“Hi, my name is Wes and I am a fashion victim,” I imagine myself saying in about ten years from now, to a room full of impoverished people wearing couture on their bodies and vacant expressions on their faces. “Hi Wes,” they’ll say back, in a voice as empty as their bank accounts. It’s the scene of my first Shopaholics Anonymous meeting, a place where people with no money and an affinity for designer labels go to commiserate and heal. I picture myself with tears in my eyes as I explain to the group how I got there, how I became a Fendi-wearing homeless person. This vision of my future haunts me all the time: when I’m trying on new jeans at Barney’s, when I run my fingers over the silks at Hermès, and every time I so much as glance at a leather-good under glass at Saks. This vision is grim, and yet no matter how vivid it becomes, I can’t help but be a label whore!
I know you’re not supposed to obsess over material things, but I think anyone who has a case of fashion fever would tell you that it’s not caused entirely by an obsession with the clothes themselves. When you wrap a Burberry scarf around your neck, it’s not just cashmere keeping you warm, it’s sophistication; when you button up your Armani power suit, you’re wearing authority in addition to a jacket; and when you slide your feet into those perfect pair of Louboutins, you’re walking on sex appeal. It’s that fantasy of a glamorous and beautiful life that has you opening a second credit card at Neiman Marcus, it’s momentarily fulfilling the romantic notion of the way things should be, should feel, should look, that slaps a giant smile across your face when you march out of Prada with a bag in each hand. For fashionphiles, buying an amazing new outfit can feel as electrifying as falling in love.
Throughout the course of my life as a full blown shopping addict, some friends and family members have made it a point to express their horror upon learning the price I pay for a pair of Tom Ford sunglasses or a t-shirt from Alexander McQueen, but to me the expense has always felt worth it. I’m paying for the luxury of not having to worry about my clothes, because I know they all make me feel good, like the best possible version of myself. My hair might be a mess and I can’t always keep my skin from breaking out, but the clothes? They’re reliable. My sister doesn’t understand this at all and always asks me, snidely, “Wouldn’t you rather buy a whole closet full of new clothes instead of one stupid [coat/wallet/pair of shoes]?”
Nope, I wouldn’t. I find that the super cheap stuff never lasts as long, and I certainly don’t feel happy buying or wearing it. Sure, under this shopping modus operandi I may not get to buy new things very often (as I am about as far as one can get from being a millionaire) and I don’t get the gratification of frequent shopping; but when I do make a purchase, it always feels a little bit magical to me. And that’s what I want for my love life as well.
Although fashion enthusiasts are often pegged as stupid and superficial, I’d like to argue that we know a lot about love, and about what it means to want something special. We pick men the same way we pick out a new designer bag: with great thought and consideration, and the sincere belief that it’s going to last a while. While we could very easily fill our closets, or the space between our bed sheets, with a lot of cheap and easy not-so-special somethings, we hold out for the thing that makes our hearts flutter with excitement and pride. In the same way we’d never tote a bedazzled pleather clutch in last season’s color, we’d never hold onto a guy we’d never want to be seen with in public. Our standards are just a little bit too high, and that’s just where we like them.
I suppose I feel like somewhere along the line, my designer duds (and the ridicule they have sometimes brought me), taught me a lesson about who I am and what I want. If my Gucci loafers get worn through the sole, I know it’s worth the cost to have them fixed, and if my relationship is wearing thin, I want it to be worth the effort it will take to make it better. I’ve never been one to buy an outfit just because a friend told me it looked okay, and I don’t want to date a guy just because someone bothered to set us up. Life is too short and too messy to force yourself into things that aren’t flattering. I want my relationship to feel effortless, like slipping into a pair of J Brand jeans that fit just right – hold you tight in some places and give you room to breathe in others.
Of course, every once and a while, you buy an outfit that looks a lot better in the dressing room than it does out in the world, and sometimes even the most durable items get so beat up that they need to be tossed, and I realize the same thing happens with boyfriends. Some guys are not what you thought they were, others wear thin, and some are outgrown all together. But at one point in time, I’d hope they’d all feel at least a little bit special.
My belief in this philosophy of love, that carries over from clothes to people, is why, when I imagine myself walking home from that first Shopaholics Anonymous meeting to my cardboard box on Madison & 5th, I imagine someone will be there holding my hand. This person will know about my ailment, will have declared “for richer or for poorer” (knowing full well it was going to be poorer), and will have decided to love me anyway. And I’ll love him right back… even more than I’ll love the sparkly Tiffany rings I’ll max out my last credit card to put on both of our fingers. Because some things in life are just a little too special to get at a discount.