The human condition: Shopping therapy: why it's all in the mind

You are how you shop. There's no surer clue to the innermost personality, according to the four women on this page, than the way in which they buy their clothes. The Flea Marketeer prides herself on her free, original spirit, has a phobia about looking like anyone else and shops alone. The Impulse Buyer also sees herself as a confident decision-maker, but with a reckless streak - she can make an instant decision to spend pounds 500 on a pair of shoes and not regret it. The Planner Ahead, on the other hand, researches her purchases like a business proposal, applying ruthless logic and time-efficiency. The Sales Junkie is an expert in deferred gratification: she plays a patient, waiting game, then pounces when the desired object comes within her grasp (and budget). Fancy yourself as a shopping psychologist? Take a look at the photograph on the right and guess which one is which... Report by Sarah King

The Impulse Buyer

Judy Hesse is 45 and commutes between London and New York where she works as a PA to a successful musician. She spends about pounds 3,000 per season on clothes (pounds 1,000 per month)

"When you get to my age, you know what looks right. I have become adept at knowing what suits me and can buy something instantly, sometimes without even having to try it on. I am continuously looking for things, be it a really good jacket to match an existing pair of trousers or a whole new outfit. I suppose I am impulsive in every aspect of my life - I know now what I want and how to get it!

"I never throw things away, I find that the clothes I buy never seem to date, so my wardrobe now takes up the best part of the spare room. I am lucky that I can wear virtually what I want for work, but as I have got older, I prefer smart clothes anyway.

"I rarely buy in the sales as I am too lazy, but if I happen to be walking past a shop which has a sale on and I see something in the window, then I definitely might buy it. I prefer things that are original, so I have lots of Galliano, which I have collected over the years. I was one of the first to buy his clothes and loved them so much I went to work for him. I also like Jean Muir, Dolce and Gabbana, Martine Sitbon and Dries van Noten and have several pieces of each in my wardrobe.

"The most I've ever spent is pounds 1,500 on a Jean Muir, chocolate-brown coat and pounds 500 on a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes. Shoes are my passion and my friends call me Imelda because I have over 100 pairs of shoes."

Judy (above) wears a beige John Galliano trouser-suit, pounds 500 (bought in 1991), and bead necklace, pounds 250, by Nomad Jewellery. Silver flip-flops, pounds 90, by Charles Jourdan. Main picture, devore slip dress, pounds 180, (bought in 1993) by John Galliano, black bar shoes, pounds 380, by Prada.

Cai Ferrer is 27 and works as a media marketing executive for a record company and as a club promoter at the Cafe de Paris. She spends pounds 600 per season on clothes (pounds 200 per month)

"I always buy in the sales and I love a bargain. If I know I have got something which is under half price it gives me a terrific psychological boost. I would feel sick if I paid full price for anything. I guess I'm like that with everything, I also hate paying to get into clubs and tend to know people who will put me on the guest list. My favourite shops are Prada and The Dispensary, but I hate paying their prices so I only shop there twice a year in the sales! I am always on the lookout for a bargain.

Many of my friends work in fashion and they give me tips, or I look in Time Out or the Evening Standard for local sales listings.

"I went to New York in December just so that I could go to the sales there. I had to buy an extra bag (in the sale, of course) to bring all the clothes home. I bought a Tocca dress reduced to $150 from $400, French Connection jumpers reduced to $20 from $60 and three pairs of shoes for $15 each. I have two wardrobes, one for work and one for evenings, all of which I have bought in sales. You can virtually get everything you want if you wait long enough, so I know I am a patient person. I always take a friend with me for advice and I only buy classic items which will last."

Cai (above) wears black shirt, pounds 150 reduced to pounds 70, by Donna Karan, and black and white check skirt, pounds 60 reduced to pounds 9, by Charles Gray. Main picture, black strapless dress, pounds 400 reduced to pounds 200, by Prada

Mercedes Guttierez is 30 and works as a fashion stylist. She spends about pounds 325 a season on clothes (pounds 75 a month)

"Because of my job, I tend to go everywhere looking for clothes, but when it comes to buying for myself, I stick to what I like best: markets and thrift shops. Second-hand shops excite me more than shops like Browns because I know I am getting something original. I have a phobia about looking like everyone else and my idea of a nightmare would be turning up in the same dress as a friend at a party.

"I have got X-ray vision and can scan a rail in seconds. I recently bought a white suede coat just like the one in Joseph - it was in mint condition and I paid pounds 60 for it. I get such a buzz from finding things like that. I have been known to travel to car-boot sales on the M25 at 6am on Sunday mornings and to Rome for the flea markets. I always go alone. The best purchases I have made include a pair of Charles Jourdan shoes for pounds l, a black lace, slip dress for 50p (pictured here) and a navy pinstripe suit for pounds 15 (also pictured here). I am always broke because I am freelance but I would shop this way even if I had millions. I suppose the fact that I shop alone reveals how independent I am.

Mercedes (bottom left) wears navy pinstripe suit, pounds 15, from Camden market. Main picture, black lace dress, 50p, from a car-boot sale

Lucy Brazil is 33 and works long hours training to be a clinical oncologist. She spends about pounds 3,000 per season on clothes (pounds 1,000 a month)

"Because of my long hours and week-ends working, I am limited time-wise as to when and where I shop. I usually buy once a season and rely on late- night shopping (Wednesdays in Knightsbridge, Thursdays in the West End). My favourite haunts are Harvey Nicholas and Liberty, where all the designers are under one roof, but I also buy masses of Emporio Armani, Betty Jackson and Jean Muir.

"I usually buy two smart outfits, one for work and one for evenings. I do plenty of groundwork, looking at what other people are buying, rifling through magazines and then scouring the shops. I might try something on, go away and think about it and then come back, especially since I may spend between pounds 1,000 and several thousands on an outfit. I usually go alone, but if I am in two minds (usually over the evening wear) I will occasionally drag a trusted friend along for some advice.

"Because I spend so much time at work, my clothes have to be functional. I feel that appearance is important to feeling good."

Lucy (above) wears brown crepe jacket, pounds 600, by Jean Muir, black skirt, pounds 150, by Joseph and black suede flat shoes, pounds 150, by Emma Hope. Main picture, green Emporio Armani jacket, pounds 320, black wrap skirt, pounds 290, by Betty Jackson, and black suede boots, pounds 280, by Stephane Kelian.

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