Sunday, February 7, 2010

Psych 101

Friend Judith suggested I might want to delve a bit into the psychological ramifications of consumer shopping. At first I wasn’t really sure what she meant- I’m no psychologist, by any means, and as stated earlier, I try to “consume” as little as possible. She pointed me in the direction of Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy- the Science of Shopping, and I Googled a summary. Until I have a chance to find a copy for myself (at Goodwill, perhaps!?) and do a little research, I will make no claims to my expertise on the matter, but I can make some claims about my own shopping experience and the road that has led to my thinking now.

I was broke when I was in college. All of my friends were too, and in part, I believe, it was that communal broke-ness that forged and soldered the most powerful friendships I have ever known. We all had the essentials, of course: food at the dining hall, the roofs of the dorms over our sleeping heads, and we had work-study (mine was about $35 a month) to pay for incidentals and revelry. But we were raised by the children of the Depression, “we were there for an education, not recreation,” (oh, little did they know!) and any extra cash was hard to come by. A windfall of ten dollars from home meant Domino’s could deliver, or we’d pool our money for a pork roast in the Crock Pot on a Sunday night, and those meals were shared, savored, and appreciated like no others. (Ohmygosh! We were Socialists!)

But I was a teenage girl, and teenage girls like to shop. A friend introduced me to a thrift shop off the square called “The Helping Hand.” He’d found some vintage suit coats there, and was suddenly snazzy in an off-beat sort of way. I admired his new look and agreed to go with him.

It was a fantastic mess. Loading dock doors open to the street; clothing -sorted by gender only, not necessarily color, style, or size- was heaped onto sawhorse and board tables all over the place. What I saw there was a room full of buried treasure.

My plunder that day was two vintage winter coats (One- a 1950’s black velvet swing coat with a Peter Pan collar and rhinestone buttons at the collar and cuffs- I own to this day.) and a pair of navy blue Italian glove-leather pumps.

My bill at the cash box was $4.50, and I was hooked.

In the years after college, there was no “need” to thrift. I was married, we both had good jobs, and we set out to live the American Dream. It wasn’t until our second child was two, and I lost an enormous amount of weight that could no longer legally be blamed on my daughter that I rediscovered thrift stores. (Yes. There is a statute of limitations on alleged “Baby fat.” Didn’t you know?) The weight was falling off fast- I was down a size every six weeks at most over the course of the next nine months. That was fabulous. But I still had to look professional at school- no droopy drawers for the teacher- and certainly couldn’t afford a whole new work wardrobe that often at retail prices.

The things that impressed me this time were the cost again, of course, but also the bright, clean, cheerful atmosphere of the stores, and the organization and flow of the layouts. This was not The Helping Hand. No digging through heaps anymore, someone had already done the sorting. There were racks of new and designer clothing set apart, gorgeous clothes for the kids, and an abundance of good quality non-clothing items as well- housewares, decorator items, craft supplies, and the books! Don’t even get me started on the books!

My original plan had been to return to “normal shopping” once I reached my weight loss goal, but when that time had come and passed, I still found myself thrifting. I liked it. And when I found the exact same pair of Guess shorts I had just paid thirty-two dollars for at Dillard’s on the rack at Salvation Army for three bucks just two weeks later- I never thought twice about it again.

That’s not to say I don’t ever shop retail. Of course I do. I just know what I need when I go out- clothing or otherwise- and I stop at Goodwill first. I honestly do find exactly what I need there as often as not, and when it’s “not”- I still have a good time looking.


  1. "Snazzy in an off-beat sort of way."
    Hmm, sounds like an interesting type of fellow.