Before I begin this discussion on shopping, I just wanted to let everyone know that I would love to start making interviews part of the online component of this project. So, if any of you ladies (or discerning gentlemen) would like to share some of your thoughts on female beauty, let me know! We can record an interview and then post it onto this site. The wonders of modern technology!
A marathon shopping trip a couple of weeks ago – my first in months – provoked a range of thoughts and brought many emotions to the surface. I suddenly remembered what a complex thing shopping is, especially for women, and how it brings up issues surrounding beauty, image, self-esteem, insecurities and economics.
Shopping for the perfect item involves juggling a number of factors, and weighing them against one another. After all, the perfect item must meet both aesthetic and economic criteria. Before I buy an item, I must ensure that it is the most beautiful, flattering and good-quality piece of clothing that I can get for the best price.
First of all, how do I know if an item of clothing is beautiful and flattering? On a basic level, I want the fabric to be a pretty colour, or have a pretty pattern on it. Since I think my stomach is too big, I want all my clothes to have a cut that will not emphasise my stomach.
With only a few notable exceptions, price and quality are often at odds with each other and so these two issues must be weighed and balanced at all times. Thus, another tricky aesthetic tightrope is the one between form and function. All women know that the pretty clothes are often the ones that are uncomfortable, and vice versa – and we often choose one or the other based on our age and priorities.
Despite this, I know that I am always on the prowl for something that is the perfect blend of beauty and comfort. I obviously want something pretty. However, clothes are also supposed to fulfill a number of practical functions. My clothes need to keep me warm and dry, and I want them to be at least somewhat comfortable. Since the weather changes so much in San Francisco, I need lots of layers which, if I just wear one or two, will keep me covered but cool, but which, if worn all together, will keep me warm. As for shoes, I want them to be sexy, beautiful and match both dresses and trousers, but I also need to be able to walk in them.
More than beauty and comfort, though, is image – what image do I want to present to the world, and which clothes will help me accomplish this? I want to show the world that I am a beautiful, professional, confident and stylish woman. I am stunning and sexy but I also don’t flaunt my sexuality at work. I’m stylish but I also like to dress down when I’m relaxing. I like to look good but I also value my mind and heart, and not just my body. How do I find clothes that express all this, and are beautiful, flattering, comfortable and good quality? And how do I do that on a budget?
In her book The Whole Woman (the follow-up to The Female Eunuch), Germaine Greer talks about the complex relationship between women, shopping and economics. “When a woman is not working at her job or working in her home or with her children she is working at shopping,” she writes. “Women are estimated to buy 80 per cent of everything that is sold. Modern economies depend at least as much upon women’s consumption of good and services as upon production of any kind. … Though a woman may make an economic contribution is other ways, it is as nothing compared to the contribution she makes as a shopper.”
Another part of economics is the fact that, in our consumer society, being able to buy something makes you powerful, and makes you feel in control. This is what retail therapy is all about. I know that there have been many times when I, having felt stressed out or out of control, grab my handbag and go shopping. These trips, however, inevitably end in tears because, of course, you can’t buy happiness or inner peace at H&M or Gap or Victoria’s Secret (although it would be really nice if you could, wouldn’t it?).
Retail therapy is supposed to be fun, right? Greer also makes an interesting point about this: “Shopping is presented to women as recreation and they fall for the cheat. … Consuming for fun is part of female culture. From the time female children are old enough to identify the moving image, they will learn that there are pretty things they must have if they are to feel good.”
Writing this has only made me realise that there is more I want to write about on the topic of shopping, but I’ll stop for now… Let me know what you think!