The Stages Of Lockdown Shopping

By Lucy Harbron - 17:43

DISCLAIMER : I recognise how extremely lucky I am to have been working from home throughout all this. Being able to even consider your relationship with shopping is obviously a huge display of privilege and I see that.

During the earlier months of lockdown, I read a really interesting piece on ManRepeller. Two of their editors were debating whether dressing is only satisfying when people see you, and consequently how our relationship with clothes has changed in a time when we were seeing no one but our housemates, and the people behind the till at Tesco.

We all tried but failed to make waist-up dressing a thing before resigning ourselves to the fact that dressing up for Zoom is wildly unsatisfying. Denim across the country lost its purpose (nothing could get us to do up that top button) and bras became a thing of the past. ManRepeller made good arguments on both sides; talking about wanting to dress to make yourself feel better vs feeling uninspired by creating watered-down versions of outfits that always end up being paired with slipper socks. I’m still not sure where I stand as I’ve managed to get properly dressed every day of lockdown, but I’ve also felt totally bored of my wardrobe, desperate for a chance to get dressed for real, but then feeling silly every time I walk into my living room with a belt on. The interesting thing for me has been our changing relationship to shopping; is getting new things still satisfying when you have no idea when someone else might get to see it? Do you still get that same new clothes feeling when you just wear them on another day at your makeshift home desk?

My lockdown shopping habits moved through three distinct phases, tracing a line that roughly correlated to my general feelings about my life. Riding the ups and downs of excitement towards being at home, guilty cosiness and the inevitable self-analysis, symptomatic of so much time alone. I look around at these new things that feel scribbled over with feelings of hazy, lost months - I start to realise how my purchasing habits are so intrinsically tied to my mood.

Dress - House of Sunny
Candles - Cire Trudon
Candle Holders - Dark Paradise Vintage
Necklace - Made by Frankie

To my right, candles are burning in vintage holders...

At the start of lockdown I was giddy, maybe naïve, and a little bit delusional. The end of March and start of April saw me understanding what all the Depop fuss was about, as I spent my extra hour in the morning scrolling sleepily. The money saved from my commute threatened to finally throw me into deep, luxury waters - a sea I’ve dipped my toes in as I write about luxury for work, but never dived in with a purchase. The money saved felt huge as my outgoings were suddenly stripped back to nothing but a weekly food shop, coffees from my local cafe, and the occasional takeaway. But I still couldn’t bring myself to purchase one big expensive thing; my purchases from early lockdown seem to reflect the Lana Del Rey, silk dressing gown in the corridor, Rapunzel in the castle vibes I was feeling as I sunk into my new routine of breakfast in bed am, wine in the bath pm. I bought nice candles and antique holders, a fresh stack of books, added flowers to my weekly shopping list and invested in a nice facemask; all things that were non-returnable and certain to improve my life, drowning in the capitalist image of glorious self-care in the first month of global chaos.

March to April, I bought very little in terms of fashion. With post offices shutting, my body dysmorphia wasn’t up to the panic that comes with trying to predict sizes, so my purchases were limited to hairclips, headbands and one dress. You could say that my insistence on slipping pearl clips into my hair every morning, long after work had given up on having webcams on for meetings, was a clear sign that I dress and shop for me. However, the House of Sunny dress sitting in my wardrobe relatively untouched would say the opposite. The more I think about it, the more I have to accept that a lot of my shopping habits are tied into a desire for affirmation, not so much compliments but more assurance. As someone that struggles with body image and insecurity, pretty much all of my new wardrobe additions are signed off by someone else, giving me assurance that yes it looks cute, no you look fine. Without someone with me to do that, the House of Sunny dress that I’m so in love with on the hanger, now feels trapped in that new-outfit-insecurity feeling, you know the consciousness as you walk to a bar in a new item before your friends say you look nice? Despite it being a beautiful piece from a brand I’ve wanted to add into my wardrobe for a long time, being a unique cut and not being able to go out and do a twirl for people I love and trust has definitely affected my relationship with it, one that hasn’t altered three months and one wear later.

Hairclips - July Child
Perfume - Bella Freud
Cardigan - Zara (similar here)

I love my cardigan and nothing else...

Lockdown has put my Zara cropped cardigan through some shit, being worn approx. three days out of every seven between March and July. Paired with a bralet and either black tailored trousers orundone jeans, I found a perfect midground to the dressing debate as I spent each day in an item that was both stylish and comfortable. As a piece that is complimented a lot and has been a firm favourite in my wardrobe for a while, a lot of my later shopping habits felt like attempts to recreate the relationship me and my cardigan had created in isolation, so much so that I ordered the same thing in a different colour. Once the dust had begun to settle and I found an open post office, I started to dabble cautiously in online shopping, trying to only order things I was certain of and working to fill gaps in my wardrobe, not branch out. I had no desire to go wild, maybe a suggestion that I sided more with ManRepeller’s Harling - having no longing to try out anything new or put too much effort into an outfit that no one would see. While I still got slightly more dressed up on the weekends, indulging in a silly habit of applying a full face of makeup just to take my daily walk, my outfits all followed foolproof recipes with proven pre-lockdown success. My relationship with shopping here saw me buying things like another cardigan, white jeans I’d been after for a while, a replacement to my favourite graphic t-shirt, and investing in a pair of Docs sandals. My only slightly more out-there purchase was a pair of lilac loafers which have become one of my most worn things, probably because of a newfound love for easily put on shoes. But when the novelty of my saved money wore off, and I finally forced myself to start doing something more productive with my extra morning hour, my shopping habits reflected a comfortable resolve, only buying things suitable for my new world that only existed between my desk, sofa and brief walk routes. Simplicity reigned when all the Lana Del Rey glamorous vibes wore off -  there was no one to impress here.

Sandals - Dr Marten's Clarissa Quads 

Return to the real world...

Throughout lockdown I’d been reminding myself to save money for this huge welcome back to reality celebration. I don’t think any of us expected the weird phasing out path we’re on, but the money I’d saved for a glorious return to the IRL Monki shop is sitting dormant. Like a lot of people I imagine, the debate of who you shop and dress for is complicated by weird body relationships. My clothes have to fit perfectly;  any uncomfortable digging-in spirals me into self-hatred, in the same way that anything too big sends me on a weird ego trip as I congratulate myself on imagined weight loss. So much of this stress is eased by the distant, historical practice we called trying things on, allowing me to be sure an item won’t make me feel rubbish before I part with my pennies. As changing rooms remain closed and IRL shops still feel like deathtraps at their worst, and a practice in surveillance at their best, shopping recently has given me that empty feeling, like a kid seeing an ice cream van pass when their mum says there's choc-ices in the fridge. Since everything reopened I’ve bought four things; two T-shirts, one knitted vest, and one big baggy smock dress, all oversized and easy. The outfits they create feel like a culmination of all of the above, as all my outfits recently walk on the easy side, rarely messing around with intricate layering practices or bold choices. Maybe in part it’s because of the weird guilt that comes with doing anything, I don’t want to appear too dressed up, always trying to look like oh I nipped out and bumped into friends. Fashion is undoubtedly an expression of emotion; it talks before we can, and lately I haven’t wanted my clothes to shout anything except nonchalance and ease, as any kind of pow or celebration still comes with a chaser of guilt and anxiety. So a lot of my days are still spent in my cardigan, or my new smock dress which is an image of fuss- less simplicity in beige cotton.

In conclusion, my relationship with shopping has definitely been on a trip, and I think my relationship with dressing has been affected, but not in a wholly negative way. While the lack of interaction has made new purchases feel less affirming and exciting with no one around to assure you that your new dress looks glorious, I think the experience has probably given me healthier shopping habits, encouraging me to slow down and consider before buying. Spending the majority of my money on skincare, books and homeware instead, lockdown has definitely made me reconsider which purchases make me feel good, realising that investing in my environment and self has a far longer high than that new dress feeling. With no pending social events, there were no rushed purchases to be made, teaching me to hold off and wait for pieces that make me feel doubtlessly lovely, just as boosted and cosy as a rose facemask or new candle. While fashion is exciting and is meant to be fun and playful, lockdown shopping finally gave me the space to understand the beauty of buying less but buying smarter, filling gaps in my wardrobe to give other pieces a new lease of life, or recreating tried and tested outfit formulas so seven out of seven days can be spent feeling cute and cosy.

And now...

As we get back into Friday night drinks and Sunday brunches, I’m settling back into dressing up and starting to feel the old itch of wanting to go all out. But something about the smell of the Zara hand gel and the havoc that masks are reeking on my pores stops me in my track, no longer as drawn to new things as I am to things that make me feel great, whether that means stepping out in a batter cardi and pearl hair clips, new all-white outfits, or turning down the invite in favour of a rose facemask.

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