My boyfiend was out of town for most of last week – he went to DC for some meetings and then to North Carolina for a wedding – which meant I watched an entire season of Girls, slept in the middle of the bed, and, on Saturday, went shopping.
My first stop was to A Masquerade costume shop. I wanted to buy a mask for the masquerade ball Paul and I are attending for New Years, and according to the website, A Masquerade had some masks that would fit my child-sized face and close-set eyes. Of course, I failed to realize until entering the store that I was going to a costume shop on the Saturday before Halloween – literally their busiest day of the year. The line snaked through the store, and a group of people with faces freshly painted like Day of The Dead skeletons wandered through the tightly-packed racks of petticoats and corsets and sexy nurse outfits. Everyone in the store probably had some cool Halloween party to go to, whereas my plan for the evening was to bake pumpkin cake and possibly watch the original Carrie on Netflix.
A salesgirl in a sexy Viking costume pointed me towards the masks, of which they had hundreds. I made my way past a sign for “18th Century Pirate Costumes” and another for “Women’s Steampunk.” I scooted around people holding wigs and go-go boots and bags of sparkly tights. Three greasy dudes were already crowded around the masks, hogging the mirror. “I want to go for something sort of scary, but sort of sexy,” said a guy with massive blond dreadlocks and a cigarette-scratchy voice. He picked up a leather pig mask and held it to his face.
“Please don’t touch the masks to your skin,” the Viking girl admonished. I wondered if she said that to everyone, or specifically to people like him.
I considered the the collection of masks. There were leather ones handmade by local artists and paper mache Venetian masks imported from Italy. There were Brazilian masks with ostrich feathers and cat masks with Sworovsky crystals around the eyes. It was a bit overwhelming.
So I did what I normally do when faced with a consumer decision: I started turning over the masks and looking at the prices. The cat mask was $198. A pearl-encrusted Venetian mask was $59. Startled, I put them back on the rack and started scanning for something smaller and less fancy that would be in my price range. I wasn’t exactly sure what my price range was, but I knew I didn’t want to pay too much for something I would wear once a year, if that.
I found a small, purple mask for fifteen dollars. It was nothing special, but the price was reasonable. I held on to it and continued to browse. There were some beautiful, jaw-droppingly awesome masks, but once I barely even looked at them. I narrowed in on masks without lace and crystals and feathers because I knew they would be cheaper. For a brief moment I considered another purple mask, one with feathers, but it was thirty-four dollars, which seemed too extravagant. I figured I’d get the little purple one and add my own feathers.
So, holding the cheapest mask in the store, I got in line behind the dreadlocked dude and his pig mask.
Next I headed out to do some clothes shopping. I’ve been wearing the same five dresses over and over again for the past few years now, and I’m getting really sick of them. So first I went to Ross where I found a gray dress with a fake leather belt for $9.99. It wasn’t the greatest thing ever, and I already own two other gray dresses, but it fit me well enough, and at $10 I really couldn’t complain. I considered a pair of $5.99 red leggings, just to spice up all of my gray dresses, but I wasn’t sure if I’d ever actually wear them, so at the last minute, I put them down and headed to the register with the dress and a two-pack of socks.
Next I went somewhere that I generally loathe – the mall. I walked right passed all the expensive stores and went into Forever 21. I felt only slightly ashamed to be shopping there. I loaded up with some cheap dresses and sweaters and a pair of $7.99 jeans and went to the dressing room. But either the youth of today are fat and oddly-shaped, or I’m turning into a frail old woman with a weird body, because nothing fit me, and even the smalls were too big.
Next I made a quick stop at Nordstrom Rack, but even their clearance items seemed pricey. I flipped through the racks, barely looking at the clothes themselves, only considering the tags — $40, $50, $129.99, marked down from $300. I didn’t even try anything on.
Where else could I afford to shop? I watched a little boy and his mother going into the Old Navy. “Vamos a ice cream?” he asked. She shook her head no. I followed them inside and made a quick circuit of the store, but the clothes were boring and there was too much fleece for my liking. Frustrated, I left the mall and headed home.
I have a memory from when I was about twelve years old. I was sitting in the car with my younger brother while my dad pumped gas. “Daddy,” Deven asked through the window, “can I have some candy? Can I have a soda?”
“Deven!” I hissed, swatting at him. “Don’t be so greedy! You know we can’t afford that!”
Looking back, it’s funny. Yes, sometimes money was tight in our house, but we weren’t dirt poor or anything. I’m not sure where I got the notion that a ninety-nine cent bottle of Coke would break the bank.
The truth is, I’ve always been very careful about spending money. Careful, in this case, meaning I don’t like to do it. In high school my friends with jobs spent their money on clothes or cars or new stereos, but I put 98% of my money from working at Baskin-Robbins into savings. When my friends wanted to go to the movies, I suggested renting a video instead. When my friends wanted to go to Taco Bell or IHOP, I sat with them in the booth and watched them eat. Why should I waste my money on a 7-layer burrito when I could eat at home for free? When I wanted new clothes, I shopped at the thrift store. When I finally did buy a car, it was $600 Ford Escort I found in the Trading Post.
Being thrifty has always been a part of my personality although I’ve gotten a little less Scroogey over the years. Now I’ll actually buy things at restaurants and splurge sometimes on movies. I’ll pay without complaint for things that are important to me, like plane tickets or yoga classes. But even with those I’m thrifty. I always try to get the free plane vouchers, and I’m about to start doing a work exchange with the local yoga studio so I can take classes for free.
To this day, when I sit down at a restaurant and look at the menu, the first thing I do is scan the prices. I don’t even consider the higher-priced items. It’s less about what I really feel like eating and more about what’s affordable. I’ll often order a salad or an appetizer instead of a main dish, and if I do order a main dish, you can bet your bottom dollar it won’t be the filet mignon or the lobster. It’ll probably be the chicken.
Luckily, I like chicken. But I wonder, how much of that is because of the taste, and how much is because of the cost? Have I trained myself to like things that are cheap?
On the way home from shopping the other day, I started to wonder, if money was no object, which of those masks would I have bought? If money was no object, which stores would I have gone into? What sorts of clothing would I have bought?
I’m not even sure I know the answer. All my life I’ve ignored expensive things – haven’t even considered them as something I would ever own. My taste in fashion and food and home décor is so influenced by price, that I’m not sure I really know what my own true tastes are.
In some ways, I guess, this is OK. I don’t think of myself as a materialistic person. I don’t like the gross consumerism of our culture. It’s not like I want to become a shop-a-holic who drops $500 at Anthropologie on a regular basis. But on the other hand, I’d like to stop choosing things simply because they’re cheap. I want to learn what it is I really like, and that sometimes it’s OK to splurge.
I want to practice looking at all the options (not just the cheap ones) and making decisions based on my own personal desires and tastes. It sounds silly to say that shopping might help me get to know myself better, but maybe it can.
In conclusion, vamos a ice cream, shall we? We deserve a splurge.