When the shopping has to stop

HOW MANY pairs of black trousers does a girl need? Until a few weeks ago, I'd have said - as would nearly every woman - as many as she can cram in her wardrobe. And certainly plenty more than she can really afford.

That was before. Before I took myself to the sales and wandered aimlessly among rack after rack of wool, and wool with Lycra, and polyester with Elastane. Bootleg, straight-leg, hipsters, jeans. With pockets, without stirrups. Any which way, any price. And then came the Damascene conversion: who the hell needs this stuff anyway? The curious thing about this particular moment was that it seems to have been shared by just about half the population. Desire, endlessly stimulated, continually stoked by another skirt, a different jacket, a sensuous velvet little number, is dying all around us.

The economists tell us that we are teetering on the brink of recession; that shoppers have forsaken Marks & Sparks, Laura Ashley, the Body Shop and all those other familiar high street names, fearful of the future. Retailers banking on the public indulging in a spending spree at the January sales after staying at home in the run-up to Christmas have been sorely disappointed.

That's just half the story, as any browse in those shops will tell you. True, we are more cautious now: those dreadful days at the end of the Eighties when we were all mortgaged to the hilt and got caught up in the mire of negative equity and credit-card debt taught us a lesson few will forget. Then there's the rampaging 'flu bug, and the weather hasn't helped: who wants to squelch through Oxford Street in the driving rain?

But something else is happening in those shops that were once so beguiling with their clever lighting, seductive designs, and mirrors carefully placed to reflect a dozen images of the new you. It's as if we have tired of the game; we have grown used to the tricks of the retail trade, which pumps up the changing-room heating in the winter to delude you into buying the little spring numbers. The familiar names that once promised a little pick-me-up by way of a softly draped white shirt now breed only contempt. We've grown up to realise that retail therapy was not about need at all; it was all about want, want, want. Our palate is jaded, our appetite is sated and it's time to quit the shopping mall. Evidence that the canny customer is not so much fretting about the impending recession but is fed up with conspicuous consumption is to be found in people's spending patterns. Disillusionment with the instant fix of fashion is not matched by a general souring of mood when it comes to spending. People are still buying foreign holidays, for example. People might have had enough of Nike trainers, but they still want to speed across the oceans, if only for two weeks each summer. Holidays, after all, are a time to unwind and escape from the treadmill of modern life. And nothing is more draining, more demeaning than the treadmill of spend, spend, spend.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the picture is very different. Americans are still spending all that they earn, and much more besides. While we save nearly 10 per cent of our pay, in the United States they spend as fast as they can borrow. For the Financial Times, the only response to this is: praise be. The paper saluted Americans recently as the consumers of last resort, who were doing their bit to maintain global prosperity.

Prosperity, maybe, but to the individual shop-till-you-drop retail addict, chasing the dragon of consumption does not do a jot of lasting good. Having money clearly makes life easier. Lottery winners, for instance, show an initial change in their well-being. But after a short time, they are as glum or as happy as they were before their numbers came up.

Trying to be happier - particularly through spending money - is as futile as trying to change your life by wearing stacked heels or losing a stone. You are merely responding to someone else's perception of you. The fashion designer, the magazine, the television show says you must be trendier, thinner and taller. For far too long we have accepted the biggest trick in the book - that living in a society with endless choice, be it in black trousers or television channels, is about enjoying freedom. But choice has now taken over our lives to such an extent that it has become a tyranny.

Few of us would wish for a world where there was no choice; where we could only dream of a bottle of perfume, rather than enjoy spending a day at the shops, picking one, then preferring another. But, as the empty stores proclaim this winter, here in Britain some of us have had enough of it. Endless choice, the gluttony of consumerism, only served to make us slaves to having it all.

So, sorry Nicole Farhi, Sir Bernard Ashley and St Michael. Quite a few of us won't be back this spring. The sartorial dreams you peddle remind me of the emperor's new clothes. They were a con. Instead, real liberty is the end of desire and the search for simplicity.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

    £30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

    Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

    £40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

    Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

    £30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

    Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

    £35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game