Girl Talk: Don't call me fat(uous)!

Girl Talk: Don't call me fat(uous)!

Last Sunday, I fell off the wagon. Spiritually bereft (I skipped church), morally out of step (I threw a tantrum) and a hundred dollars poorer (new tights, vintage Italian shoe-boots and a cute dress hastily stuffed into my handbag), I coerced Husband into a stop-over at a (cue soundtrack from Psycho)... mall.

My shopping appetite already sated with my market stash (sans the pink boucle jacket someone swiped before I could hand over my cash!), the moment I stepped into the place I felt ill. The material gluttony, the mass-produced goods, the wobbly trolleys and an unwelcome run-in with my former shopaholic self conspired to rob me of my carefully cultivated new fashiony self: the one who shops thoughtfully and thriftily.

I immediately resolved to plan a mission trip to some far off third-word country to make amends... or, at least, give stuff away (heck, I'd only orchestrated a swap party for charity a weekend ago!). Then I read Sam de Brito's 'Absolutely Fatuous' piece in the Sun-Herald (pictured) and felt utterly condemned (which I'm sure was his point).

"The more obsessed a woman is with clothes, shoes and handbags, the more utterly barren her interior life," he wrote in his column, aptly juxtaposed with pages of social pages piccies, celebrity gossip and sartorial tidbits. "This is not to suggest all fashionably dressed chicks are completely vacuous or that conspicuous consumers of women's clothing cannot be "spiritual"... But is it possible to have one's moral compass in working order and spend $2500 on a handbag or own 100 pairs of shoes?"

Taking a further stab at exactly the kind of lady who might peruse the pages of S on a Sunday morning (ah-hem), de Brito asked, "Can you make a worthwhile contribution to humankind if you waste half your life glomming over "what people are wearing" photo spreads and heeding the utterances of Anna Wintour or Garance Dore?"

Cushioning the blow somewhat for readers who adore Garance Dore, de Brito made a distinction: "there are many gals who know their designers and lead fruitful, productive lives, but I'm talking about the type of woman who actually believes owning a pair of hot pants and knee-high socks before anyone else will bring them happiness".

Having been schooled in consumerism in the 1990s and coming of shopping age in the big-spendy 2000s, like many young women I fell victim to the persuasions of shopping malls and glossy fashion magazines. I blame Clueless and Sex and the City (pop culture is a convenient scapegoat for stupidity!), insecurity and a poor appreciation for asset depreciation. But what could have amounted to a house deposit was deposited at French Connection and Witchery and Country Road.

This time of rampant consumerism in my life came to a head with an encounter with God (hooray, saved), a trip around Europe with a friend, during which time I plugged many wardrobe gaps with sensible, well-made things (for grown-up girls) like blazers and jeans and shoes, which I still rotate, followed by my engagement to a man whose income capacity was hindered by his life's calling and my subsequent departure from the world of full-time salary earning (ergo, money got tighter than a pair of supertube jeans).

Since this time, I have prided myself on being resourceful and creative and eco-friendly in my approach to fashion, trawling thrift stores for pieces to liven up my basics, repairing items that start to fray, stashing away money for good shoes, occasionally indulging in pieces bought from local boutiques (dressed up as doing my bit for the community) and hosting swap parties. Shopping has become something I delight in, occasionally, rather than mindlessly participate in... often.

But things could have turned out differently. Had God not intervened with his divine plan that I might learn to live a life of thrift, I could have been an Avis Cardella, whom de Brito takes aim at in his column and whose book, Spent: Memoirs of a Shopping Addict, made me feel ill.

Cardella's is a 260-page cautionary tale for all the aspiring Carrie Bradshaws (or Gossip Girls) led astray by the notion that a girl can have her shoes (all 100 pairs and counting) without the financial and spiritual repercussions.

“How can a woman with a closet so full feel so empty inside?” asks Cardella, a New York model-turned-fashion-photography-critic whose penchant for spending turned into a shopping addiction fuelled by her deep insecurities, bouts of depression and the need to keep up appearances.

Her memoir is full of supporting evidence about shopping addiction, but the ruminations on her purchases, her mother's part in her negative self-image, her craving for her father's approval and her failed relationships make for a sorrowful tale about a girl who grew into a woman without getting the message that fabulous clothes do not a fulfilling life make.

After visiting the Valentino retrospective exhibition at GoMA this morning, accompanied by some of the gorgeous girls studying fashion through QUT's creative industries division, I was reminded that having an appreciation for fashion and for beautiful things needn't be concomitant with consuming fashion at a pace that befits Paris Hilton (or a certain fictional New York columnist), as rampant consuming is ultimately unsustainable and damaging for one's financial prospects and interior life.

While throwing a tantrum befitting of a three-year-old when the pink jacket was swiped from under my nose was the 'wake up and smell the ridiculousness' reminder this former shopaholic needed, when I paired my vintage Italian boots with a pair of new tights, an old dress and a tried-and-true trench this morning, my moral compass was left perfectly in tact (thank you very much, Sam).

Fashion doesn't maketh the woman, but like a beautifully curated exhibition, a pared-back, thoughtful, occasionally updated wardrobe can help her define her sense of self.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


The Darling Daily said...

What a great read. Love your blog.

Nikki said...

brilliantly put - apologetics for shoppers!!
love your work, thoughts, words : )

Talia Cain said...

Great post Erica. Hear, hear.

Anonymous said...

I love shopping too, but how good do you feel when you have your favourite skinny jeans on, or your new cardi or scarf. It can lift your mood! When you know you look good, you feel good. But I agree, it should be in moderation.

L said...

have you been reading my mind?

I have recently really been enjoying FASHION. Not shopping. Not caring what other people think. But just the enjoyment of getting out of my uniform of jeans and tshirt, and playing dress ups and wearing all those things in the back of my wardrobe.

It's so easy to knock this as just consumerist and stupid. but after watching the valentino movie (I love him!) and the september issue and reading about grace coddington in vogue... it just seems a shame to throw all that out. It ain't all bad.

surely there's a way to enjoy fashion without selling your soul to the devil? (sorry I couldn't help myself :) )

Laura said...

Thanks for sharing that. I love a pretty dress and can spot my fav designer's clothes a mile away...and have more shoes than I need...
But, I agree completely with this gentleman you were quoting. The fashion industry is creating really morally deviod human beings who only care about the superficial. Even the advertisments used to see the clothing is often morally offensive (to me anyway). I think there is a balance in appreciating beauty and projecting an appropriate image of oneself and spending $1000s of dollars per season while people starve all over the world. What if we could spend our clothing budgets on sponsering a child, or a mission trip like you mentoned. I people could use something more than the lastest it bag. Fashion won't fill the void, it just breeds more longing for what's next.

Anonymous said...

Oh my god I love this. It's about enjoying the clothes and not being a slave to them. If you do that then the buyers remorse just doesn't happen.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful insight, Erica :)
I have been feeling somewhat disillusioned with the fashion industry and the fact that I simply cannot afford nor justify the lavish additions to my wardrobe I wish to make. Thanks for letting me know there's people out there just like me - in touch with and appreciative of fashion, but on a (tight) budget.

Anonymous said...

Good fill someone in on and this post helped me alot in my college assignement. Thank you as your information.