Last week I had a crisis of accidental matching. Halfway through the day I looked down to discover that my jacket, my shoes and my bag were all, for some reason, purple — but was this matchy-matchy catastrophe due to a pattern in the way I dress, or in the way I shop?
Everyone, probably, has their own pattern of buying clothes. The types of stores they frequent, the price they’re willing to spend, the criteria, conscious or unconscious, for buying what they wear and how often they go back for more. If you do it right, if you’re consistent in your pattern, your wardrobe will coordinate effortlessly. You will be the proud possessor of a look. You can get dressed with your eyes closed and still look coherent, still look like you.
For some reason, I don’t have a look, unless a look can be a color. Maybe I realized this for the first time right at that moment, staring down at the lavender details on my shoes and purse strap. I was matching, but I wasn’t supposed be. I hadn’t even realized that I owned that many purple things. Every store I’ve entered in the past four months I’ve exited with a purple purchase. Why haven’t I been paying attention?
My strange (purpled) purchasing habits are, thank goodness, far from unique. One of my housemates owns, I swear, at least 15 strands of imitation pearls, and a good friend of hers owns ten different pairs of vintage white pumps. But I’m beginning to suspect is that what’s in your closet and what you wear aren’t really an expression of who you are, but of how you shop.
Dressing is habitual, like eating or brushing your teeth. I don’t know why it had never occurred to me before that shopping is habit, too. If you’re in the habit of staying in your room, living without a car or avoiding large crowds, you might begin to shop online. Or if you’re in the habit of informed purchasing, you might only shop for clothes you know to be sweatshop free. If, like me, you’re in the habit of following your whims and not paying much attention to practicalities until later your random, eclectic, themeless, mismatched (or, in this case, overmatched) wardrobe is going to reflect that.
I’ve known girls who own more bras than socks, and virgins with lavish, extensive lingerie drawers. I’ve known guys who will only wear a shirt if it’s emblazoned with movie or comic book references, or who, like cartoon characters, own closets full of seemingly duplicate apparel.
There are those who shop sale, those who shop vintage, and those who shop for comfort the way some people eat ice cream. The strangest, I think, is my friend who is so averse to shopping that, in an effort to leave the store as quickly as possible, buys the first clothes he sees off the rack without trying them on. All of his clothes are too big for him.
But if shopping fills our needs to behave in habitual and comforting ways,
dressing fills our peers’ needs to categorize and simplify their
impressions of us. I wonder how the two can become more aligned, but still offer
no solution. For now, I’m going to curl up in my warm purple sweater and
matching pajama pants, and shop for gloves online.