My name is Marlo Safi. I am 24 years old, and I am a shopaholic.
I like the crunching of tissue paper, deftly wrapped around a limp dress or sweater that’s been removed from its hanger as it’s prepared for me to take home. When my latest conquest is placed in a firm, crisp tote bag with silky ribbon handles, my pupils dilate like in the York Peppermint Patty commercials or when you’re in love or on drugs. My cherry apple debit card has come to look like a sun-damaged car. Almost camouflaged by the assortment of baubles and gewgaws that festoon the cashier’s desk, it serves as a striking reminder that my buyer’s remorse is imminent. But until then, I ride the wave of my pathological buyer’s bliss, which is now exclusively virtual.
The halcyon days of mall shopping with careless abandon have clearly come to an end. No more trying on lipsticks at the makeup store, or spending hours browsing to get your fix of retail therapy without having to smell your own breath rolling back at you in your mask. The pandemic has pushed stores that have lived in malls for years to restructure — Gap Inc., a staple in American malls and suburban fashion, announced it would move 80 percent of its stores out of malls by 2024, choosing to instead focus on online shopping, where consumers, including me, have migrated.
The 2009 romcom Confessions of a Shopaholic starring Isla Fisher as the movie’s compulsive consumer ingenue is predictable, saccharine…and relatable. I’ve never gone for someone’s jugular over a pair of crimson red Gucci boots, nor have I been hunted down by a debt collector. But my habit hasn’t diminished as malls have emptied out.
I bought a set of polka-dot shower caps the other day because, I told myself, ‘maybe I should try a new hair routine’. My closet is bursting at the seams with things I don’t remember buying, many with tags still attached, after I fall for the targeted advertising that has usurped the role of plastic window mannequins. I recently purchased a long pastel pink dress with Dalmatians on it because I convinced myself I might visit Florida soon and I own no appropriate attire, all thanks to the algorithm that hears my thoughts and presents them to me on Facebook. I hate pastels.
Shopaholism is one name for shopping addiction, also called oniomania and compulsive shopping. It’s not in DSM-5, the American Psychiatric Association’s classification of mental disorders, as a behavioral addiction. My case is certainly not as dire as others, as I’m a professional writer (code for ‘not wealthy’) who’s terrified of debt.
My wake-up call came on my birthday in 2013, when I was a teenager hiding bags of clothes I bought from sales racks in my car trunk until my parents weren’t home, to avoid being chastised for a clearly developing problem. Coincidentally that was the day GQ ran a story titled ‘My Gucci Addiction’.
‘My name is Buzz Bissinger. I am 58 years old, the best-selling author of Friday Night Lights, father of three, husband. And I am a shopaholic.’
Bissinger’s addiction is far costlier than mine. As he details in the article, he owns ‘81 leather jackets, 75 pairs of boots, 41 pairs of leather pants, 32 pairs of haute couture jeans’, and a partridge in a pear tree. He owns a Gucci ostrich skin jacket that cost an eye-watering $13,900.
Fortunately for me, inexpensive purchases like a lip gloss will scratch my itch, as will spending money on other people. No animals were hurt in the making of my leather pants or fur jackets either. But like Bissinger, ‘clothing became my shot glass’. I am a teetotaler who shops. I have a mental ranking of retailers’ return policies: Nordstrom is lenient, Zara is not. Ironically enough, as I pulled quotes from Bissinger’s piece, GQ presented me with a subscription offer: ‘Never Miss A Good Sale.’ I never do! That’s the problem.
I’ve tried remedying my compulsion to shop, or atoned for doing it unnecessarily. I’m a Catholic who makes regular charitable contributions and turns to church teaching in an effort to fixate less on my material possessions. I’ve tried the Marie Kondo approach to ‘tidying up’: asking myself if the purple top with organza balloon sleeves that I bought online and have yet to wear really brings me joy, or if it was an excess that would only occupy space in my closet and weigh on me like an albatross.
The truth is, many members of my generation might never own a home. We are stuck in a quandary of self-expression and transformation, drifting from one rented place to the next like tumbleweed, clinging onto feather-weight paper wall posters and interchangeable garb that can be boxed at a moment’s notice. Many of us may never experience the fulfillment that comes with designing the space you occupy in the world until much later in life when compared to our parents’ generation.
Maybe clothes serve as a balm to alleviate this reality. They give me autonomy — to transform myself everyday, and to refuse to surrender to the nihilism that the pandemic has exacerbated. I ordered crocodile heels with a huge buckle to wear to the grocery store, the only place I have gone in months, because it’s my way of affirming that I will not be robbed of my commitment to looking chic in the face of the beast.
I will not purchase a tacky customized mask instead of wearing a disposable one that at least reminds me that this crisis will pass, and can be tossed in the dustbin of history. And I will never, under any conditions, purchase athleisure wear for at-home work. No sale could be enticing enough.
For me, my clothing purchases inspire confidence that they will be worn in a future that many people have already dismissed as bleak. I’ll keep envisioning myself in my pink Dalmatian dress, at a cafe in the balmy Floridian coast, when masks are obsolete.