Jill ponders her year without shopping in a fun, fresh, engaging and occasionally informed way

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Airport Security

Greetings dear reader to a confused Sunday here. We've had sunshine, we've had showers, I'm expecting a windstorm at any moment. It's like a James Taylor song.

We're up to blog #67 today. I'd like to chat today about the impact that airport security has had on the fashion world. Well, not so much the fashion world, but us as people who wear fashion. Or clothes, which may or may not be fashionable.

Shoe me!... The first contribution that airport security has made is that we are now a lot more aware of the kind of socks and hosiery that people wear beneath their shoes. I feel sorry for the airport security people, having to handle our stinky shoes. But there we all are - taking off our shoes and surrendering our stockinged feet to airport flooring.

Particular shoes are singled out, I've noticed - it has to do with the heel. I'm not entirely certain, but particular heels are more conducive to holding any number of ingredients capable of being mixed with certain toothpastes, hair gels and liquids to form a combustible liquid, mixed up in the plane's loo.

I wore a pair of high heeled boots on an international flight to San Francisco once. Including the two stopovers I had between Brisbane and San Francisco, and the multiple security points I had to endure because I was not carrying US identity documentation, I took those boots off and put them back on a total of six times at airport security stations. I wanted to surrender them to an airport bin by the time I arrived.

Press me! The other thing I've noticed at airport security are the wands they wave over a "randomly selected" passenger, which they then test for traces of something. Explosive particles or dandruff, perhaps. You know, if they made those devices heated, one could get a nice press of one's jacket and pants while we were at it. Then we'd arrive at our destinations not only declared a safe traveller, but freshly pressed as well. We might not mind being "randomly selected", either, if this little laundry service was included, mightn't we?

Just on this, I was once "randomly selected" at Heathrow to be patted down. I was a bit tired and grumpy from a long flight (I think it was from Minneapolis) so wasn't too keen on it. But you have to be courteous, or at least not rude, to airport security people, don't you? They can hold you for the length of time a root canal takes with no provocation or explanation. So, you don't want to annoy them.

Anyway, I was randomly selected to be patted down. Well, this very tall and rather attractive security woman did the patting. It was actually quite relaxing, and quite intimate in a pervy kind of way. I stood there with my feet hip-width apart and my arms out to my sides. She ran her hands from my shoulders to my fingertips and back again underneath my arms. Then down my ribcage and across my stomach. Down the outside of my legs and up the, er, inside (stopping at a discrete non-body-contact point). I felt like we should have perhaps exchanged phone numbers after it. That, or asked if she did full body massage. She had a nice touch. For a security person.

Strip it! The other thing that you sometimes have to do at airport security is remove clothing items with metal on them. Like belts. I was travelling through Sydney airport to Melbourne earlier this year, and was in a rush. I had my carry-on bag and seemingly every other bag in New South Wales with me - I felt like a sherpa. I forgot about my belt, and went through the thing which then beeped like crazy. So, I dashed back through ("sorry, sorry"-ing the people behind me, waiting to go through the thing), threw my belt on the conveyor belt, dashed back through the thing, which did not bleep. I then picked up my bags and ran to the gate.

Oh darn! It was only when I was on the plane that I had a sudden shocking awareness - I'd left my belt at airport security! Oh, no! I may or may not have said "oh darn". The vowel "o" was certainly involved, and the final word may have had four letters in it.

Y'see, this was no ordinary black leather belt. It was a very fancy pants animal print "bling" belt that I'd bought in San Francisco in November 2009. It was not only an expensive belt, a belt I loved, but it was the belt that had caused me to realise that I had to stop spending. And hence, precipitated this very challenge I am now writing to you about from post #67.

So it was a meaningful belt. Well, I was sitting next to this rather seat-filling gent who preceded to tell me all about every single corporate training event he'd ever attended, and the unique contribution he had made to each and every one of them (I had foolishly told him that I was on my way to Melbourne to run a corporate training workshop). I tried to pay attention, I tried to paste a look on my face that indicated I was vaguely interested. But I was really thinking about my belt.

When I arrived in Melbourne, I bolted to the Baggage Services people, who sanguinely told me that if I rang this number, my belt would be put in a bag and sent to Melbourne, wherein I could pick it up at the airport on my return. This turned out to be utter crap, as I learned when I phoned that number.

It was a recorded message that informed me that they only worked between the hours of 7.00 and 8.15am, and the only time you could pick up lost items was between the hours of 1.00 and 1.07pm. Ok, that's not exactly true, but the hours they worked were similarly unhelpful. I left a message, trying not to panic or repeat myself more than four times. "The belt is animal print, with these big bling-y circles, and the buckle is a big bling-y circles. and did I mention it's animal print?". There was just something about the Whole Thing that made me uneasy.

Ninja Julie to the rescue? Unable to be mollified by the recorded phone message, I enlisted the help of Ninja Julie, who was travelling to Melbourne the very next day. Her flight took off at 7.00am, making it very difficult for her to get to the lost'n'found department at its stated opening hours. Being a gal who's stimulated by challenges, Ninja Julie took this as a test of her personal effectiveness, and pledged to get me my belt back.

Bzzz, bzzz. The next morning at 6.45am, my phone bzzz-bzzed to tell me a text had come in. It was from Ninja Julie - she had gotten my belt back. Unbelievable! She'd turned up to the Baggage Services counter at 6.35am, which is immediately adjacent to the Lost and Found department at Sydney Airport. There was no-one at the L'n'F, but there was a quaintly bureaucratic "service" person manning the Baggage Services counter. Ninja Julie asked the BS person when the L'n'F counter opened. 7.00am was the stern response. Knowing that she'd be ascending into the skies at that time, Ninja Julie asked if she could access the L'n'F cupboard now. No was the economical reply.

I haff vays of makingkh you.... Ninja Julie then proceeded to apply verbal Chinese water torture to the BS person, saying that a phone message had been left on the L'n'F hotline, that she could describe the item in detail, that it was a small item, that she was about to board a plane to the outer Hebrides and may not return for years upon which time the woman finally said "AWRIGHT! What does it look like?". A full description then passed Ninja Julie's lips, and the BS woman retreated into the L'n'F cupboard to see if said item was, indeed, in residence.

She returned and pronounced that yes, the animal print bling-y belt was there. But she couldn't give it to Ninja Julie because the L'n'F people didn't get there until 7.00am. By this time, Ninja Julie's flight was being called. More verbal Chinese water torture was applied, which yielded the surprising result of the BS woman going back into the L'n'F cupboard, retrieving animal print, bling-y belt, exiting the room and throwing the belt at Ninja Julie.

Yes, she threw it at her. Ninja Julie actually had to catch it. We could wax lyrical for several more minutes about the appropriateness or otherwise of the BS person's behaviour. But let's not, because the story has such a happy ending. I got my belt back! My beautiful, expensive, meaningful belt.

Is the story finished yet? So, there's 4 minutes of reading time that you'll never get back. I know. But it's such a great example of the impact that airport security has had on our travelling lives.

Remember the days....I love watching movies from the 1970s - it's one of my favourite eras. What's so charming and nostalgic about some of them are the scenes set in airports. With people going from check-in to gate with nary a stop in between, except to the restroom or public telephone. There's no airport security. There's no laptops at all, let alone any to be taken out of their cases and placed in large Tupperware boxes for screening for last year's version of Windows. There's no "random selecting" of dark-haired and swarthy male passengers for additional security screening. All that was in front of us. Including those of us still in primary school (which I'm compelled to tell you that I was, in the 1970s).

Has it really? Yes, Chuck, I'm afraid it has. Airport security has changed the way we travel, it's impact is indelible. It's also changed how we feel about public undressing and personal modesty. Right?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hoodwnked: A Trinket Economy

Greetings from the deepest of August days. Here we are at blog #66. I've been reading this fascinating book, Hoodwinked. It's written by John Perkins who is a self-confessed Economic Hit Man. Apparently, that was a real job (could still be one for all we know -- it's shrouded in mystery, the economic hit man business).

Mr Perkins is talking about how and why the financial markets imploded to create the GFC we've all been trying to get over (like a bad break-up, just when the pain seems to be nearly over, wham! you're watching a toilet roll commercial and crying like a baby, all over again).

Trinket Economy. He talks about the "trinket economy" where poor quality crap nobody needs is produced and marketed to us, the sucker consumer. That we buy this unneeded stuff is the exclamation point to that sentence. Trinket economies are doomed to failure. We've all participated in the creation of this trinket economy -- the trinket makers, the trinker marketers, the trinket salesmen, the trinket buyers, the trinket resellers on eBay. No-one is blameless. And that's just the introduction to the book. There's more.

Flattened. Mr Perkins says that our human psychology is particularly sensitive, suggestive and fragile to these marketing messages of the trinketeers. We're convinced that more, and more, and more, is what we need to make us happy. So we buy more and more of this useless crap and no-one is there to put the brake on either our thinking, or our spending. Until .... a GFC comes along that literally blows us out of our houses with a gale force wind of consumer debt proportions.

It's an uplifting kind of book.

Unwinking the hood: He says that to get the hood off our wink, here's what we need to all do, in five easy steps (just add water):
  1. accept consumer responsibility

  2. create a new economy

  3. adopt attitudes that encourage good stewardship and make icons of a new type of hero

  4. implement new rules for business and government

  5. honor our individual passions

So I don't want to go all heavyosity here on you. It being a Tuesday and everything. But I did read those words and think.... "hmmmm. that's kind of what My Year Without Clothes Shopping (MYWCS) is all about...". No, really! And I wasn't under the influence of any chemical substances at the time (although I may have overdosed on Lemongrass and Ginger tea - knockout combo).

So, how is MYWCS anything like the unhoodwinking strategy that a brain the size of Mr Perkins has come up with? Let's try this on for size:

  1. accept consumer responsibility. Well, that's a no brainer. Surely? I'm accepting responsibility for my own spending... and through this challenge, my own thinking about my own spending. But my spending about my thinking about my spending, well that's another matter. Seriously, that's a big check! Done! Dots connected on that one. Right?

  2. create a new economy. Well, clearly this is something that I can't control or even influence if you think of it in terms of the nation's or the world's economy. Even if you think of in terms of my suburb's economy, really. But I am creating a new economy within my own family unit. We're living simply -- "Have fun with frugality. You can!" - and spending less. Well, spending nothing on clothes, as you know. So, depending on how flexible your definition of "economy" is, this one gets a big check! Dots connected! mark, too. Right?

  3. adopt attitudes that encourage good stewardship and make icons out of a new type of hero. Well, two things here -- good stewardship and new types of heroes. I love the word "steward", and not just because I read a lot of Dick Francis in my 20s. If we see ourselves as the stewards of all we think we own, it changes our attitudes. Right? If I'm a good steward of all I think of as mine -- my house, my cat, my relationships, my clothes, those 65 shoes left in my wardrobe, my neighbourhood, my country -- then the way I take care of those things has got to improve. Yeah? And as for creating new types of heroes, I'm all for that. We've made heroes of people who don't deserve that status, and I'm thinking specifically of celebrities here. It's utter madness. Madness, I tell you! Ok, enough of that. But clearly, MYWCS strives to encourage good stewardship -- of all that I have now in my wardrobe, of my credit rating, and my overall sanity -- and to make icons out of a new type of hero. We may not know precisely who those heroes are just yet, but we know who they aren't. Paris Hilton and her BFFFFFFs for a start. So a big check! Dots connected there. Right?

  4. implement new rules for business and government. Ok, this is where the dots get a bit far apart. MYWCS is not looking to influence the government or even business, for that matter. Although, hmmmm, let me ponder that for 4.2 seconds longer. I wouldn't mind influencing the retail sector. This one is a bit of a stretch, but in principle, MYWCS lines up very closely with this one.

  5. honour our individual passions. Ah, well this is another no brainer, surely? MYWCS is all about honouring passions. This entire 12 month challenge is about a passion gone unchecked, that's now being honoured by not indulging it. If that convoluted logic is even possible to follow. I'm honouring my passion for clothes by enjoying and using more fully the ones that I have. I'm honouring my passion for shopping by recognising how much I enjoy it and also acknowledging the dark side of it. There's no Batman without Heath Ledger. So, I'm saying check! Dots connected! on this one, too. Right?

I Think Therefore ... You know, this is the first time I've taken the work of a "thinker" like John Perkins and applied it to this challenge. When I first started this challenge, I didn't think of it as having any kind of lofty purpose. And I'm not saying it now has one.

But I am aware that it's movement on the path of "better". Better thinking, better spending, better living. To live well with what you've got. Isn't that a live well lived?

The hood is off. There's no winking going on. Thank you Mr Perkins for Hoodwinked. In stores everywhere. Sure opened my eyes. Right?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Only 6 Items

Greetings and welcome to #65, dear readers. I'm back in the land of sunshine, although sunshine is in scant supply on this overcast Friday. We're in the home stretch of winter here so I should make the most of the shorter days and lower temperatures.

We're also heading into voting weekend here in Australia. Who will it be? The redhead or the Speedo wearer? We are so spoiled for choice here in this country, tell ya.

Six or Less. Egad. So, there's a NY Times article that I read recently about a challenge that a couple of women in America started called Six Items or Less. The challenge lasted for 31 days and the "sixers", as they were called, had to wear those six, and only those six, items for the full 31 days.

Benefits being....?? Sixers found all kinds of 'benefits' to the challenge, including not being so stressed in the mornings about what they were going to wear. They stopped over-thinking their ensemble for the day (seeing as there was none).... and the conclusion was that because they could take this off the mental agenda, they had more brain space for more important things.

Best part of the day.... Maybe that's so. I find that so fascinating. Y'see, I love getting dressed in the morning. Sometimes it's the best part of my day - things can sometimes go downhill from there. So, taking that away the choosing of what to wear in the mornings might actually be a negative for me.

I'll take black. Oh, and another black. And could you throw in one more black.... Here's what else is fascinating about the Six Items or Less thingo: the items people chose to include for their 31 days. The ones that were showcased as part of the media piece (and can be found on their site) were all basics. Plain, neutral colours (lotsa black) + plainly constructed items. No fru-fru skirts in fuchsia. No zebra print jeans. No thigh-length leather jackets in sunshine yellow. The items people chose seemed to be a lot like these:

  • black t-shirt or tank top

  • black jeans or pants

  • black dress or skirt

  • black jacket or blazer

  • blue jeans or shorts

  • white or semi-neutral t-shirt (and by semi-neutral I mean those perennially safe colours such as a blue or pale pink t-shirt)

There's a theme to those six items, isn't there? A definite consistency, I note, in those items. The presence of items in the colour range near or approximating "black" is possibly the most note-worthy thing (a bit like the collection of black items in the photo accompanying this piece, really). I wonder if that's because the ladies who started this challenge are New Yorkers? They like a lot of black there, in the Big Apple, don't they? A bit like Melbourne in that regard. Not a lot of duck-egg blue overcoats in Melbourne, I noted, when I was there over the last 10 days. Except for mine, of course.

Jazzed up. It should be added that "sixers" were allowed to bring in accessories to jazz up their outfits - belts, jewellery, tights, shoes, underwear -- these were excluded from the "six". And thank Manolo Blahnik for that, I say. You'd go rigid with boredom otherwise, wouldn't you?

Uniform? I asked some fabulous women lately about their shopping and 'working wardrobe' challenges. It was fascinating to hear what they had to say. Clothes are not just clothes - whether we love 'em or hate 'em, love or loathe shopping - clothing evokes emotions. Not sure that's true? I don't mind a bit of healthy skepticism, so that's ok. Get your mind around this one then:

One of the women who responded to my crafty questions said she found it tiring and frustrating to sort out her clothes for the day and was thinking of starting to wear a "uniform". You know, the same outfit every day. Like Wilma Flinstone or Betty Rubble from The Flinstones (no matter how many times you watch that show, Wilma's always wearing that white strapless number with the zigzag hem and those white beads in a choker necklace, isn't she?). Kinda like the "sixers" but even more austere - there'd be no choice at all in her daily wear.

Now who'd say something like that except someone who has a strong emotional response to clothing? Of course, she is more down the "loathe" end of the spectrum, granted. But she's far from neutral. She cares about clothes - it's just in the form of abhorrence than adoring.

More deviance please! That kind of undeviating consistency in daily outfit choice isn't for me. I don't want to wear a daily uniform, or feel the need to evacuate that part of my morning routine by removing all choice in what I wear on a daily basis. I love clothes and enjoy the variety, choice and diversity that a large wardrobe provides.

But I say - go uniform (or "sixer") if you want to. What's the worst that could happen? Well, according to the sixers who participated in the 31-day challenge, some people close to them (like husbands, and workmates who sat next to them every day) didn't even notice they were wearing the same gear, day after day.

Which says to me: dressing for the day should be about you -- expressing and informing some essential element of you-ness. Not about dressing for others. Now, I realise that the entire Real Housewives reality TV franchise would fall into a pit of oblivion if more women lived their lives on that principle. But I don't care about them. I care about you. So, wear six items for a month, wear 66 or 366. Just don't wear 666. It's bad luck. Right?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Too Cool

Welcome and greetings from a brisk 6 degrees in Melbourne. We're up to blog #64 and in a recent weekend magazine piece, the fashion editor was talking about fashion trends. It struck me as being a particularly fascinating and perhaps over-looked perspective about this thing called fashion. She was talking about the early-adopters of fashion trends and how they are often too cool for school.

Here's what Rachel Wells from The Age had to say in this piece:

Take it away, Rachel: "It occurred to me recently that people are often ostracised just as much for being [too] fashionable as they are for being unfashionable..... it seems people are equally amused by those who jump on the latest fashion craze as they are by those trapped in some kind of fashion time warp. This only really struck me the other morning when I caught myself chuckling at a young guy on his way to the tram stop wearing a pair of black leggings, a tailored sports jacket complete with a hood and an over sized woollen snood. He was the most "on trend" guy I'd seen in weeks, yet there I was giggling like a school girl".
Snood - but only if it's over sized. The photo to the right was as close as I could find that might be what Ms Wells encountered at the tram stop. Note the oversize snood. I didn't even know what a snood was until I Googled it last night. Let alone know that they come in sizes up to "over-sized". One would imagine a "regular" would be sufficient, right? Clearly not.

I was so relieved this piece. I've mused before about my view of those extravagant haute coutre fashion shows and what their real purpose surely must be. I've scratched my head at fashion merchandising, wondering about what's in and why. I have wondered why we are collectively manhandled by the fashion world into striving to constantly be "in fashion" which translates to constantly be "in consumption". Does it ever become too much?
Clearly, the answer is yes. Not only does it translate into over sized snoodling, which can't be good for you on a constant basis. But it translates into over sized credit card bills as well. Combined together, this has got to be deadly.

Meaning.... In all my musing on this blog, one thing I have never questioned is that clothes mean something. Clothes don't mean everything, sure, but they mean more than nothing. Why else is Australia having a debate right now, at the highest political levels, about the wearing of the burqa? Both the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard (at the time of writing), and the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, were last night on the documentary granddaddy of them all, Four Corners, both commenting on the "burqa issue".

Laughing and pointing. No thanks. Back to Ms Wells of The Age. She says that she doesn't want to be laughed at behind her back or pointed at in public for being so fashion forward that she looks like she may be off to a steam punk costume party. Many, including my good self, would relate to that (so few of us these days actually enjoy being the object of abject ridicule - where has our fighting spirit gone?).

Fashionable? Or is that ridiculous? I can't quite tell.....So, where does the line between being fashionable end and being ridiculous start? I wonder if being fashionable is achievable, it's so elusive and capricious.... Trying to be constantly in fashion is like being inside a tornado - you never know which way and when the wind will turn, and if you'll end up with a flatbed truck landing on top of you. Metaphorically speaking, of course. I'm fairly certain that constantly being in fashion is not desirable. It's just the wrong thing to be striving for.

Expression... or delusion...And where is the line between self-expression and self-delusion (accompanied by bleatings of baaaa-baaa, in a sheep-like fashion)? I want to be me, just not a ridiculous version of me (if I'm going to be ridiculous, clothes should not be the reason for it - there are much funner ways to be absurd). I want to be current, but not so "bang on trend" I look ludicrous or so keen to be fashionable that all identity is lost. An oversize snood may very well cover up more than just the lower part of your face.

I want my clothes to express and inform who I am - they shouldn't dictate or confine. I mean, isn't that the happy purpose of clothes?

As I puzzle on this, and the temperature climbs to a staggering 9 degrees Celsius here on this glorious Melbourne morning, I'm sure of one thing. Well, two things. My home address and phone number. And an oversize woollen snood is probably not going to be part of my future. Right?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

8 Months!

Hello and welcome from a chilly Melbourne to blog #63. Today is the official Month 8 mark of the challenge. I think I'm getting into the swing of it now....

I love coming to Melbourne. Apart from the very shallow reasons of I get to wear my winter boots and overcoats for longer than 10 minutes (which is about how long you can stand to wear them in Queensland before your feet and body turn into blocks of fire), but I get to experience something closer to the season we call Winter. It gets fairly cold here in Melbourne - about 10 degrees Celsius during the day. Throw in howling wind and driving rain and the weather really does become quite fascinating!

So am having a divine time here in Melbourne, negotiating the wind and wearing my woollen overcoat. I was out and about in Collingwood the other day and in one of the many used bookstores, I came across the book that illustrates this posting (left, or above, or where it is located here). How's that? Not only are there 50 shoes that changed the world (who knew?) but someone wrote about it!

Like I did at the Official Month 4 mark of the challenge (remember blog #31?), today seemed a good day to do a review of the last few months. We'll pick up from Month 5 (since the now-classic blog #31 took us up to the end of Month 4 - you can do a quick review of Months 1 through 4 by clicking here, then you'll be ready to take on the review of Months 5 - 8!).

In Month 5, I was in the lead up to my birthday and a one month trip to New Zealand. I blogged about mixing and matching -- a key to "shopping your wardrobe". I took you into my private packing world with Pack it Baby! and when we arrived in Auckland, I wrote about the City of Sales (or Sails, as they insist on spelling it). I had a moment of Near Misses and Misplaced Fear, and I got courageous with Going In - this was also when I first identified with the seagulls in Finding Nemo, a theme I have come back to a couple of times since then. I had my first television appearance on May 5 and blogged about that in blog #37. And I finished the month by waxing lyrical about What's In and Why, leaving us collectively pondering where our own sense of style comes into the equation. Surely, we're not all at the mercy of the fashionistas who determine the trends and merchandise them relentlessly. Right?

Month 6 and I had turned a psychological corner -- I was sure that clothing stores were not the enemy, and I'd had some experiences to back up this developing belief. I'd actually gone into some stores and discovered that I did have the willpower to appreciate what was on display without purchasing or leaving sans-purchase but with a feeling of regret. This felt like progress! I blogged about Napier, the world-wide capital of Art Deco Style. I talked about how I had to be me in Just Looking. I identified 3 kinds of Not Quite New Shopping. We arrived home from New Zealand and I invited you into my arrival home in the ground-breaking Unpack Me! post.

One of my favourite, like ever, posts was written (blog #43) on What Do Clothes Mean? toward the end of May, followed by the final post of the month where I mused about the world of fashion shows in It's Art. It was a prolific writing time for me, and I continued in June with a whimsical post about recycling - Recycled - Buy It Here!, then did a Quick Review of my favourite and most popular posts written so far.

The last post of Month 6 marked the half-way mark of the challenge, and I reflected on the challenge so far here. I wrote about what I'd noticed was how the emotional and psychological parts of the challenge were really the essence of it. Sure, the "not" part (not going shopping) was what was obvious. But the real juice lay just out of line of sight. Who needs Le Carre, Childs and Cornwell when you've got this stuff. Right?

Month 7 and we were sneaking up on Winter here in Australia. In Go Shoppa! I shared some of the studies and statistics that have been unearthed about women and shopping - shocking stuff. On May 10 I was back in New Zealand for a command TV appearance, this time on the Good Morning Show. I also had a boring shopping experience that somehow seemed worth writing about.

Winter proper had arrived -- not only from a seasonal perspective but an emotional one as well. I had some tough times in mid July and blogged about them in Emotions Go Shopping and The Princess Bride. I picked up the theme of a previous topic with Not Quite New Shopping - Clothing Exchanges, rounding out the 4th kind of shopping that doesn't involve buying new. A fun post in New Old Shoes had me musing on the exact rules of the challenge, concluding that gifted and swapped items were allowed. Reasonable. Right?

Month 8 started off with the insightful Exit Here - Via Your Visa. Stuck for ideas, I wrote the forgettable Same Old but New Somehow post which I wont even link to, it's that ordinary. Another favourite post came along in 5 Things I'd Tell You - a round-up of my accumulated wisdom garnered from being on the challenge, which may contain some surprising ideas. I had an emotional Breakthrough toward the end of July -- something I would not have thought possible 7.5 months ago. This which was good, because Today Tonight (the evening magazine TV show on Network Seven here in Australia) came to acquire some footage for a show they're doing on recovering shopaholics. As at the time of writing (yep, on this very day, here in Melbourne), the story is yet to go to air, but I'll keep you posted! I finished up July by giving a Working Definition of "Shop Your Wardrobe", identifying the building blocks of a working wardrobe. It was killer.

Into August we collectively travelled, and I gave some reasons why 12 months without shopping could fulfil your life in ways unimaginable, and why others who had attempted this (the good GAAD people) may have had such trouble with a challenge like this. I wrote about Ange's experience of Skinny Jeans and Poor Service, which boggles the brain. And I finished up Month 8 by devising a definition of Conscious Shopping. All in all, a pretty rich and random set of posts. Right?

Rules schmules? There are rules to writing, and blog writing has its own set of niche norms. Blogs are springing up everywhere, on every conceivable topic, written by citizen journalists all over the world who want to share! Have you noticed?

I try not to follow too many of those writing rules when I sit down to blog twice a week here. This blog is intentionally diary-style and a record of my own experiences, filtered through my particular personality and psychological twitches. When I write about things that may help you (the building blocks of a working wardrobe for instance), I'm reminding myself as much as sharing with you.

I know I'm probably offending the blogging gods somewhere somehow with this approach. I also hope I'm delighting you, dear reader. At least some of the time. I hope that by just being me, that I'm connecting with you. That's the leap of faith I take every time I write like this. Because if I can't be me, and the me I am isn't able to connect with you, then the only reasonable response is to fall to the floor in a foetal position. And that can't be right.

Plus, who's going to make the dinner and bring in the washing? Challenging to do that from the foetal position on the floor. So I continue to be me and live in hope that this is working for you as much as it is for me. Right?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Conscious Shopping

Well it's a rather dreary looking Tuesday morning here in the Sunshine State. I'm off to Melbourne in a few short hours and have stopped by here to give you blog #62. Today I thought we'd chat a bit about Conscious Shopping.

What is it? Well, many things probably. Well, at least two. Their definition and mine ('their' being those other than me). I've heard some people refer to conscious shopping as being about buying 'green' -- clothes that are not industrially dyed or manufactured using slave or child labour, that kind of thing. These kinds of clothes would carry the warning: "no bamboo was harmed during the making of this garment". And I like that definition of conscious shopping. It's just not my definition.

My Definition. Remember blog #59 when I gave a Working Definition of Shop Your Wardrobe? (well, it's hard to forget, I know). Expanding on the pearls I laid before you in that post, shopping consciously would encompass the following:
  • You have a plan, a strategy, an overarching r'aison d'etre for going shopping. There is no randomness to the shopping trip where you wander listlessly from rack to rack, with no clear thought about what it is you're looking for. For some of you, this element of Shopping Consciously alone will change how you shop.

  • You have done some pre-playing in your wardrobe and know what you need. You've done a bit of a wardrobe chuck-out and have identified any legitimate gaps in what you have and what you need. This may have taken you a whole day or 10 minutes. However long it took, you didn't just leap into the car and point it in the direction of a shopping centre with no further thought. You got some "good intel" before going shopping. And you got it from your own wardrobe (and brain).

  • Once purchased, the items on your shopping list will fit your lifestyle and will also play nicely with at least 3 other items, if not the entire closet. This way, you will not be bringing home any 'orphans' that don't go with anything else (or require additional items to be purchased to make them work -- see last post on Ange's jeans shopping debacle)

  • During your shopping expedition, you keep a focused head about you. You know what you're there to buy, and you keep that Front And Centre. This is not to say that you don't enjoy all the lovely other things on display. You just don't want to be a sitting duck, vulnerable to every alluring table display and group of mannequins displaying gorgeous things that you don't need. Stop - admire - even try on. But keep focused on what you're there for.

  • If you do find something gorgeous that's not part of your strategy (ie: not on the list) and you are Seriously Considering buying it, that's ok. Just make sure it ticks ALL of these boxes: Does the colour suit me? Does the style flatter my body shape? Does the item fit my lifestyle? Will I be able to wear it with at least 3 other things already in my wardrobe? Will it be relatively easy to care for (ie: no hand washing or dry-cleaning every time you wear it)? Does it fit well or can it be easily altered? Does my bum look big in this? (well, every woman asks herself that last question as a matter of course, don't they? Even if they're trying on shoes)

Shop less, but more. Really! I'd suggest that you are better of going shopping 2 - 4 times a year, consciously, than once every week or so, randomly. This way, you shop based on your "intel" (do a wardrobe review and chuck-out - then build your list of Must Haves -- not the seasonal must haves, mind. No. These are your must haves) -- not based on what the fashion merchandisers are flaunting right at this moment.

So go shopping less often, but for longer. You'll need a longer shopping trip because you've got specific and numerous things to purchase. You devote more time to the expedition, but you come home with only what you need.

This way, shopping fits into its proper place. It isn't a hobby or a contact sport. And in the end, this approach will save you time. Woooo - saved time! Isn't that what half the women's magazines (and a quarter of the men's) are saying we are all desperately short of? Well, here's a way to scrape some of it back!

When you shop this way, you enjoy shopping, but it doesn't become your life (your life is too important to devote to shopping).

Switch to the ON position. Shopping consciously implies that your brain is switched to the ON position. I say that with the greatest affection, you know. I have often been shopping with my brain switched to the NEUTRAL position. That "there but not there" state of vagueness where you are actually hyper-suggestible and therefore likely to come home with a few more bags and a few more pages on your credit card bill.

Please don't go shopping in that state. The only people that that's good for are unscrupulous retailers who are only interested in volume sales - not developing loyal customers who go home thrilled with their purchases.

If you are too tired, too overwraught, too stresesed, too whatever -- don't go shopping. The temporary pick-me-up it provides wont last anyway, and it'll be accompanied by some "below the line" feelings of guilt and "oh no, now I have to go return this thing anyway".

Only go shopping when you are feeling alert and energetic. Pay attention to what's going on around you, and what's going on inside you. Yes, let's get all woo-woo for a moment here. If something doesn't feel right, it probably won't work for you - so pay attention as much attention to your instincts as you do to the sales staff. Maybe more.

You know when your brain is switched to the ON position, and when it's not. Only go shopping when it's ON.

Investigate other options. Instead of always hitting the mall or large shopping centre, you might want to consider new but not new options (which I talked about here and here. And remember consignment shopping - it's the best!). Including this type of shopping, and those types of stores, into your shopping expeditions will add some colour and variety and fun. You'll likely find some unique treasures, and not just the mass produced stuff on sale in the big department and chain stores.

It's worth it. You're worth it. If you've been a serious shopper, someone who shopped regularly, and randomly, then developing some new habits around how you shop will take a bit of time. Shopping consciously is where you want to be, though, so stick with it until you can shop this way easily.

Shopping consciously will save you money and time and it'll also save your sanity in the long run. And we all need a little more of those, don't we. Right?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Skinny Jeans and Poor Service

Hello dear reader and welcome to a glorious winter Friday. Here we are at blog #61. This week, my friend Ange was telling me about a shopping experience she had. It boggled my brain so much, I asked her if I could tell you about it. "Sure", she said. So here it is.

Ange wanted a pair of jeans. Not just any pair of jeans, but jeans with particular style elements. Ange is a beautiful 29 year old with two gorgeous little boys and an adoring husband (with a broken foot, but that's another story). Ange knows a bit about her style - she likes black, she likes bold colours, she knows a lot about make-up. And she knows what looks good on her body and, possibly more importantly, what does not.

One sunny day last week, Ange went jeans shopping. She chose a national jeans store, thinking that they would not only stock a large range of jeans, but that their staff would be knowledgeable. About jeans.

Wrong. On both counts.

Here is what Ange was looking for:

  1. jeans were to cover and slim her hip/thigh area. I'd guess that 4.7 women out of 5 are looking for this particular design feature, so it didn't seem unreasonable to imagine that would be a tick! no problem, madam, would you like that in dark, stone, or ripped?

  2. jeans were to lengthen and slim the leg. Few of us actually resemble in any physical way the models we see sporting the jeans we end up buying. Those models are all 7ft tall (everyone knows that, right?). So this also seemed like a design feature that was not altogether unexpected

  3. jeans were not to gape at the back. Few women would enter a jeans store and say "well, I don't care what colour or style they are. But they absolutely positively must gape at the back so that my underwear is visible from the cab of any passing 18-wheeler, ok?". Another check in the box of Reasonable Request

  4. jeans were to be dark denim. As you can now get jeans in colours from Prussian blue to sand-blasted to 'destroyed' denim and silver jeans. Dark denim seemed a fairly easy-to-find quality in a jean

  5. jeans were to have some shaping quality to them. This is one of the advances in fabric and garment construction that those of us with less than stick-like figures have benefited from. What you see on the outside may be a virtual magic trick made possible by the shaped panels inside the garment.

  6. jeans were to be in stretch fabric. Since we've all been wearing Lycra-infused garments since Brooke Shields first exhorted us to not let anything come between us and our CKs, this didn't seem unreasonable to request either

Ok, I'm sure you've got the picture. Ange was fairly specific in what she wanted. But also not an unreasonable set of design requirements. I have 3 pair of jeans (out of a total of 14 pair) that fit those exact specifications. Two of them are from Target, I might mention.

The sales person "assisting" Ange brought out a pair of jeans that closely resemble those in the photo accompanying this article. No exaggeration. Promise.

Apart from the dark denim bit (requirement #4), they possessed none of the design features Ange asked for.

"They look great!". What happened next is even more astonishing. Ange is standing there, looking like she's been poured into these jeans, and the sales person exclaims "oh, they look great on you!". At this point, Ange began to wonder if this young woman didn't have some kind of visual impairment. There was no possible way that the words "great" and "you" could be applied to the vision of Ange in those jeans.

When Ange protested that she didn't feel good, or didn't feel she looked good, the response was "oh, well you could wear a longer top, and a little ankle boot" (yes, the jeans were wrong from both ends - with muffin top and cankles appearing as if from thin air. Doing wonders for Ange's self esteem, into the bargain).

Ange responded that she didn't want to have to adjust her entire wardrobe to be able to make the jeans "work" (although she felt that nothing short of an amputation was likely to make that happen in a hurry).

Less confidence in sales staff. Ange walked out of the store jeans-less. She told me that the entire experience left her less confident in sales staff in general. "Even if I do need help, when I walk into a store and someone asks if they can help, I say no. Because I don't trust their advice". How sad is that?

And the answer is... behind door number 3 of course! The answers are obvious. Here's a few I made up just now:

  • sales staff need to be knowledgeable. And not just about the product their store is selling, but about their customers. If you are selling clothing to real human beings, you need to know a bit about the human body shapes that exist. And what looks good on the various human body shapes. And that's not even getting into colour or personality dressing. And here's a bonus free tip: skinny hipster jeans do not look good on real curvy women of any height (and I'm not talking 'Hollywood curvy' there).

  • sales staff need to be focused on the customer, not on selling stock off the floor. This is sheer heresy to some retailers, I know. Ange said that when she was working in retail, they had the 7 Steps to a Sale, from "greet the customer" through to ringing up the sale. The focus was on selling the product, not on helping the customer. And YES, of course they should be the same thing. But how many times have you walked out of a store and wondered if they even saw you, let alone were focused on helping you? (If you can get staff under 21 off their hand-held electronic devices long enough to even notice that you've entered the store, you're doing well).

  • sales staff need to have the judgement and communication skills to provide honest input to customers. If you are selling clothing to real human beings, you need to be able to ascertain (in your best judgement) if the item is flattering to that person. Then you need to be able to express that viewpoint with diplomacy and courtesy. If everything "looks great on you!", then you know the sales person has no idea and their comments are on automatic loop.

  • sales staff need to be able to offer options to customers. If you are selling clothing to real human beings, you need to not only be able to provide an opinion on how flattering the current garment is on them, but offer them options if it's not. This usually requires a brain switched to the ON position.

  • sales staff need to do all this so that the customer walks out happy. And does not come back, unhappy and having complained to as many people as will listen, to return the item. A happy customer will not only tell lots of people about their experience, but they will become a loyal customer.

Now if you walked into a store and were assisted by a sales team member like that, wouldn't that be a treat? Wouldn't you be telling anyone who'd listen long enough all about it? Wouldn't you become a loyal customer? I sure would. Well, if I were still shopping, which I'm not right now. Naturally.

So, Ange is still looking for a pair of jeans. If only she were my size, she could have a pair of mine. Right?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

12 Months Without - what?

Hi there and welcome to blog #60. If you are new here, it's great to see you and I hope you'll stick around and have a look at what I've been up to. This blog is written diary-style, I write on whatever's on my mind when fingers hit the keyboard, and on a variety of topics that relate to being on this challenge.

So you're new and want to know shat I write about here? All kinds of stuff gets written here! Feel free to read all 60 posts. Some are more gripping than others, for sure. In case you don't want to read each and every one in chronological order, here's a high level sketch of some of the things I write about here:

  • Sometimes I write about the fashion world or the marketing/merchandisers who lure us into purchasing new items that we may, or may not, need or even want.

  • Sometimes I wrote about shoppers and shopping centres.

  • Sometimes I write about various challenges or successes or I'm having on (or ways I'm coping with) the challenge.

  • Sometimes I write about observations I've made about shopping from being out and about.

  • Sometimes I write about TV shows (fiction and documentary) or movies and their relationship to this challenge.

  • I've been fortunate enough to have some media attention and I write about that, too.

  • Sometimes I write about the building blocks to creating a working wardrobe, like colour and mixing and matching. I'll be writing more about the other building blocks, too, soon (like conscious shopping and style & shape)

  • Sometimes I write about ways to inject something new into your wardrobe, without buying new (or buying anything). Like here, here and here.

  • Sometimes I write about what I've learned or I'll stop and do a review, just so we can collectively catch our breath.
Doing it Yourself. Today I'm writing specifically to those of you who are seriously thinking about doing this challenge. As in, joining up with me, clicking that big orange button, and having their own Year Without Shopping.

Why do 50% fail? The Great American Apparel Diet is a no-shopping-for-one-year challenge that anyone could participate in (an American lady named Sally started it), and quite a lot of people signed up for it. The GAAD started on 1 September 2009 and (no matter when you started) it finishes at the end of this month (which is amazing timing, because that's about when our membership program will open its doors. But we're not talking about that just yet - that's coming up in a paragraph or two).

The New York Times recently ran an article about PLUs who are doing extreme things like not shopping for clothes for a year, or only existing on 6 items of clothing for a year. Seems to be a hot topic right now.

What the NY Times reported was that half of the GAAD people dropped out of that challenge. Including Sally's sister. The GAAD website doesn't mention anything about this, but I am wondering about the reasons why so many people could not see the challenge through.

Here's my best guesses:

  • the challenge is simply too hard -- habits were too entrenched, temptation is too irresistible, sales were too pervasive. Willpower is not just the name of an Australian racing car driver, although it may be just as elusive.

  • the challenge was too isolating -- despite there being a good few people who joined the challenge, maybe it felt too Robinson Crusoe to some folks. Not too many of us can remain stimulated and enthused when working in a vacuum. On something really hard.

  • the challenge didn't offer enough support. It may have felt that the challenge was not just all-on-your-ownsome, but doing it without a net as well. Hard to keep on keeping on when it feels like there's no-one there to catch you if you fall. Or even notice.

  • there weren't enough distractions or new ideas. Bribery and distraction work for toddlers in supermarkets, and they work for adults, too. You can't just take something away and not replace it with something. Well, not if you want it to work. You've got to fill up the now-empty space with something else. Preferably something good.

  • the focus was on "doing without". This feeds into the human fear of scarcity -- never having, or being, enough. Which is not a life-enriching or spirit-lifting aura to surround yourself with.

Now, who knows if these things affected any of those 50% of good GAAD people who didn't make it. Maybe halfway through the challenge, they all got jobs at Calvin Klein and got massive staff discounts. We may never know, and thank Jimmy Choo for a bit of mystery, I say.

So, does this mean that 12 month challenges are too hard to stick with? No, no, no, and no! They can work... (well, they do - 50% of the good GAAD people stuck with it, right? And let's not forget me - it's working for me, too). Here are the things that need to be in place to make it work.

1. support. You gotta know that there's a helping hand, a bit of tough love, and possibly a large polo mallet (gently and infrequently applied) that will be activated to help keep you going. And someone will notice if you fall of the wagon.

2. inspiration. You gotta know that there'll be new ideas, distraction and large amounts of cavity-inducing chocolate available to get you thinking and feeling differently about your wardrobe, your shopping habits, and yourself.

3. guidance. You gotta know that someone who's qualified, experienced and has a more than adequate grasp of the English language is going to offer you some juice on how to do things differently. And by that, I mean better.

The 12 month program we've got going has all that in spades. I told you a bit about the experts we're attracting to the program in the last blog. When you join the 12 month My Year Without Clothes Shopping program, I'll

  • make it as easy as it's possible to be

  • make it fun and fulfilling

  • make it inspiring and practical

  • be with you the entire time

  • remind you that if I can do it, you can, too

That's the deal. Check it out. Decide for yourself. Click the big orange button. We'll still be friends, no matter what you decide. Right?