Lately I’ve been feeling nostalgic for the golden days of offline shopping. I imagine this is the way Generation X looks back at Studio 54. Gone are the afternoons spent moseying from store to store. For me at least. Instead, most of my purchases are made from behind a screen, in between checking the news and responding to emails. It’s not so much the trying on or purchasing components of shopping that I miss, but the ceremony around them, and the stories and relationships cultivated along the way.
Some of my most vivid memories took place in dressing rooms: the disappointment I felt when my mom rejected the idea of me wearing a very expensive beach cover-up as my prom dress; the stomach ache from laughing too hard when my best friend got herself caught in a built-in-bra-tank top; my grandmother agreeing to buy me a scrunchie made of the exact fabric of the Limited Too bathing suit I got for my birthday. These interactions probably wouldn’t take place in front of a computer screen, so for future generations they may not take place at all.
I was not raised in a home where consumption was encouraged. For example, on a father-daughter trip to Italy during high school, I took my dad to the Prada outlet where I asked him to buy me a pair of Prada pants for 25 Euro. His reaction was “but you already own pants.” I tried explaining to him (to no avail) that owning pants didn’t make me want these ones any less. I will never forget or stop cherishing that story, but had the pants landed in my closet without any fuss, they most certainly would have been forgotten about within months.
In hindsight, it wasn’t buying or owning items that mattered; it was all of the stuff that emerged while spotting, trying on, negotiating for, and saying hello or goodbye to those things. Shopping actually taught me a lot about life. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is not just a Rolling Stones song when you’re at Bloomingdales with a $25 allowance. I can’t remember any of the clothes that were vetoed along the way, but I have many fond memories of the conversations and emotions that surrounded making — or accepting — those choices.
The lessons shopping taught me seem less poignant nowadays. Understanding what it means to “love” a dress but not be able to own it isn’t the same when you’re a click away and the fabric isn’t nestled in between your fingers. Deliberating “do I need this?” is less fun when you’re opening an ASOS box the delivery man just handed to you, as opposed to standing in a cramped dressing room with a best friend convincing yourself that you’d wear leather pants at least four days a week year-round and thus they are a sensible purchase.
Also diminished is “the hunt.” Finding a deal used to be a euphoric experience – often shared with a loved one. I’ve never been to Ibiza, but I imagine its nightclubs offer a similar experience to finding a dress 50% off that fits you like a glove. There is nothing like finding that one item in your size and price range among a sea of clothing, but part of the joy comes from a feeling that fate or luck brought you to that piece: in the entire world of clearance racks, it ended up in your discount store of choice. That just doesn’t exist online.
I’ve always said that there is no relief quite like trying on something you can’t afford only to find out it doesn’t fit. Shopping is a roller coaster of emotion, a symphony of affirmations and rejections based on size, price and style. To remove the social and tactile components of that experience make it no more than a series of acquisitions. And anyone who has ever rolled over laughing or crying in a fitting room knows that’s the most meaningful part of being a buyer — compared to that, ownership is pretty anticlimactic.
Image Shot by Simone Guidarelli for Vanity Fair Italy