Fear Of Shopping

Vintage Clothes Shops Camden London
Vintage clothing shops in Camden. Fun, but not this time! Image by iknow-uk via Flickr

I did it.

I went out and spent a gobsmacking amount of money last weekend buying new clothes.

It was not quick, simple or fun — at several junctures, like an infant needing a nap, I found myself trying not to cry with total frustration. Everything was ugly: too tight, too expensive, too baggy, too bright…

The poor sales associate, Frances, fearing my imminent meltdown, found the department manager, a lovely, calm, reassuring man named Dallas. He offered the necessary sangfroid of my admired sartorial tutors — Clinton and Stacy on my favorite television show, What Not To Wear.

(If you’ve never watched, and need female fashion help, WNTW is your new best friend, the kind whose style and panache are matched with compassion and kindness for your freakouts over body issues. We all have them!)

Only with the help of three gently-encouraging people, including my sweetie who — being a photo editor and a man who’s been my partner for 11 years has both a great eye and knows my taste — could I even find enough clothes to feel that, yes, I now have assembled the start of a stylish and professional wardrobe.

Big deal, right? Isn’t this pretty basic stuff?

Maybe if…

You make a lot of money, so spending it doesn’t freak you out and make you fear a penniless old age in a cardboard box

You work in an office surrounded by other people whose clothing and style help you figure out what to wear so you’ll fit in

You wear clothing in a one-digit size

Your mom/sister/best friend/auntie/Granny/gay male friend with fab taste took you shopping and helped you develop a clear idea what’s flattering on you. Which, of course, must change as you age. But how?! (My poor Mom and stepmom fled in fear after a few teenaged trips with me in search of a winter coat and a prom dress. I finally found both but not, literally, without visiting dozens of shops. I haven’t shopped with anyone female and stylish since then.)

You’re blessed with total confidence about the shape and size of your body and which colors and shapes you’ll rock. (My late step-mother, 13 years my senior, had exquisite clothing and a teeny tiny body and made me feel like a heffalump. My mom, a former model living far away, saw me in March: “You’re fat!” she said. Accurate, perhaps, but not confidence building.)

You don’t live in a city where many women and/or their husbands are very high earners, work out daily and stride the streets with terrifying hauteur In New York, (as in some other punitively stylish spots), looking successful on a budget isn’t easy. And if you’re ambitious and don’t look the part, you’re toast.

I find buying clothes so overwhelming I avoid it and then — boom! — I really need to look great right now and what the hell am I going to wear?

In 2009, I appeared on CNN on two days’ notice, in 2010 on BBC within hours of getting an email from England and, quite likely, will be doing some television appearances when my new book is out in two weeks. Right now I have 12 public appearances scheduled, from a closing conference keynote in Minneapolis in August to a local library reading in two weeks.

So I need clothes that are: flattering, comfortable, stylish, age-appropriate, forgiving of the weight I haven’t lost yet and chic.

And semi-affordable.

And what do people expect an author to look like?

No pressure!

Luckily, I finally found some great things, including two Tahari dresses, a strong sea-blue cotton shift and another in black; a gray print sheath dress that works with my curves, and three pairs of trousers. That’s a ton for me to buy at once and everyone was worn out, hungry and cranky by the time we got out of the store.

But working alone at home, year after year on a tight budget, has meant I’ve slid by on a snoozy, safe, comfy diet of leggings and Ts , flats and cardigans. Time to up my game!

Do you enjoy shopping for clothes?

What are your favorite places to find great things?

18 thoughts on “Fear Of Shopping

  1. Holy stars, no! I hate it!

    I love looking nice and enjoy fashion, but shopping for me is a torture session. I’ve some odd proportions which makes sizing a nightmare (I’m petite but I’ve got hips and breasts so what will fit my shoulders will not fit my bust or waist and all my trousers need to be tailored.

    And inevitably, there is the major meltdown when you find that the store has changed their sizing, and now you wear a size 6 instead of a 4. Intense body image loathing and recommitting to working out follows.

  2. Ahhh, a woman after my own neurotic heart!

    I also have a curvy figure with broad shoulders and large (big muscles) thighs and am only 5’5″ which feels short to me. Plus, short-waisted. It’s one reason I blew so much $$$$$ at once, and bought two dresses at full price and two pairs of terrific jeans also at full price. It is worth a great deal to me, emotionally and terms of time management, to not have to shop for a while!

    I will say that, having thought the upscale dept. store experience would be a horror show, having two really helpful people choose things for me — things I would never have looked at — made a really big difference to my confidence as well.

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  4. As I read your post, I began sweating with anxiety. I do a majority of my shopping online. I passionately dislike going to malls and shops. I am pleased to hear your adventure in the retail jungle was a success. Congrats!

    1. I was really surprised and relieved by how well it turned out. I knew I needed serious help and patience and face to face feedback and ideas….none of which you can get online.

      I also buy online whenever possible because I do not enjoy shopping. But this was so helpful.

  5. I feel your pain because I hate shopping as well. During my weight loss journey, I have found the need for new clothes because my belly is no long bigger than my boobs. However, I still go through body shape aniety because it all makes me look huge. So, like you, I watch Clinton and Stacey for style advice and try to get over myself when I go shopping. Congrats on finding pieces that will work for you!

  6. It’s crazy, isn’t it? I loathe loathe loathe having a big chest and cannot weight to lose the weight (which I did last year) that will reduce it to a less anxiety-provoking level. I really dislike having to wrangle my body like some freaked-out bronco.

    I have to say, the key to getting the pieces I did get (and am really excited about) was: 1) spend some damn money (a lot more than I’d planned but everything is top quality); 2) really listen to three other people tell me to try some things I would not normally try — I have not worn jeans in 15 years but broke down and bought two pair with a ton of spandex, one black, one blue. They’re great; 3) just stop having a hissy fit over the expense and deal with the fact that looking smart means buying better quality and trying some new shapes and colors.

    I was terrified I’d end up swinging forever between the twin (hideous) style poles of too-young-too-casual and matronly-dowdy-suburban-not-me!!! You can’t define your style unless you really try a bunch of things and see what you feel amazing in. For me, it’s very clean, very classic, then fab accessories.

    For me, the best lessons of Clinton and Stacey are to work with what you have and experiment. I have been really inspired by some of the (lumpy, bumpy) bodies they have truly made look fabulous with the right colors and proportions and materials.

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  8. Ugh. Shopping. Every time I plan to go shopping, everything turns out great in my mind: I’ll find the perfect pretty clothes, and though I’ll spend a little, I’ll come out looking like a million bucks. Wrong. It just ends up in frustration and it makes me want to swear off shopping until the clothes I have now are nothing but rags on my frame. Despite this, I feel fortunate to shop even when everything doesn’t turn out so “Pretty Woman” shopping great.

    1. Have you seen What Not To Wear? Seriously. I read all the fashion mags (almost useless, too trendy and expensive) and have read a few decent style books, but watching real women — with real bodies and insecurities about them — has helped. I also like how firm S & C are with their charges….You HAVE to shop within two days and you have to play by their rules.

      The dept. store staff I worked with brought me a few things i would NEVER have even looked at…and even though a few didn’t work, I saw some new ways to dress. I asked the dept. manager if he works privately and he does, so I am planning to invest a little more $$ and (shriek) have him go through my things and advise me.

      I know how frustrated you feel. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sallied forth full of excitement and come home tired and empty-handed.
      I suspect being willing to drop a bit more $$$ and getting some seriously smart help in a good dept store with a LOT of options might do it…? I am still amazed at all the stuff I got and how pleased I am. One factor was having three people say “yes” or “no” when I wasn’t sure about a piece.

  9. I shop for my sister, she hates shoping but loves trying things on. I on the other hand, love shopping but hate trying clothes on in changing rooms.

    I regularly get instructions to buy her holiday wardrobe/wedding guest outfit/back to work in the new term outfits. It’s good fun and I know her so well that it’s quite easy.

    It’s great your partner is helpful!

    1. Lucky her! I loathe trying things on in stores and that was the first time in years that I did — the room had a 3-way mirror (essential) and a large and comfortable seat. My sweetie brought a power bar to eat and the staff brought us cold water….It was hot and tiring. Easy to give up!

      I would love to shop for someone else! But for me….when it’s my money…not so much.

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