My Shopping Habits – Part 2

I’m back with the next instalment of my relationship to shopping, and how it developed over time (you might want to check out part 1 for this post to make sense). This is the narrative overview before we get into the “why” of the choices I’d made, which will be part 3.

For me, clothing falls somewhere along the spectrum of “utilitarian” and “literal art, but on my body,” with most of what I own falling in the middle, which we’ll call “I’m choosing to wear this.” I define “utilitarian” clothing based on the purpose that they serve in covering my body: warm clothing in the winter, lighter fabrics in sweltering heat, and rain boots for any terrain that is not completely dry. The “I’m choosing to wear this” clothing is what I reach for for everything else, whether that’s running errands, holiday/themed events, lounging about, fancy dress, or work. If the item can be cute while serving its purpose, splendid, but I’m not too worried about the panache and pizzazz of a knee-length puffer coat when the hair escaping from my hat instantly freezes from the humidity of my breath. I do, however, worry about what’s under that coat when I arrive to my destination and what I wear is a reflection of who I am.

I’ve lived most of my life in Montréal, which has its own mix of high fashion, streetwear, chic, trendy, and classic looks. Throughout high school, we had a strict uniform to follow, so the clothing I chose to wear was trendy late-aughts/early-’10s teen fashion – wordy neon graphic tees, layered tank tops with lace trim, and imitation Roots sweatpants (why buy the real thing when you can get the same from Garage and three v-necks for the same price?). My first semester of CEGEP/2-year college, I was dressed a mess while figuring out what I would wear every day, despite the purpose for being there was my academics. 17-year-old me knew that what I wore casually as a 15-year-old was not going to cut it (according to whom? I still don’t know). During the break between first and second semester, I went all out at the Boxing Day sale at Urban Planet, the spiritual older cousin of Shein. Spending not much more than $300, I came home with a haul of patterned leggings, sheer button shirts, bodycon skirts and dresses, and a slew of basics to balance out the zany monstrosities I dared to call pants. This was at the height of peplums, skater skirts, and galaxy print everything, in case you needed a refresher on why this was normal school clothing. I was known at school for being the leggings girl (someone for real asked me if I owned any “normal” pants halfway through the semester), which was fun until I had to mentally keep track of 30 pairs to avoid having repeats too soon after each other.

University was a whole other ball of wax in diving head first into a theme to latch onto and dictate what I would wear. Anything that was related to the school colours, I would wear it – not to mention the veritable windfall I was for the bookstore and student design shop after snatching up anything I could fit into my teeny, tiny budget. All in the name of school spirit, and I would wear purple like I knew of no other colour. This slowed a bit by my third and fourth years (limiting my shopping to only the cute stuff, and not one of everything), and other colours re-entered my wardrobe as I continued to shop sales at stores off campus.

Graduating and starting work at my first real job resulted in just as ferocious a shopping spree as 2013 Urban Planet, but now in the name of professionalism. Blazers, pencil skirts, flowy blouses, trousers, and some sensible shoes – not that I was starting from scratch, mind you, I just wanted to have options. Once I started making money, I turned to online shopping for clothing in my free time. Old Navy was a favourite, since they had a “tall” section available online, and I was in need of pants that didn’t look like they were borrowed from my 12-year-old cousin. Well, “in need” of more options, but I told myself it would be good to have more options for the days when I’m running behind on laundry and need something to wear (as opposed to, you know, just doing the laundry??). In between these hauls were the various warehouse and outlet sales that I’d go to, and I started to run out of space in my closets, so I bought storage bins and hoped that would do the trick. I had gotten to the point of such rapid consumption that there were items that would be squished and hidden between two other items in the closet that I would forget they were there, but still order more.

The beginning of 2020 did not see this slow down all that much, as I had orders coming in roughly every other week – some were necessary cookware now that I needed to actually feed myself without the cafeteria at work as an option, while I indeed still had the audacity to purchase more clothing like I was leaving my apartment any time soon (I did a total of zero Zoom Happy Hours, so it wasn’t even for that). Things slowed down more over the summer, and then my bank account got another workout once Le Château announced that they would be closing – which ended by summer 2021. I was still strategic (hmmm) about waiting for the right time in the sales once I figured out what the pattern was for additional percent off versus total percent off based on category – since that’s what normal people do to buy clothing, no?

Luckily, I didn’t go into debt over this spending habit. My need for bargain hunting outweighed any desire for an item that was full-priced, and I never got into designer or luxury clothing (thankfully). The potency of bargain hunting did a number on me, and I remember buying two evening gowns at a store-closing sale for under $15 apiece (91% off, for anyone interested). Luckily, I did have an annual event to wear them to, but at the same time, how many gowns does a 22-year-old need?

With this personal history on the books, I’ll leave the topic here for now. Catch you later this week with my thoughts why small changes are a more sustainable approach to me. Thanks for reading!

Psychology & Shopping: Locus of Control & Attribution Theory

A few disclaimers before we begin:

1) These are theories that were first published in the 50s & 60s in the USA. They have been retested with different variables and have had similar outcomes – which is the standard for a theory to still be seen as, uh, legit.
2) With any theory in the social sciences, there are limits to how many experiences will align entirely with the theory. Your experiences, beliefs, perspectives, culture, mood, and more can impact how you will respond to a given situation.
3) How you feel the theory applies to you may change over time, and may change from one context to the next. I’m going to be applying the theory strictly in the context of shopping, though I encourage you to think about it in other areas of your life as well.

So, What is Locus of Control?

There are two ends to a spectrum that are labeled “internal” and “external,” and in general, a person’s perspective will fall somewhere within the line – or at an extreme – of what they believe controls their outcomes. Someone who is more toward “external” sees outcomes and consequences as being left to fate or luck, and may be less inclined to try to take control of a situation if they feel that there’s nothing to do about it. For someone who is more toward “internal,” they see outcomes and consequences as mostly in their power, and will see the results as a direct consequence of the choice they made.

And Attribution Theory?

Frequently in psychology, behaviours are placed along two spectra, which offers a lot of variety for where someone can land. Later theorists have looked at what influences someone’s response to a situation: the result is based on something internal/personality and would likely be the same across multiple situations (“dispositional”) or it differs depending on the context (“situational”).

How this Applies to Shopping

How this may apply to shopping depends on how someone can choose to react to sales, bargain finds, and more. For the sake of not complicating this, we’ll use the same situation for four different people (I’m going with 4/5 sisters from Pride and Prejudice for names – but not specific to the actual characters), and here’s the scenario: there’s a seasonal sale at the local mall, which includes stores that our four examples would regularly shop at, as well as stores they usually don’t care about. Our first person, Jane, is drawn in to the stores where she usually shops, makes purchases for items that she would usually buy, and because it’s sale season, has a look at other stores just in case there’s anything else on her list that she can take care of (internal, situational). Jane may stay on budget, but this will depend on what else she finds for her list. Lizzy, on the other hand, goes into the mall with her wish list items that she planned for, and doesn’t bother checking other stores since she knows she doesn’t need anything they sell (internal, dispositional). Lizzy will come in on budget or below, depending on if anything from her wish list is no longer available. Next, we have Mary, who happened to be at the mall the weekend of the sale – as luck would have it – and will spend the day going from store to store (in order of preference) just to see what she can find (external, dispositional). Mary’s budget may have been forgotten in taking advantage of scooping up great finds. Finally, Kitty’s rainboots have splashed their last puddle, and it just so happens that the shoe store has rainboots on clearance as winter is on its way. Kitty will take advantage of the sale since the stars aligned, but isn’t too worried about the rest of the sales going on – she’s got only her rainboots on her mind (external, situational). Kitty’s budget is rainboots, and rainboots alone.

How this Applies to Me

How this may apply to you will depend on which person you identify with most. If you feel like you might be more of a Jane or Mary, you may find yourself spending time and money that you might not have intended to, especially if your goal (like mine has been in the past) is to find the best possible bargains – regardless of your needing them. I think that reflecting on how you react to information related to shopping – new collection drop, limited run, flash sale, clearance, store closure – would be the best place to start. You can’t move towards making a change if you don’t know where your behaviours are coming from, you know? For myself, I feel that I’ve been in the mindset of each example person at least once – though, historically, I would have been in the middle between a Jane and Mary, and now I’m closer to a Lizzy since leading up to my No Buy year. I feel like I’m more in control to say “no,” to the things I don’t need so I can say “yes,” to the experiences I want. A $200 clothing haul every other month feels great in the moment, but I’m now more hyped about turning that money into seeing more of the world with clothes I already love. I’d be curious to know how others who are also doing a No Buy feel their alignment has been or currently is.

Further Reading/Reference List:

In case you’d like to dive in on the original theory, here are the two major sources I’ve scouted from:
1. Locus of control: Rotter, J. B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological monographs: General and applied, 80(1), 1.
2. Attribution theory: Heider, F. (1958). The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations. New York: Wiley.