Inside the Twisted Mind of Buzz Bissinger, Straight Male Shopaholic

There are many, many WTF sentences in Buzz Bissinger's epic, shocking, nauseating, hilarious and infuriating piece for GQ titled "My Gucci Addiction." The 58-year-old writer, husband and father of three — best known for the book Friday Night Lights — details his compulsive buying quite frankly, and you may find yourself gasping as you read about how he spends his time and money.

For instance:

I own eighty-one leather jackets, seventy-five pairs of boots, forty-one pairs of leather pants, thirty-two pairs of haute couture jeans, ten evening jackets, and 115 pairs of leather gloves.

The most expensive leather jacket I own, a Gucci ostrich skin, cost $13,900. The most expensive evening jacket I own, also from Gucci, black napa leather with gold threading, cost $9,800. The most expensive leather pants, $5,600. The most expensive jeans, $2,500. The most expensive pair of boots, $2,600. The most expensive pair of gloves, $1,015.

Bissinger has a problem. He knows he has a problem. His problem is primarily with leather clothing — he cannot get enough. Gucci is his drug of choice; in the piece he visits Milan to shop for items not yet in stores.

The approximate amount I spent on the four-day trip is $51,000. That is equivalent to roughly a full year's tuition at my son's college, Kenyon. I think about that. The self-indulgence is obvious. But it is my money, and I have paid his tuition for four years so he will not be saddled with any loans when he graduates this spring. None of which is really the point, anyway:

I can't resist for the very reason I can't resist.

If you're not shocked by the fact that he drops $50k in one shopping trip, consider this:

It wasn't until the preparation of this story that I actually took a detailed look at the items I have purchased from 2010 through 2012. I was afraid, quite candidly, although a total of a quarter of a million dollars would not have fazed me.

I was somewhat off:

$587,412.97.

Bissinger's confessional is noteworthy not just due to the vast sums of cash involved, but also because his story disrupts the usual narrative. Women are supposed to be shopaholics. On television shows like Nightline and Intervention, women tearfully speak of dresses with the tags still on, of closets full of 25 iterations of the same black pants. "Shop til you drop" is assumed to be the battlecry of giggling gals; for every sneakerhead dude hellbent on acquiring Airforce Ones, there's a Mariah or Kimora or Imelda Marcos with a truly obsessive collection.

But of course men shop. And of course men shop to excess. But drop the phrases "shopaholic" or "shopping addict" in a conversation and the average person will assume said shopper is female.

Inside the Twisted Mind of Buzz Bissinger, Straight Male Shopaholic
Looks from the Gucci runway show during Milan Fashion Week, January 14, 2013

To some extent, the desire that drives a shopaholic is understandable. Our society affords us countless luxurious modern conveniences, but we seldom feel any sort of power in our daily lives. You do what your boss says, what your family expects, stop at red lights, compromise, behave. To gaze upon a hot pink suede high heel and declare you will be mine — and then make it so — can be an exhilarating rush. We seldom get exactly what we want in life. Shopping is an orchestration of victory. We're encouraged every step of the way, by the thousands of ads we see a day, by magazines, newspapers, movies, music videos and the very concept of the American dream. If alien lifeforms came down to earth, they would find some of the largest structures humans have built to gather in are not churches or schools but shopping malls. And we spur each other on: Stimulate the economy, stimulate yourself. It's your money, spend it!

For Bissinger, it's more than that. Part of his addiction has to do with the attention, the validation.

Before the trip, the Divine Stylist [at Gucci] and I sent pictures back and forth to make sure everything coordinates. Given my worship of beautiful clothing, she has more impact on my life than anyone, with the exception of my therapist and my family.

Before I started shopping with her at Gucci, I could count on one finger the number of compliments I got from strangers on what I was wearing. Now I get dozens, 99 percent of them from women and gays and African-Americans who appreciate go-for-it style. No wonder male heterosexual whites are aimed toward obsolescence, boring the rest of us to death.

But don't get it twisted: He's also in it for the rush.

As any addict knows, impulsivity is the meal ticket of addiction. The more you do it, the more you do it.

For a period of roughly two and a half years, until my wife permanently returned home from Abu Dhabi, I received a package at least every other day and sometimes two or three or four. Because I ordered so much, I often forgot what was inside them. It added to the drama and the ritual: the slice of the Swiss Army knife down the spine of the cardboard box and then the quick cuts along each side, the greedy pulling out of the paper stuffing, the annoyance of having to unzip the inevitable garment bag because it took too much fucking time, and then holding the item aloft on its hanger with thrill and titillation.

Bissinger is self-aware enough to know that he's trying to use butter-soft Gucci leather as stuffing to fill a hole in his soul.

It is safe to assume that when someone buys more than half a million dollars of clothing in three years, it isn't simply beautiful clothing that he seeks. My wife and I realized several years ago that we had run our sexual course. It was on the surface a strange decision, since both of us were highly sexualized. And great lovers to each other. And she was absolutely beautiful. But the twin killers of menopause and boredom had set in, as they do in every marriage. And I had never been able to equate sex with intimacy.

In the piece, Bissinger explains he got his first erection from a particularly fancy pair of pants. He admits to being attracted to leather, to being in a relationship with a dominatrix and testing out the BDSM scene. He experimented with men, he has worn thigh-high boots and six-inch stilettos. And it's not just the clothes he craves, it's the process of acquiring them. Even when he can't keep track.
He writes:

I bought a pair of knee-length Stuart Weitzman boots and then two weeks later bought the exact same pair because I had forgotten I bought the first pair.

And:

There was a stealth action in London on vacation with my family in 2011 while everyone else was asleep: I sat in a soft armchair in the hotel suite sinking like a ship, barely able to keep my eyelids open in the wash of too much food and too much wine, but still managed to hit enough correct characters on my laptop to buy a $4,525 Versace jacket from Moda Operandi. I forgot I had bought it when it came a few months later, a pretty good indicator that I did not need it. But I still kept it, and it still is seriously smoking, and none of you can fucking have it.

Is there something else at work? Is it even shopping related? Bissinger wonders:

Maybe what I really am is an extreme narcissist. I love looking at myself in the mirror when I buy something new. I love the sexual rush to the degree that I wonder if it has become a replacement for actual sex. But just like fucking, the magic of new clothing wears off quickly, and you can't resist the cravings for new purchases.

You can call it selfish, indulgent, disgusting, abominable.

Few would disagree.

But the key line in the whole (worth-your-while) piece might be this one:

I am on medication for mild bipolarity.

When we are ill, we find many ways to self-medicate. Maybe for Bissinger, Gucci's the most expensive psychopharmaceutical ever made.

My Gucci Addiction [GQ]