Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Released from shame

I received this email from tv producer Angela Wallis who has given her permission for me to reproduce it:

I am a TV producer and while researching a programme about recession chic I came across your article in this Saturdays Guardian Magazine and from there I found an extract of your book The Thoughtful Dresser.

I was struck by the description of shopping with your mother, and how while shopping her true self reappeared. I too was raised by a Jewish mother in Manchester and the similarities to my experiences of shopping with her were uncanny. My mother always planned her shopping expeditions as a day out, a thing you did even when you did not need to buy a thing, often involving an elegant lunch stop at Kendal’s or the Kardoma Cafe. To this day I still see shopping in a similar way and have indulged in its delights for all my adult life. Having read the extract of your book I feel like an addict who has been released from her shame, a feeling experienced all the more when my more intellectual friends who would never dream of coming shopping with me had no problem encouraging me to visit art galleries, museums and even worse, films with subtitles. They would treat my at oneness with department stores with a wry smile that would make me feel like the shallow nueveax rich Gucci socialists persona I tended to adopt in their company. Now I can claim that a joy of shopping and of spending time among beautiful things is in itself a higher activity than simple consumerism.

A Marxist writes


Emeritus professor of Government at Manchester University, Norman Geras, author of Marx and Human Nature and 'The Controversy about Marx and Justice' refutes in a new post on his blog the notion alluded to in The Thoughtful Dresser that shopping is often dismissed byt critics from the left as a form of false consciousness. Refutes, that is, their accusation.

He writes:

So, the first step in my defence is just to say that, in the way that the world is now organized, shopping is a straightforward means towards taking care of one's appearance; it's the instrumentality of a basic human good. But, it might be said, this is just shopping of the kind anyone can do - even me, even people who take no special joy from the activity but treat it in a matter of fact way, as the mere means to a necessary end. A deep interest in shopping such as Linda describes and commends is not necessarily part of taking care of one's appearance. We can shop instrumentally without developing any deep interest in shopping, shop without passion.

However - the second step in the defence - one can do anything without developing a deep interest in that particular thing, without its becoming a passion. All the same, people do - they develop passions of one kind and another. They become passionate collectors of this or that - books, stamps, art - passionate about literature or music or movies or sport (or just about their team), become bird-watchers, train-spotters, students of many different kinds of subject. Each of us has a life to dole out as we see fit, subject to meeting our various obligations to others. An interest in shopping is as legitimate a pursuit within the range of human interests as any other. Save for those who urge upon us an ethic of devoting all our disposable time and resources to helping people in need, no one is well placed to condemn the interest someone else may have in shopping. And the ethic of comprehensive self-sacrifice may be good for saints, but applied to the generality of humankind it is mean and unbearable.

But what about shopping as an obsession? What when it becomes pathological? The problem, then, is with the obsession, the pathology, not with the shopping. Any pursuit can be taken too far. And what about the fact that not everyone is in a position to enjoy shopping, because some don't have the means for it? This is a critique of systemic inequality and poverty and their effects and it is a valid one. But deployed by anyone who has disposable income which they use for (non-shopping) enjoyments of their own rather than directing it towards people living closer to the margins, it is a hypocrisy. Unless you believe that those living above the level of the bare necessities - whatever these are taken to be - should part with all their surplus income, you allow that each of us has a right to some enjoyments. It is not then for you to say what mine should be or vice versa. I won't be going round with Linda spending time looking at scarves. I doubt she'd want to join me in following all five days of a Test match. You plays it as you feels it. But there is a right to that for everyone.

Man goes shopping

I received this interesting email from a male friend over the weekend, describing his shopping strategy:

If I want to buy a £75 external hard drive for my computer for example, I will go and look at them in at least four shops, asking each sales assistant for an opinion. Then I will read up on the model I finally decide upon in Which or other reports. If I could find someone who uses one of these I would ask them if they made the right decision and where they bought theirs. As a final act to convince myself I will go online to see if I can buy the model cheaper and if this doesn't bring a result, after about two weeks have gone by, I will go back to the shop and make my purchase. I think the word people use to describe this method of purchasing is called 'agonising.' On the other hand, I have been with [my wife] who has seen completely by chance an item of clothing on the rack for £150 and 90 seconds later the credit card is being swiped. But I really do have a lot of fun using my method and am reminded of that fun every time I use the item
.