here is no longer any doubt about it: when it comes to fashion, we need to reduce how much we are consuming. The amount of clothing being thrown away each year is horrifying, and the rate at which our consumption is directly impacting the climate rapidly needs to change.
In many ways, it feels as if the past few years have seen the fashion industry finally wake up to the fact that we can no longer continue in this way. More earth-friendly materials and transparent manufacturing processes are being adopted by many designers and fashion houses, while consumers are themselves changing their shopping habits to limit how much they are buying, what they are willing to spend their money on or, indeed, which brands they are willing to invest in.
However, the fashion industry thrives on change and newness – and, as consumers, we can’t help but be swayed by what is considered new and exciting. This is the whole reason that seasonal trends form, and why we are able to be influenced by what we see on celebrities, catwalks, our friends and even our favourite television shows.
But, how can we limit this behaviour and when should we allow ourselves to embrace the thrill? We spoke to fashion psychologist, consultant, writer and founder of Fashion Is Psychology, Shakaila Forbes-Bell, about navigating society’s obsession with newness.
The reason that many of us get such a thrill from shopping, she explains, is due to a “reward-seeking loop” which is created in our minds when we buy something. Part of this is down to the excitement that exists in the actual anticipation of shopping, but we are also influenced by not wanting to miss out, and, as human beings, we have an inherent desire to be involved in that next big thing.
“The neurotransmitter dopamine is linked to our brain’s pleasure centres and MRI studies show that our dopamine levels increase in anticipation of us going shopping,” she explains. “So, that ‘high’ feeling we get when shopping is often not related to the actual thing we’re buying but the experience itself.
“Additionally, the need to avoid losses – or what we might refer to as FOMO (fear of missing out) – combined with our ingrained desire for novelty, causes a rush of adrenaline which contributes to the thrill of shopping experiences. The hits of dopamine and adrenaline create a reward-seeking loop that causes us to reach for our debit card over and over again.”
This thrill, however, does not last long. In fact, we can actually often end up feeling lower in the long run, particularly if it turns out to be a regretful purchase.
“In the immediate post-shopping stage, people generally do experience a boost in their mood, but this is often temporary. Although something referred to as ‘the endowment effect’ proves that people tend to place greater value on things that they own (compared with the same object that they do not own), buyer’s remorse is a common experience that causes us to feel low after the dopamine and adrenaline wears off. This low feeling is especially potent when we place great weight on the thing we’re buying to bring us happiness.”
There are of course more and less successful purchases – not everything you buy will be a regret, and we can find long-term happiness in purchasing something that we wear often and feel great in. However, we need to learn how to manage this behaviour, and knowing when to give in to a shopping thrill comes from being more considerate and doing your research.
“Despite the fact that consumers are becoming increasingly conscious about the impact of their purchase decisions, the thrill of shopping is not something that we can magic away,” Forbes-Bell explains. “Like with any experience that creates a reward-seeking loop, the thrill of shopping is something that we all have to manage with both education and mindfulness practices.”
The best way to be more mindful when you shop? Don’t rush any decisions.
“Taking time before you buy something will ensure that you’re not being swayed by that chemical surge that takes place in anticipation of going shopping. Waiting will allow you to think carefully about if you truly want or even like the item that’s sitting in your basket.”
Avoiding impulse buys is key. When you’re thinking of making a purchase, have you asked yourself the following? “How does it fit with the items I already own? Can this be worn with at least five different outfits or to five different occasions? Would I buy it if it wasn’t on sale? Do I really like it, or am I just getting wrapped up in the latest trend?”
If you truly feel that this is a purchase that will serve you well and will continue to bring you joy long after you’ve parted with your money, then there is no shame in sparingly giving in to these feelings. But, just like everything in life, we should enjoy shopping in moderation.
“We can all allow ourselves to give in to these feelings and treat ourselves once we’ve thoroughly done our homework on the item that we’re planning to buy, when we’ve slept on it and answered all the aforementioned questions.”
And, of course, it has never been easier to find that thrill of newness from something not technically new. There are plenty of great ways to experience the mood-boosting effects of newness without damaging the environment – from rental fashion to embracing resale or even swapping clothes with friends.
Ultimately, the excitement and thrill that many of us get when we go shopping is to be expected: seeking out newness and that which will make us feel better is part of being human. There’s no harm in giving into it every now and then. But, if you want to limit your consumption and prevent those regretful purchases, make sure you are taking your time and asking yourself the right questions before you part with any money. A wardrobe that’s full of timeless, stylish pieces that you treasure for years? That is something you won’t regret.
From Harper’s Bazaar UK