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"Last Year I Bought a Shirt": A Tale of the Unhappy Consumer

Last year I bought a shirt. But this wasn’t just any shirt, oh no. This was a deep blue, extremely comfortable and, if you don’t mind my saying, rather luxurious shirt. It shimmered in the sunlight, made from the kind of corduroy that makes you purr with the gravitas of an overweight cat. I caught my first glimpse of it hanging from the frame of a mannequin, transforming its awkward pose into something verging on cool. I’m not usually one for impulse purchases, in fact I often suffer from the awful, indescribably painful disease of excessive rationality. “You don’t need that”, I’ll think to myself. “You already have two t-shirts from 2006, and they’re only ripped in seven places”. But this time, well, something was different. Something so new, so effortlessly stylish, so very, very blue doesn’t come along often. And so, like a wrinkled dormouse in daylight, I walked into the glaring lights of the shop, fingers shielding my eyes from the glorious rays of its soulless halls. I was never the same again.

Soon, I was scrolling the endless pages of Zara, Asos, Urban, Bershka, Weekday, Cos, anything to get my next fix. I wanted something green, something baggy, something patterned, something shiny. I wanted this and I wanted that. I imagined myself, strutting down the street in the most beautiful outfits known to man, press huddling round, camera lights flashing as the body guards ushered me along. Just one more purchase, I thought, and I’d be that guy.

But the problem was, for all my scrolling, and clicking, and zooming in, and zooming out, nothing seemed to change. I still roamed the empty planes of the internet, climbing the rocky hills of Arket’s sock collection, alone. When I reached the top of that hill, what would I even find there? A discount? A cool pair of shades to pair them with? Some kind of downright bargain? I didn’t even know anymore.

The problem

What had started with the blue shirt had become an urge to consume. Of course, in our splendid modern world of NFTs, virtual Zuckerberg festivals, spy devices with names, and TikTok algorithms, you’re nobody without the next new thing. It’s only natural really, when the world is changing so rapidly, that the electronically charged balls of meat in our heads should want to keep up.

Fashion is no different, in fact, it’s worse. One poll conducted by the Guardian in 2019, found that one in three young women considers an item of clothing worn once or twice to be old. It almost hurts to think about how many items of clothing fast-fashion brands must be churning out each day to meet this demand, and how much of this finds a quick and easy route to the tip. Lest we forget about the excessive amounts of water used in the process too, roughly 2,700 litres just to grow the cotton for a single t-shirt. There’s no benefit to our planet in this industry, it’s a lose-lose situation for both the environment and ourselves.

They say the 60’s were the decade when we went from needing things, to wanting them. Ever since, we’ve been scrambling for more, hoping somewhere deep down that our growing collection of clothes, devices, cars and anything shiny will fulfil that human desire for happiness. Of course, as almost every film ever made likes to remind us, it’s ultimately human connections and an appreciation of the planet that can bring us closest to this vague and difficult notion.

A change in mindset

So, what next? Well, Forbes suggests that we ‘stop copying people’ and ‘look deep into our motivations’ for consumption, choosing instead to become conscious of how advertisers are playing into insecurities and jealousy to get our cash. The article reminds us of Henry David Thoreau and his declaration that “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it”. He wasn’t wrong. Let’s not invest our emotions into these physical things. Sure, a Louis Vuitton handbag makes you look rich, but when you’re lying in bed at night, reflecting on the rising level of the ocean, or the state of the economy, will it really make you happier?

As for me, it took some time but eventually my spree came to its conclusion. A slither of sunlight poked its way through the curtains, stroking my face with a brush of warmth. “What’s this?”, I hissed in the darkness, eyes bulging in the light of my phone screen, unworn clothes piled around me. With caution I peeled them open and let the sun shine through. Suddenly, I saw what I had become, nesting in my own obsession, swamped by headphones and trousers and no happier for it. I’m glad to report that I’m fully back on track now. I retreated to a consumer’s rehab in the Mojave desert, grew my hair past my knees, and will be releasing a full, tell-all memoir about my experience for just £14.99.

I strongly recommend you buy it, afterall, it might just make you happier.


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