Journalist Grace Cook discusses the psychology of sale on The Birdword.
“Get in losers, we’re going shopping.”
Just like many other spirited pop culture queens gracing our television screens — think Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods, Clueless’ Cher and Dione, or Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman — Mean Girls’ Regina George knew a thing or two about the cathartic benefits of shopping. On TV at least, a spree is proffered as a way to decompress after a slog of a day; the thrill of the find in the mall releasing a rush of endorphins and dopamine akin to that of an extra-shot coffee.
During sale times, the buzz of a bargain is even more apparent. Finding something you love in your size feels like a win — a combination of fate and a personal triumph over other bargain hunters at the ability to sleuth down something so stylish for a snip at its RRP. As we swipe our cards at the checkout, we feel like our favourite sports team has just won the league — waiting for our tissue-wrapped goods like waiting to be handed the medal.
The psychology of sale shopping is an interesting one to ponder; what is it that we find so alluring about even the smallest of discounts? Perhaps that 10 percent off is what nudges us towards a purchase — a pair of kitschy kitten heels, say — that aren’t exactly suitable for everyday wear but are a fun thing to put away and bring out for a festive party.
Maybe a discount urges us to make braver purchases than when we shop in season, too. Lovers of minimalism might choose a technicolour dress, splattered with a coral reef print that reminds us of bygone days snorkelling amid dreamy beachscapes. Likely, it also allows us the freedom to take a ‘risk’ on an unknown designer. The discount eggs us on to be a bit more sartorially daring. Discounts serve a purpose.
The idea of a sale steal becomes trickier when contemplating the value of what hangs in our wardrobe. If we’ve saved for a silky cerulean evening dress - spent more on it than we usually would - it’s likely to be treasured like the Queen of England’s Vladimir tiara than a painterly floral version plucked from the cut-price rail. The delayed gratification of saving feels like a well-deserved reward — it’s an exercise in patience, the hunger for such a dress growing each day. We’ve dreamed of it for so long that we’re happy to spend the full RRP on it — convinced of its worth as a trusted wardrobe ally for years to come. Investment purchases are treasured, like Cher Horowitz’ little red Alaia. Cher got robbed to save that Alaia from tarmac-gate, remember?
In this era of conscious shopping, we should aim for all our clothes to hold that weight. But those spontaneous purchases can be savoured just as much if restraint is exercised — choosing sale buys as wisely as full price spends will make the thrill of the discount taste even sweeter. Consider that coral-reef dress as your apres-dinner dessert. You may indulge in wearing it less than the expensive cerulean one, but it still brings great joy when you eat it. And you ate a salad for lunch, so you deserve it. As in diet, the wardrobe is all about balance.