Rosie Millard: Thrifty Living

That one L'Oreal slogan has a lot to answer for
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The Independent Online

Spendthrift Janie comes charging over, her arms bulging with a dark blue bag. "I was in there at 9.30am," she yells. Where? "Where? Where? Gap, of course!" Oh, yes. The bargain of the week; a collection of dresses, done for Gap by Roland Mouret, at £75 a shot, which is bargain-basement, not in a Lidl way, but in a Roland Mouret way. After all, he designs for Scarlett Johansson, does he not?

"The woman at the counter said they had already sold 50," continues Janie. "So I bought three! Two for this winter and one for next year." Blimey. Hoarding clothes. How very un-Janie. "It's the latest thing, sweetie. Because everyone's going to be in them ALL WINTER. So keep them for next year. They'll still be fashionable but by then everyone will have forgotten about them." Laying down dresses is a bit like putting down wine. It might catch on. I look at the dresses. They are rather gorgeous. "Go on," urges Spendthrift Janie. "Go up to Gap. You deserve it."

Is there anything more dangerous to the debt-ridden individual than the D word? Saying, "Buy this because you Deserve it" is almost as bad as using the W word, by which I mean Worth. As in, "Because you're Worth it." The L'Oréal slogan has to be the catch-phrase of the credit-happy generation. It is basically like saying Open Sesame to your wallet, and hang the consequences. Try out this simple exercise. Simply stand before something you really, really want. But it must be something you don't really need, and clearly can't afford. Then you say, "But I'M WORTH IT!" Bingo! Two seconds later and you are suddenly in purchase mode! Works every time.

It should have the opposite effect. Telling yourself how fab you are should boost your confidence so that you suddenly don't need to spend money on clothes you don't need, in order to go to restaurants you don't like, to mingle in the company of people who bore you.

Convincing yourself of your own validity means that you convince yourself you are so fragile you need to be bolstered by huge amounts of Ronald Mouret dresses, L'Oréal hairspray and the rest of the high-street tat. Suddenly, because YOU ARE WORTH IT, you can't bear to be without anything. Shopping has become an activity whose importance overrides everything else; yea, even nasty letters from the Clydesdale Bank, even bounced cheques, even those humiliating moments of queue-jamming at the cashpoint when you try card after card, all to no avail.

A couple of other buying hooks have a similar strength. One is important birthdays. As in, "Go on, buy this! After all, he's only going to be 30/35/40/ 60 once, isn't he?" The other is weddings, either someone else's, or your own. Thousands of hapless brides are persuaded, annually, to buy those vile sugar-covered almonds in net bags merely because they have been reminded for the 1,200th time that it is Their Wedding. "Go on. It's YOUR WEDDING. And you only get married once, don't you?" says the simpering shopkeeper. The concept of the Worth and Uniqueness of a Wedding is so powerful that all sorts of rubbish gets marketed on the back of it. Even though we know one in three will collapse.

After Janie disappears in a flurry of kisses and dresses, I humbly walk up the road to my local Gap, driven by the sense of my own self-worth, my own deserving spirit. It's some way off 1 December but still, giant boards proclaim the Advent of The Gap Dress. Wow. There are only about 12 left. I am perfectly aware that by writing this I am only adding to the marketing power of the Gap Dress, but by the time this comes out there will be none left in London. I take one. Then I find another I like. And another, and another. God. They are all so lovely.

When I'm in the changing room I hear the following conversation between two of the Gap assistants.

Assistant 1: "Got any more red dresses?"

Assistant 2: "No."

A1: "Aren't you tempted by them?"

A2: "No."

A1: "Go on. You're worth it!"

A2: "No. One of those is a daily wage for me."

I creep out of the booth, humiliated. The next day I walk past the store. All the dresses have gone.

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