight and hotel information, researching places of interest in advance, even printing out maps in the Age of the iPhone. Or rituals around going to bed – the exact lighting, the perfect mattress, a specific order of operations around teeth-brushing and pajama-wearing and face-washing.
But I was kind of stumped. I don’t really have many – or even any – real rituals. I mean, I drink lattes every morning and I eat brunch every weekend. But even these activities are often unplanned and rather chaotic. Sometimes I order the scramble and SOMETIMES I ORDER THE PANCAKES. I’m really kind of a mess.
Then I realized that I do have a ritual, or if not a ritual per se, some very core rules that I adhere to religiously. Rules about shopping. For clothing and accessories, specifically.
I have rules about shopping because I somewhat hate shopping. Which may come as a surprise to those of you who know how much I love fashion. But shopping kills me. I generally find it stressful, inefficient and frustrating. After an hour I start getting grumpy. And a little bit desperate.
Which is why I have these three very simple, very core rules to keep me on track. They are:
Look your best when you shop. This is not meant to help you one-up your fellow consumers, or even to get more attention from the salespeople (although if you’re a prostitute attempting a Rodeo Drive shopping spree, it certainly couldn’t hurt). It’s only meant for you. If you rock your sharpest outfit when getting your shop on, you’re setting a very high bar. That’s a good thing. Go shopping when you look like shit, and you’re likely to buy anything that looks even marginally better in the fitting room mirror. Mistake. Go shopping when you look the the shit, and if you’re relieved to get back into your own clothes after trying something on, then that something is not for you.
- Any item you buy should be better than all other items of that kind that you own. This one requires a little explanation. Let’s say I want to buy a cocktail dress (which, for the record, I always do). Thanks to this rule, I’m only allowed to buy a cocktail dress if I love it more than all the other cocktail dresses already in my closet. Or if I want a new pair of sandals, they had better make all my other sandals super jealous. Superiority can be measured on different dimensions – maybe you love something because it’s crazier than all of its predecessors (like my feather dress, or neon pink heels). Or perhaps it gets first prize because of overall utility and versatility (like my Fry’s cowboy boots, the centerpiece of my wardrobe). You can also narrow the scope to suit your purchasing needs. If you really need to buy a white t-shirt, it’s going to be hard to find one that is better than all the shirts you own. But it had better be better than all the white t-shirts you own. This rule actually came from my friend’s Parisian host mother when she was studying abroad, and it’s frickin’ brilliant, because it means your wardrobe is always improving.
- Don’t buy anything on sale that you wouldn’t pay full price for. This one I came up with all on my own a few years ago after realizing that almost all of my never-worn clothes were ones I had bought on sale. Discounts are intoxicating. Omg, these jeans that were $249 are now only $59! And sure, they don’t quite fit right through the hips, but ZOMG THE SAVINGS. Price tags with lots of red lines through them are the shopping equivalent of drunk goggles – we end up going home with conquests far below our usual, sober standards. That’s not to say that frugal shopping isn’t great – it is! – but before you buy a discounted item, ask yourself if you would buy it at the original price. And if the answer is no, leave it at the bar…er, store.
So, those are my rules. Sometimes I cheat, but in general, they’ve forced me to buy far fewer and far better things over the past few years.
Now, I suppose this is the part where I could try to compensate for the triviality of this post by extending its lessons to other areas of life (stay somewhere nice when you’re apartment hunting, each boy you date should be better than the last, never take a so-so job just because the money is better, etc.).
But let’s just keep this post silly, cool?