Are Shopping Cleanses Just Another Fad Diet?

December 5, 2013 • Fashion

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Earlier this week, Lauren Sherman, Fashionista’s Editor at Large, reflected on the sudden interest in shopping cleanses. Several of her friends, she wrote, had recently gone cold turkey, pronouncing that they would be buying absolutely nothing for several months. “Much like a juice cleanse makes you realize that you don’t need sugar every day to function,” she wrote, “these writers talk about how letting go of shopping helped them to reset their systems, to realize what was valuable and what wasn’t.”

It’s natural that fashion conjures a ready comparison to vices like food or alcohol, and not just because juice cleanses are a food group as far as the fashion industry is concerned. The hangover is credit card debt. The extra inches are a hideous $725 hot pink cocktail dress plastered with bows that hangs unworn in your closet.

In that light, the “shopping cleanse” sounds like just another dangerous fad diet. In fact, it’s part of a larger trend to simply cut things out of your life. We seem to think the only way to do anything is to go big or go home, and for the past few years, going home has won out: juice cleanses, spending freezes, defriending exes, no cabs for a month, dairy-free yogurt, gluten-free gluten, etc., etc. The women of New York are not living in the age of austerity but of deprivation. If we aren’t somehow suffering for something, it isn’t earned. It’s not worth it.

Somewhere, we repackaged deprivation and made it upscale. You don’t go on a juice cleanse because you’re short on cash; in fact, a juice cleanse usually costs 2-3 times what you’d spend on a week of fresh salmon and green beans from the grocery store. A shopping cleanse is meant to put you above it all in the same way: too elegant, too disciplined to buy even a pair of underwear, like a ballerina pirouetting on a $30 AmEx bill.

We’ve villainized fashion: it’s now something to be devoured or imbibed, something that is understood to come with terrible consequences. But you know those wacky “why did I buy that?” items that get trotted out and made an example of? That is my entire wardrobe. I’ll buy a red felt beret from Lock & Company in London instead of a winter beanie. I don’t have a little black dress, but I do have a gown with a tuxedo hand-drawn on it. I have a Lanvin bolero made of florets that makes me look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in mourning. I own no black pants and have not bought a pair of jeans in four years. The single white t-shirt I own says, “I WILL NOT LOSE EVER F*CKA.” I don’t have any luxury basics, my gee-whiz-hunker-down-it’s-criminally-cold-coat is hot pink, and the shoes I wear four out of five days of the week are orange velvet smoking slippers embroidered with little Chinese vases. And I love getting dressed. Yes, I have a gold and turquoise suit with star-shaped buttons that I wear once or twice a year. But I don’t look in my closet and see holes; I see a wardrobe.

But even if you you don’t want to wander around looking like an old bat, there is a difference between shopping and buying. My mother and I have spent a lot of our time together walking around shops; since she travels frequently, we use the time to catch up with each other. She’d always tell me, “There’s nothing wrong with trying anything on!” And there isn’t! In fact, trying things on can be a ball. I’ll sometimes spend a whole Saturday going in and out of shops on Madison Avenue, trying things on and knowing that I won’t buy any of it. If you’re really interested in fashion, it becomes a kind of education in how brands fit, what fabrics feel like, how stuff gets merchandised. (As someone who doesn’t really go to Fashion Week, this has been particularly educational, almost like a self-guided showroom appointment.) Who cares if the salesperson is a snob? You’re not intending to give them business anyway.

That’s shopping. Buying is a longer lead exercise, in which desire takes over. If I find myself several days later dreaming about something I saw, I go back and get it. Now my two most frequently used purses are 1. made of a tree, and 2. a frog, dyed hot pink (it’s no longer living and it is from Paris). I always shop, and I rarely buy. “That sounds impractical,” you might say, but I have a closet full of things I love, that bring me joy when I use them, that are unusual, and that say something about my aesthetic values. And more importantly, I haven’t accrued massive credit card debt and don’t have some Mano Negra hovering over my every urge to purchase. Plus, I’m not writing any of this as a part of some frou-frou French woman manifesto.

Fashion foodies might call this portion control, but I think of it more like going into a museum. In a museum, you go to look, to study, to gaze. You usually don’t go in intending to yank something off the wall and take it home, and though you might buy a poster of your favorite work of art, you aren’t thinking, “That was a great Monet, now to Sotheby’s to get me one of those.” You’re there to learn, admire, and appreciate, to make yourself think. Shopping really can be like that when it’s done right. It will make you a better buyer when the time comes.

I’m not saying fashion is art–that’s tired stuff–but art and fashion do have one thing in common: they’re both grotesquely expensive. The only people who get tired of art are the ones who buy without shopping. Charles Saatchi’s $725 hot pink cocktail dress is a tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde in a display case. Then again, you can always take a fashion lemon to the consignment store; Saatchi sold the shark to Steven Cohen in 2004 for a reported $10 million.

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