Spend!Spend!Spend! Ten Years Ago Shopping Was, Quite Simply, the Thing to Do: But Now It Has Been Restyled - as a Vice, a Sin, an Addiction

By Riddell, Mary | New Statesman (1996), December 20, 1996 | Go to article overview

Spend!Spend!Spend! Ten Years Ago Shopping Was, Quite Simply, the Thing to Do: But Now It Has Been Restyled - as a Vice, a Sin, an Addiction


Riddell, Mary, New Statesman (1996)


And what would you like for Christmas? "A set of X-Files videos, says my son. "Only you'll have to be quick because they're selling out fast. It's a special edition, and there are six in the pack."

Six? We shall be condemned to watching Mulder and Scully at a length that makes Kenneth Branagh's Hamletlook as concise as the cigar advert. But that is not the point. When shopping, it is imperative to get in quick.

In New York demented mothers chase lorries of toys in the hope of tracking down this year's must-have plaything: a furry "Tickle Me, Elmo". In London, 101 Dalmatians beanbags are a collector's item, and Buzz Lightyear dolls so rare as to merit a David Attenborough documentary.

Clever tactics are called for. I phone the X-Files' PR company. None left. I call Fox, the distributor. All gone. Despairing, I try the Virgin Megastore, who amazingly - are able to oblige. "Can you reserve it for me?" I ask.

"No need," says the assistant. "Unless we sell 2,000 in the next half-hour."

Lucky or what? Particularly since the pre-Christmas newspapers suggested that British shops were being picked locust-bare by an army of rapacious madwomen.

They buy 1,000 T-shirts at one go; 40 doll's houses; [pounds]200 Prada shoes in the wrong size. By the time the New Year sales are finished, the retail outlets of Britain will be down to three lamb chops, a sandalwood bathcube and a turquoise foot spa. At least if the current scare stories are to be believed.

Shopaholism is the vice of the year, if you believe a recently published Oxford University study. Unsurprisingly its half-a-million British addicts are said to be mainly sad, bored women who regard shopping as a mind-altering drug, a sex substitute and a means of getting back at their nasty partners.

I think this is unfair to women. So does a man called Adrian, who is director of a treatment centre called Promis and who - as a reformed addict - once owned a car collection worthy of Lord Brocket and a Marks & Spencer sock drawer worthy of a plague of centipedes. Men, he says, are just as much in love with wild shopping.

Or more so. While women splurge on clothes they never wear, men overspend on a grand scale. What, if not a gross piece of shopaholism, was the decision by football manager Graeme Souness to buy - sight unseen and as a result of a hoax phone call - a Senegalese player called Ali Dia, whose footwork on the pitch evoked a champagne-sodden and stiletto-shod Harvey Nichols veteran? …

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