Every wardrobe in the land contains a lesson in humility

Serena Mackesy casts a shop-worn eye over a seasonal obsession
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The Independent Online
Shopping is my ideal abreactive therapy. There was a therapist called Honig, vogueish in the Seventies, who used to sit on unco-operative patients. He weighed about 200lb.

Oxford Street is a bit like that for me. If I suspect that my misanthropy may be slipping, all I need is a couple of hours in its heaving bosom and I'm cured. Selfridges alone receives around a million visitors in December; 34,482 a day if you do not count Christmas and Boxing Days.

And, passing through the doors of, say, the shopping centre at Thurrock Lakeside in Essex is like entering some prefabricated overspill of Hades. The underworld ran out of room some time around the Second World War: now they house us in Nissen huts.

Research into compulsive shopping has found that its victims - who are generally women - do it mainly to restore a sense of power, or to assert individuality. Which just goes to show what an unreasoned thing addiction is. I assert my power by believing advertisements. I assert my individuality by spending pounds 49.99 on a beaded top available in sizes 10, 12 and 14 in every branch of Next across the country from Taunton to Inverness.

Still, shopping is good for bringing the ego down to earth. There is no curative for conceit quite like the sight of your halogen-lit self hauling a pair of undersize trousers up your thighs.

Retailers are proficient at pressing our inadequacy buttons: inadequacy about income (other people can afford pounds 13.99 for a pair of socks), about our bodies (someone, somewhere, must look great in lemon), about our adventurousness (go on - of course you can wear a catsuit). There is no wardrobe in the land that does not contain at least one lesson in humility.

The more I shop, the more I realise that I don't do it to feel good, I do it to glean attachment to less venal pursuits. Those sporadic moments of triumph are massively outweighed by memories of reed-like teenagers pointedly smiling: "Sorry, that's the largest we do."

Just one day in retail arcadia, and I am ready for the therapist's chair - even Mr Honig's. That dilapidated semi in the suburbs looks increasingly appealing.

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