Who hasn’t bought something and taken it home, only to steadily succumb to the acute panic of buyer’s remorse?
Maybe it cost too much and your subconscious finally buckled under the pressure; maybe it looks terrible on you now that you’re seeing yourself in broad daylight away from the dressing room’s seductively dim embrace. Now imagine it taking an entire year for such realizations to sink in. It’s apparently a thing, at least for men—the year-after effect.
Joshua Ferris describes such a phenomenon at Esquire UK via the tale of a blue shirt—”a pretty baby-blue button-down, delicately patterned with blackbirds”—that once looked enchantingly beautiful to him; after many months, however, the charm wore off. Ferris writes:
I looked like an asshole! What are those, birds? Who wears birds like that out in public? At enough distance, they didn’t even look like birds. They were more like irregular polka dots, or thumb smudges, or turds free-falling one after another. That baby blue I loved so much now looked effete and childish. And how had I not noticed how long it was? It practically came down to my knees! That bird shirt was like a beautiful sundress!
He goes on to cite one similarly ill-advised purchase after the next—a women’s wristwatch he loved, orange jeans, a golf shirt, all of which became unacceptable to him in a year’s time—and concluded that there is some kind of delay in his ability to assess an item’s quality. Ferris writes:
A year after I buy something, and wear it frequently, I realise how bad it is. Not always. Just too often for comfort. And when it’s bad, it’s bad. It’s ill-fitting, it’s out-of-style: it’s corny. And an entire year must pass before my eyes resolve into focus, during which time I move blithely through the world in clown suits, bellboy tunics, ahoy-ye hats, dickies, pantaloons, leotards – all while feeling most masculine and proud.
It’s made me paranoid. I can’t trust myself to act in my own best interest. I wander around a shop attracted to extraordinary things, wondering how they will betray me in a year’s time. I freeze up approaching the counter, back away, return everything to the rack, and leave the store empty-handed. And though I might be convinced that by now I’ve learned my lesson, that I can’t possibly make any more fashion gaffes, past experience reminds me that I’m myopic and prone to delusion.
I have to say (with some degree of envy), I only wish I could get through a year before turning on some of my purchases. I’ll try something on in the store and decide it’s a go, only to realize once I’m home that I hadn’t noticed how frumpy it is, how it falls to exactly the wrong length, that it looks terrible from the side, that what seemed cool in the store is in fact the lamest thing I have ever bought.
But this brings up a host of interesting questions about what it means for a purchase at any price to be really “worth it.” Certainly hating something an hour after buying it is cause for returning it. But what about the items you think you love, the items you enjoy for a few weeks, a few special occasions, a few months, only to realize you looked terrible? Was it still worth that brief pocket of joy?
Or perhaps your major clothing purchases are only worth it in the traditional sense of “worth it”— AKA if they outlast the fast fashion that otherwise dominates your wardrobe. I have a pair of J. Crew boots I dropped $150 bucks on in 1999—a small fortune for my entry level salary at the time—that are still going today, only a few sole replacements in.
There’s a gendered aspect to consider here, of course. Women live a perennially fraught relationship with our bodies, except when we don’t. We’re far more immersed in the world of feedback, pressure, and advice, solicited or otherwise. But men? Most of them have been left to their own devices since birth, allowed a pass on personal style, so perhaps it’s no wonder a dude could happily stroll through life in orange jeans before it finally dawned on him they were a bit much.
Over at The Billfold, Mike Dang backs up Ferris’s particular affliction, citing a pair of 7 for all Mankind jeans purchased out of a desire to be on-trend in the early aughts as among his biggest regrets. Dang writes:
What I’ve come to learn about myself is that I like wearing very basic things that I can pull out of the closet without really thinking about—things that can essentially be adopted into a uniform. I don’t mind if I’m dressed like any other person on the street (which is a thing some people do worry about).
Dang’s uniform is something I’ve long fantasized about, as a kind of self-actualization via fashion.
Does buyers remorse happen because we are merely trying to perpetuate an image of ourselves that’s misaligned? Where does the wrong turn come—in accurately assessing the item, or ourselves? I move closer and closer to buying a few workwear jumpsuits that I can rotate in and out for the rest of my life, no questions asked. Perhaps this. Or more likely this—hey, only $458! Like other folks tired of thinking through a daily getup, I’m seduced by the notion of wearing one thing all the time. But I can’t quite bring myself to cross this sartorial line in the sand.
The real issue with this theoretical purchase is the all-too-likely possibility that I will ultimately get bored, or decide I don’t like jumpsuits, after all. Shopping, fraught as it is with regrets and mistakes, is often pretty wasteful. There are far better things to do with your time and money. But for most of us, it’s also one of many exercises in the all-important lifelong battle of figuring ourselves out.
Image via Comedy Central/Broad City.