Confessions of a Fashion Junkie

For me, shopping has nothing to do with need and everything to do with want

Hello, everyone. My name is Stacia and I'm a shopaholic.

It all started when I was 8 years old and got my first shopper's high while accompanying my Aunt Yetta to Saks Fifth Avenue. Yes, it was a trusted family member who led me astray in the Better Dress department.

We weren't there to buy. As Yetta repeatedly told the saleswoman who trailed after us like a bloodhound, we were "just looking." That didn't stop Yetta from critiquing the merits of each and every designer item, and snorting at price tags, as if to the manor born.

In truth, Yetta was a humble civil servant who shared a tiny row house with her unmarried sister and bed-ridden mother. The only luxuries she afforded herself were menthol cigarettes, British murder mysteries and the occasional whiskey sour.

Even so, from time to time, an ethereal designer dress would magically appear in Yetta's closet. Did she scrimp for months or wait until it was reduced to her meager price range? Probably both. I, of course, had no idea that my Aunt was "grooming" me for a lifetime of addiction to shopping expeditions that had more to do with my fantasy life than my humdrum existence. Other children had invisible friends. I had an invisible closet.

By the time I was 10, I was shopping at Lord & Taylor on my own, much to the dismay of saleswomen who asked, "Where is your mother, dear?" Having been schooled by my aunt, I knew exactly what I wanted. A smartly tailored three-piece wool suit—jacket, pleated skirt and vest—with a silky white blouse. When I produced my mother's credit card, the saleswoman's scowl turned beatific. Not so the look on my mother's face when I got home.

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"We can't afford this!" she wailed. "Where will you wear it?"

Mom had a point. Fifth grade didn't require more than poodle skirts and penny loafers. I had a closet full of those. And kids my age didn't wear suits to birthday parties or family gatherings. So why did I insist on this outrageously expensive outfit which, incidentally, I never wore?

I didn't need a suit. Kids don't take "meetings." I needed it to fulfill my fantasy life, a far distant "someday" when my dull suburban life of hopscotch and spelling bees would somehow meld into the Hollywood movies Yetta took me to see after our shopping sprees. It was a heady combo. A march through the couture department followed by Audrey Hepburn prancing around Paris in Givenchy. I didn't stand a chance.

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In high school, I persuaded my mother to buy me an Ann Fogarty dress. It was sheer cotton voile in a delicious shade of seafoam green with a wide patent leather belt. The kind of diaphanous dress Loretta Young wore on TV.

"It's only 50 dollars," I said.

Little did I know that 50 dollars wasn't spare change to Mom.

"Do you really need this?" she asked.

She may as well have asked a heroin addict if they really needed their next hit. It had nothing to do with need and everything to do with want. When did I actually wear this frothy frock? Um, how about never? I look back now and wonder why my parents didn't do an intervention.

Going off to college was just another excuse to indulge in my fantasy life, which didn't exist on any campus—unless Ali MacGraw was enrolled. The pricey cashmere sweaters and matching skirts I packed into my trunk stayed there until graduation. It was the 1960s. In lockstep with my peers, I wore a uniform of faded Levis, tie-dyed T-shirts and Army surplus jackets.

While classmates protested the war and marched for Civil Rights, I secretly perused Vogue magazine and made surreptitious raids of upscale department stores to see what Yves Saint Laurent had to say about the Revolution. Frankly, when the hippie look faded, I was relieved. But confused. I was under 30, as radicalized as any reader of Carlos Castenada and felt a pang of guilt about my love of shopping. Fashion is so bourgeoise, so capitalist, so much fun!

Simply walking into Bloomingdale's gave me a buzz. Maybe it was all the cosmetics saleswomen spritzing the air with perfume. This is where I went to recover from a romantic breakup, career problems or bad hair day. Like my Aunt Yetta, who had long since stopped accompanying me, I didn't need to make a purchase to get my fix. Just inspecting each department as if I was Anna Wintour gave me a contact high.

However, I admit, I was not immune to a 70 percent discount. When a coveted item, say a buttery soft Italian purse or whimsical silk blouse went on sale, I pounced. I reasoned that it's not how much I spent. It's how much I saved. As a result, I have the prefect slinky black dress and veiled hat, should I be invited for cocktails aboard Johnny Depp's yacht. Given the way things are going, I might as well wear it to the car wash.

So, why am I here, outing myself in public? Because this is the time of year when Neiman's fills my mail box with seductive catalogs and I need more room in my closet. I am hoping someone will drive an 18-wheeler to my house and take it all away. Thank you for listening.

Tags: style