Last week, despite my better judgment, I caved in to an impulse buy.
I’d just come from styling an eight-hour shoot. I was running around the mall, hoping to return all the clothes, shoes, and jewelry I’d borrowed before the stores closed for the night. At almost 9:00 PM, I made it to the last store—and when I plopped down the three bags of apparel on the counter, I could feel the stress bubbling up inside of me like a geyser.
I knew what was coming.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a pair of large, diamond-shaped dangling earrings—half-white, half-silver. Very art deco. I reached over and flipped the price tag—the cost of two Starbucks lattes. Fine
, I said to myself, although the prospect of two Starbucks lattes was starting to sound pretty good. I fished the earrings off their little hook, turned to the salesgirl, and declared (with just a hint of defiance), “I’ll take them!”
Let me just say that I hardly ever wear earrings.
The last pair I actually bought dates back to my early years in college.
Plus, I’ve always been a necklace kind of girl.
But that night, with all the tensions converging from my exhausting shoot, the maddening traffic from the studio to the mall, and the hell-bent race from store to store, I just couldn’t help myself. I bought those art deco danglers, called my friend Anina (with whom I had a dinner date the next day), and said, “Don’t be surprised by my huge earrings tomorrow.” (She laughed—none of her other friends make cryptic calls about jewelry.)
To make a long story short, I got myself some retail therapy.
Women are no strangers to this shopping phenomenon (and neither are a lot of men). We have a bad day, and our vice of choice—caffeine, nicotine, carbs—just won’t suffice. So this is how we cope: we make our way to our favorite shop, try on a few things, half-convince ourselves that we’re just browsing, and then—bam! We make a spontaneous decision to purchase something that we don’t really need and that, under any other circumstances, we could probably live without.
But still, we buy it—and for some mysterious reason, it makes us feel better.
Personally, I don’t shop a lot. I go for bulk buying maybe twice a year, and that only happens when I’m on a trip. Otherwise, most of my fashion finds trickle in piece by piece, as dictated by necessity. If a beloved pair of shoes succumbs to wear-and-tear, I’ll look for a replacement; if I have an event to attend and nothing in my closet fits the theme, I’ll pick out something appropriate.
And yet there are days (like the one last week) when I make it my mission buy something—anything—just to alleviate some sort of displeasure. Those days are rare, but they do
I Googled "retail therapy" to check if there was anything behind it—or if it was all in my head (not to mention the heads of countless other people).
When I found this June 2011 article on ResearchDigest.com
, I knew I was onto something. The article said that after conducting three separate studies, American researchers have concluded that “retail therapy generally works—people deploy the practice strategically, rather than impulsively, and there are few if any negative emotional side effects.”
In one of the studies, participants were given “shopping diaries” in which to record their behaviors, moods, and regrets—and according to the results, “retail therapy purchases were overwhelmingly beneficial, leading to mood boosts and no regrets or guilt.”
In other words, when we’re in a rotten mood, we make an unplanned purchase to improve it. That little treat acts as a mood enhancer, allowing us to shake off tension, exasperation, and even depression—at least for the time being. And when you do
feel better, you aren’t just imagining things.
Here’s something else I learned about retail therapy: “Treats bought as a form of mood repair were generally about half the value of treats bought for celebration.” This means that while we are willing to toss a couple hundred on a quick fix for stress, we won’t be breaking the bank for some extravagant designer item—unless, of course, we’re celebrating a big raise.
Great news—especially for people like me, who are usually quite thrifty (when not under some sort of duress).
Here’s the thing about me: after money has been spent on retail therapy, and I’m clutching the shopping bag that holds my impromptu acquisition, I always have two conflicting thoughts in my head.
The first is all flattery and good vibrations: “It looks great on you. You were meant to have it. You made the right decision. Good job.”
The other I try to ignore, because I assume it is the voice of reason—but it niggles at the back of my mind like a nagging wife and scolds, “Now, what did you do that for?”
Now, I know. Overwhelmed by the din of buzzing anxiety, I did it to keep myself sane!
The next day, I went to dinner with Anina. I pulled my hair back into a bun and showed off those earrings like a badge of my vanquished stress.
That’s the common thread among people who’ve indulged in retail therapy. We’ve each gone through one of those days that had us feeling burned out or frantic or a just a little miserable, and still, we survived in one piece.
We’ve got the earrings to prove it.(Photo from
Confessions of a Shopaholic courtesy of Touchstone Pictures)