testing me testing me

"Surreal shopper" by Herbert Matter in Harper's Bazaar, discovered through
Prêt à Porter P
Over the past couple of weeks, there were more quiet spells than usual during work hours that left me with too much time in front of the computer, drawing me dangerously close to being seduced by that general atmosphere of “Shop, shop, shop!”. Bored, I started seeking the thrill of the new, and nearly dropped a lot of money on things I don’t mind owning, but didn’t really want. In the end, my wallet escaped largely unscathed (I did buy a pair of trousers), but I’m a bit shaken by how obsessive the mind can be when it comes to my weakness for beautiful clothing.

I was saved by my distrust for online shopping. I have bought quite a few things on the internet and sometimes it’s worked. But just as often, when the item arrives, I know immediately it’s something I would have never bought had I seen it in person and tried it on first – the shoe is just a little too snug at the toe, the shirt sleeves are bigger than I thought, the material feels all wrong, the colour is just a little off. Or, it just looks overwhelming ordinary.

Things can be elevated to a god-like status over the internet – maybe it’s gets re-blogged endlessly on Tumblr, maybe it’s been worn beautifully by someone super-chic and captured on a street-style blog, maybe it will forever be immortalised on a page in the designer’s lookbook, pristine and perfect on a model after hours of styling and shooting.

This idealisation makes me think that item XYZ can’t possibly be a bad purchase. I forget that life is not viewed through artful photography and flattering lighting, and I’m not that stunningly cool girl on Vanessa Jackman. I forget that I have no idea whether the fabric is going to feel right. I forget how shoes often don’t fit right on me (because I’m between sizes) and they should be tried on for certainty. I fall in love with the image, the branding, the enthusiasm of someone else who already has it, the thrill of the new, and I click “Buy Now”.

Of course, experienced shoppers and ebay experts know how to track down a savvy bargain or a real treasure over the internet. And sometimes I score with brands I’m familiar with and with safe items like tops, or I’ve already seen the item in real life and I’m hoping to find a better deal on the internet.

But otherwise, I think it’s good to remind myself from time to time not to get carried away by what is visually inspiring. So, I will:
  • Remember that life does not look like how Garance Doré photographed it,
  • Also, life is not a lookbook.
  • Close the browser window if there is any nugget of uncertainty about fit.
  • Know what parts of my body are tricky to fit and avoid things that are iffy in those areas.
  • Not risk buying shoes online unless I’ve tried them on before.
  • Remember return shipping is costly and wasteful (shipping anything from the US costs me at least US$35, from the UK it’s some GBP20-30).
  • Remember that the thrill of the chase doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth owning

PS: I came across that picture on Prêt à Porter P while I was thinking over this post, and it was so perfect that I had to steal it.


Lindsay said…
PREACH! This is such a good post and I need to remember some of these things as well! I often daydream too much and end up buying pieces I'll never actually wear.
Fleurette said…
happy new year!
this is just incredible, i tend to forget all these things when searching through all the sales. i almost ordered a dress from NAP's sale today but remembered that i've never tried it on so it's not likely that it will fit the way i want it to fit + i bought two items from NAP last summer that were completely ill-fitting, and i returned them but didn't get back the tax or shipping money, which was over 100 euros. That sucks big time and make me not want to shop online!
Maja H said…
I'm such a sucker for a well-timed sale. I can usually control myself online though, as I have a tendency to bookmark whatever it is that I'm craving and then go do something else for a while. I hardly ever still want the item when I open up my laptop again :)

In actual stores, however, there's always the "but its the last one left in my size!" or "it might be gone when I come back!" ;)
Joy said…
Hahaha even though this post is serious at heart, I can't help but LOVE the references to street style blogs because it's SO TRUE! If only we were all super tall and thin and had perfect skin etc etc living in a sunny world of Vanessa Jackman and Garance Doré and I should add Jamie Beck from From Me To You. Not that I'm trying to hate on then but those blogs can sometimes well distort and temporarily confuse your view of certain items sometimes. Honestly I think the point about wanting something because it looks so good on Tumblr particularly rings true for me. It's why I think Tumblr is so dangerous while Blogger is comparatively calmer waters with good reality checks from bloggers like you to wake me up! Fabulous post and I thoroughly enjoyed reader it Lin!
petrichore said…
This time of the year the sales are DEADLY, I tell you! Deadly to the budget, at least. "Remember that life does not look like how Garance Doré photographed it." Isn't that the truth!

minima/maxima, a blog about minimalist style
i love this post. thank you.
If you google it further, you'll actually see the full image includes the models head tumbling on the ground behind her.

I do an overwhelming amount of shopping online believe it or not—all my shoes acquired since 2009 were online purchases. I suppose internet shopping is a lot easier in the US, as there are many websites (esp. shoe ones) that offer free shipping & returns—and it’s a relatively hassle free process. Though I’d still be wary of something final sale, where I haven’t seen/tried it in person or I’m not familiar with sizing/quality. That’s why I have better luck with ebay as you can have direct communication with sellers and see the item more naturally and not those stock photos. I think it’s clever that Net-a-porter, Saks, or ASOS now have video where you can see the product in motion to get an idea of fabric. I can’t say I find myself being influenced by blogs—a crime to say but I’ll never see the appeal of the Celine Boston, it looks like this face: :| to me—but blogs can be helpful if they happen to have something I want. As for sale season, I’ve mostly taken advantage of stocking up on mundane things like hand soap, laundry care, and beauty products.
catssaymeow said…
Happy New Year to you! This is an excellent post!
I've actually implemented your list whilst shopping on NAP last night.
I whittled down my shopping cart containing about 15 items (I would have never bought all these things btw) down to just 4.
Like Prêt à Porter P, I too buy a lot online - you would too if you lived in Australia where everything is priced at a premium... but I am much smarter about what I buy now.
lapindelune said…
In some ways now, it has become almost the standard to live vicariously through the internet, the fantasy world which it enables us to create - wonderful for that much needed temporary escape hatch, but somewhat problematic when we attempt to translate it all to 'real life'.
A wonderful post Lin, i was waiting for this!

I too have grown tired of shopping, and have recently had to reassess my entire relationship to my wardrobe (psychologically speaking), more so because even after a year of minimising, intense scrutiny and selectivity, I have not really come much further forward. There truly is no perfect wardrobe, perhaps, outside of our own minds - high end brands have repeatedly bemused me, so I am down to utilising one one or two decent/ethically focused stores, plus a couple of popular 'high street' type stores if the fabric composition feels right for me.

As for the online/brand representation of these lovely items, I have discovered that it is impossible to translate how something will work on my 5'4 frame. Regardless being very slim, I do not possess the height or frame of a model, and many of the items that I have coveted turned out to swamp me. Margaret Howell being a fabulous example! I adore her aesthetic so much, but if the clothes bury a 6" model what on earth will they do to me? This is, of course, just my own personal take, considering my own proportions and my relation to online clothes shopping (which I cannot do in real due to store distances, etc).
I have more or less reached a point right now where I simply do not need any new clothes. Beautiful things do occasionally tempt me, but I wonder where this compulsion to ever calm down and quit purchasing actually begins. Blogging 'can' generate this, because it trains our focus to assess and imagine, to ponder how these lovely items will fit into our lives. But I think that it can become addictive, even the procrastination itself, so is well worth keeping an eye on!

Wonderful points raised here!
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the well-thought-out post on a very sensible approach to the subject! I am trying not to shop online as a new year's resolution as well. Many of the past year's donation to charity were things bought during online sales, but which fell short of quality or expectation in real life. I find shipping and tax quite expensive as well. And yes, shoes and jeans are precarious to buy online! Thankfully, the 2 pairs I bought recently turned out fine, except for the colour of one of them. I totally relate to your point that viewing fashion-related websites online makes all of us covet that beautiful imagery and make decisions that may not be wise financially. Thanks for the reminder and keep the posts coming!
lin said…
Lindsay: Thanks...I have the same problem with dresses - I love the way they look and keep falling for them but I know I so rarely wear them.

Fleurette: Happy new year! There are all sorts of things I saw on NAP but so far I've resisted. The discounts are quite lousy on La Garconne but I've been stalking a shirt for two weeks now. Haha.

Maja H: I'm the opposite, in the shops I find it so easy to resist because I usually find more things to nitpick over!

Joy: Thanks! I love those blogs too, but as with all things, I mustn't lose my head, haha.

petrichore: Sales can be a blessing and a curse - the trick is to have more of the former!

erica lorraine scheidt: Thanks!

Pret a Porter P: I can't get enough of the picture!

I was thinking of you when I was thinking of savvy internet shoppers...I agree that online shopping in the US is a much simpler process, but it still takes skill to find the right things. I like shopping online as well because it gives me access to things not available here, but I get tripped up by fabric - so hard to tell...even 100% cotton can mean quite a few things.

I will never see the appeal of the Celine Boston either. Not on me anyway.

catssaymeow: Thanks, happy new year! I'm glad this post was helpful, I hope your buys are a success! Quite a few brands are marked up in Singapore as well, so shopping online is a resource not to be missed. But I'm still quite old school and would rather try something on before I buy it. I end up not buying a lot of things as a result.

lapin de lune: Thank you...you spurred me on to finish the post actually.

I get shopping fatigue too, because at some point it ceases to be fulfilling...I like to think it's because my needs have been met. I suppose dullness creeps in but I always get over it and start enjoying what I already have again.

A digression...You mentioned Margaret Howell, which I loved when I visited London, but alas, all the clothes were too wintry for my climate. if only I'd visited in summer. But I love her aesthetic and brand values and while I certainly don't need another shirt, I'm inspired to own a piece by her almost as a way to declare my appreciation and support. Which I suppose is a little silly, but I think we come a point where we stop shopping for needs and start shopping for "dream" items and it's a whole different way of assessing whether to buy something altogether.

Anon: Thank you! I doubt I will stop shopping online, but I would like to be more judicious...especially like you said, so many things have turned out to be things I could have lived without.
Unknown said…
Excellent post, Lin. I particulary need to remind myself of all the times I've order something only to find that I would have never given it a second thought had I seen it in person first. I think I need to bookmark this post.
Garderoben said…
This is such an excellent post, I need to book mark it and read it once a week or so to keep my from online shopping! Lookbooks are dangerous for me, even though I look nothing like the models, as well as the styling of some online stores. I do lots of online shopping, mostly ebay, and for the most part the fit is actually as expected. I think I've just been lucky, though.
indigo16 said…
I totally empathised with this whole post. I have very much been there, and to this day will fill up a metaphorical basket, only to delete at the last minute because of the fear that it will disappoint. I am only really sucked in by jewellery and even that has taken a hit recently. I found that for every great piece 4 would languish unloved and then not returned. Having just returned from an island that no company will post to, plus I had no computer, I found I spent nothing for 2 weeks, tough but very good for my wallet!
lin said…
unknown: Thanks! I need to bookmark this post for myself frankly, I know how it's all too easy to forget.

garderoben: I just received a pair of trousers that had unexpectedly uncomfortable lining that wasn't quite what was described in the website! It just proves my lack of luck and judgement in this department.

indigo16: You're right about the 1:4 ratio, haha.

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