Or enjoyable? I don’t think so.
On Thursday, a couple of my friends invited me too join them on a day trip to Cardiff. Never one to turn down company, I enthusiastically accepted. I hadn’t quite realised all we were going to do was shop. Not that it was a bad day, and I am grateful for the lift down there, but I was a little bit bemused by wanting to drive and hour and a half to Cardiff to go to the same shops (albeit slightly bigger versions) that we could have gone to if we’d driven 15 minutes in the other direction to Gloucester.
I definitely preferred our day out on Friday to Sudley Castle. Even if I wasn’t such a history geek I think this would have been the case. Wandering the gardens in the sun eating ice-cream and getting all dressed up in Tudor style clothing (probably put there for children), not to mention belting out Total Eclipse of the Heart and It’s Raining Men on the way there. I returned home feeling a lot more fulfilled than I had after spending the day wandering around shops. In his book How To Be Free, Tom Hodgkinson puts it like this:
‘In the current scheme of things, when we’re not working, we’re consuming. We leave the factory gates and pour our wages straight back into the system at Tesco’s… Everywhere, the same myth is perpetuated: you are just one object away from happiness… We remain unsatisfied. Capitalism is constantly and perpetually disappointing. The very thing that promises you freedom can quickly become the thing that oppresses you.’
I find these ideas playing out in my own life. It might be exciting at first to purchase a new dress. You think about how it will make you look and feel – stylish, sophisticated, the “new you” – you imagine the opportunities it might bring you, the parties that you will wear it to and the interesting people who will be drawn over to talk to you. You get home and hang the dress in your wardrobe. You are worn out from a day on your feet wandering around shops so you flop in front of the television and eat chocolate. The dress never gets worn because you never go to those sort of parties; you were sold a fantasy, an illusion. You finally get an occasion to wear it but because it isn’t the kind of thing that you usually wear you feel self-conscious, or spill a drink down it in the first fiver minutes. The evening is a disappointment because it isn’t what you imagined it would be when you bought the dress.
You have been duped by advertising, because clothes aren’t a lifestyle, whatever Topshop* might have you believe. Your personality is not created by what you wear, but what you do. And you will never really discover who you are through following the adverts promising a new lifestyle with a new dress.
*I pick Topshop because it is one of the best shops at selling you a lifestyle, combining things like music and sweet shops into the clothes-buying experience.