Off the shelf
How you shop says a lot about who you are
One of my hyper-organised friends has a fool-proof method of scoring the best merchandise at designer sales. She goes to the store a week before the sale begins, tries on all the styles she likes, checks out which size works for her (yes, it can vary wildly from label to label), makes a mental note of the items she wants, and then leaves without buying a thing.
Then, when the sale finally begins, she waltzes into the store – which is now heaving with desperate ladies riffling through the rails – picks up all the items she has shortlisted and walks out with a serene smile on her face. No unseemly wrestling with other contenders on the shop floor for her; no queuing up for ages to access the changing room; no agonising over which size to try on. She knows what she wants, where it is displayed, which sizes work. Needless to say, she ends up with the best bargains ever.
Watching her in action a couple of weeks ago, I suddenly occurred to me that you can tell a great deal about people by the way they shop. Never mind the usual clichés about how retail therapy is the best cure for depression or how unfulfilled rich ladies try to find nirvana in a new pair of shoes, shopping can actually be a great window into human behaviour if only we cared to look.
Think about it. Every single person you know probably has a distinctive shopping style, give or take a few quirks. And nearly always this style mirrors their personality.
Speaking for myself, I have a somewhat militaristic approach to shopping. I only ever go shopping if I need something specific. I have a list of favourite shops which I hit every time. I end up buying much the same type of thing. If I really like something, I buy two of the same, so that if one wears out I have a replacement handy. And I like shopping alone; I can tell what makes my bum look big, thank you very much.
In fact, I find it exquisite torture to shop with other people. All that window-shopping as we walk through a mall; that endless browsing through rails of clothes we have no intention of buying; the sighing over stuff we couldn’t possibly afford; the tedious trying-on of styles that are clearly wrong; the incessant poll-taking (Does this work on me? What do you think?); and then the agonising afterwards when someone or the other inevitably develops buyer’s remorse.
Frankly, I can think of better ways to spend a Saturday afternoon – reading a good book, taking a walk in the park, clearing out my closet, squeezing my blackheads – than this sort of needless drama. But as a way of getting to know people and all their little idiosyncrasies, I can’t think of anything better than a little light shopping.
Based on my observations over many misspent decades, here is my by-no-means-final list of shopping types. Please feel free to add your own.
• The What-If Shopper: This kind of person likes nothing better than a bit of fantasy shopping. So, he trawls the stores checking out anything from expensive cars and the latest gadgets to high-end designer garments and luxury watches. He knows he can’t afford them, but a man can dream, right? What if he made a million bucks one day? What if he found a rich girlfriend? What if he won the lottery? What if...
• The If-Only Shopper: This kind of person treats shopping as an exercise in positive reinforcement and hence shops for the person she would like to be rather than the one she is at the moment. So, she chooses a dress one size too small in the hope that she will fit into it after her latest diet. She stocks up on healthy food to make sure that she sticks to her diet. She buys self-help books to keep herself motivated. She pays through her nose for every miracle cream on the market. She lives in hope that one day she will be her ideal self – and every purchase she makes is imbued with that belief.
• The Oh-Shit Shopper: So named because this shopper always utters the immortal words “Oh shit” the moment he exits the store with his purchases. Because no sooner is his credit card back in his pocket than he knows that he has made a terrible mistake. He should have checked if the next-door store had better merchandise; he is sure he could have got a better deal across town; and those sunglasses were just a ghastly, expensive mistake.
• The Anything-But Shopper: This is the person who heads out to do food shopping but gets side-tracked at the make-up counter. Who decides to buy some curtains for the house but comes home with a plasma television instead. Who goes out to buy a birthday present for a friend, but ends up with a new wardrobe for herself. Yes, that’s right, she ends up buying anything but what she set out for.
• The No-Nonsense Shopper: Yes, he’s the one who goes shopping only when he needs something, frequents only his usual haunts, buys only what he set out for and heads straight back home. (And, of course, sometimes he is a she.)