Warning: Following Fashion May Be Dangerous to Your Health

Eating disorders and shopping disorders are not thought of as abnormal or dangerous by the fashion world, they are provoked, celebrated and revered. Just take a look at recent runways, like that of Nicolas Guesquiere for Balenciaga, who presented his impossibly skinny silhouette for spring 2007 on impossibly skinny models. It is a proven fact that the skinnier the model, the better ‘clothes hanger’ she will make. That the insular world of fashion is a world unto itself, and within this world what passes as perfectly normal and acceptable is not perceived that way elsewhere, is hardly news.

Being unnaturally skinny is far more ‘acceptable’ within fashionable circles and in urban meccas than it is, say, in America’s heartland or in the South. And while most average folks are just trying to make ends meet and have enough money to pay the rent, pay for their children’s education, and put food on the table, the ‘fabulous fashion few’ (though they seem to be a large group depending where you live and where you go, they are of course, in the minority) are deliberating on which new $2,000 handbag to purchase, which $4,000 coat to buy, and which new pair of Prada platforms (upwards of $500) will do the trick. “Shop Till You Drop”, indeed!

Question: When is constant, continual, and never ending shopping, buying, and purchasing, simply a by-product of being a dedicated, faithful, plugged in follower of fashion (or someone who is professionally involved in the world of fashion – i.e. a fashion editor, buyer, pr maven)? Someone who is “out there” and needs to be pulled together to the “nines” at all times. And when is it a sign of something far more serious and dangerous – like having a deep-seated psychological impulse control disorder?

I am constantly grappling with this because, in the same way that there are numerous discussions and articles centered around eating disorders, another fashion related epidemic, compulsive shopping and overspending, is also in the news. In fact, it seems that every other day, I am reading yet another article related to this problem.

The most recent one appeared on October 12 in The Daily News, www.nydailynews.com, “Shopping Till They Drop” by Sheryl Berk, who revealed that according to a Stanford University survey, at least “1 in 20 Americans are so addicted to shopping they could be labeled as having an impulse control disorder.” She went on to quote B.J. Gallagher, author of an upcoming book “Why Don’t I Do the Things I Know Are Good for Me?” who referred to shopping as “a euphoric experience – a high, much like any drug will produce”.

Ms. Berk mentioned specific cases, like one woman living in New York (“the shopping capital of the world”) who admitted she loved to shop, but so much so that she could “barely pay the minimum on her credit card bills and was working a second job hostessing on weekends to supplement her $50,000 a year publishing job just to be able to pay her rent on time”.

Let’s be honest, doesn’t the fashion business by its very nature foster, provoke, and encourage over spending with its “Gotta Have It” and ”Must Have It” and ”Need It Now” mentality? It’s not about what you have, but the “Next Big Thing”. (Of course, the “Next Big Thing” right now is tights and leggings, but they are so ubiquitous, I personally cannot even look at them any more. For me, they are the “Next Passé Thing”.) Therefore, no matter how seasoned and self-disciplined an individual, it’s very easy to fall prey to the seductive and enticing advertisements and editorials that drive fashion retailing with their never ending cycle of seasons and new merchandise. One is made to feel they cannot possibly measure up unless they have whatever is the latest, newest, chicest, grooviest, etc.

Of course, after awhile you come to realize that just because it’s new does not mean it’s improved. And the longer one is in the business, one inevitably wants to bypass the dizzying ins and outs and affect a uniform of sorts. Just take a look at Vogue’s Creative Director, Grace Coddington, about as seasoned a pro as can be, and one who has her look down pat. She favors a uniform of black, black and white, a hit of tan, and that’s pretty much it. She wears simple, well cut clothes (mainly trousers, tailored jackets, easy coats, and crisp white shirts) and she lets her red hair be her ‘mane’ accessory. Not a bad example.

And speaking of compulsive shopping and over spending, the one item of clothing that women always need more of are bras. I am always searching for that ‘perfect’ bra, the one that does everything. I don’t know if it exists, but I’ll keep looking. Coincidentally, inside the oversized black nylon Kenneth Cole bag filled with ‘goodies’, which was given out to registered members of the press during New York Fashion Week, there was an inviting offer from ‘Barely There’, introducing their ‘Invisible Look’ Bra Collection, and inviting each recipient to receive a free bra.

Needless to say, I happily followed up with someone in the product pr group, and was given a choice of four styles and three colors. I selected one and was told it would be sent out in one week. Well, several weeks have gone by and I have not received my bra. Telephone calls I made to find out the status, have not been returned. I was wondering if anyone else reading this has received their free bra? For me at least, Barely There is not barely here!

-Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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