I love clothes. I love buying clothes. I love walking into a shop and browsing the rails, touching the fabric of garments, choosing something and taking it to the till. I always pay with a debit card because if I use 'real' money I might have a momentary flash of guilt. I browse for clothes online every day and go into town to look for new items twice a week. I have at least sixty dresses. I'm also a student. If there's a rehab for clothes addicts, I'm definitely checking in.
At the same age, my mother owned two dresses and a single pair of jeans. She cannot understand my compulsion to spend, to consume, to spend hours poring over Vogue, comparing each designer item to its high street equivalent. Mum has set a consistent example: you save for a classic piece that will keep on looking good despite changes in season and style and you pay as much as you can afford. Then you don't buy anything else. I can't do that. I want one of everything, so I can try out every look and wear whatever happens to be 'in'. This isn't limited to the Primani brand of 'disposable fashion' either. I crave labels and constantly scour eBay and other sites for discounts on genuine designer items. I walk around the Mulberry shop in York at least once a week, breathing in the smell of buffalo leather.
Mintel estimates that the womenswear market is currently worth at least £19.6 billion. Two million tonnes of clothing are purchased and one million tonnes thrown away in the UK every year. The National Office of Statistics has found that despite the recession's bite, spending on clothing has continued unabated. Branding and advertising work through aspirational promises, suggesting to the buyer that they are purchasing more than just an item - they are buying a lifestyle. So we keep shopping because it makes us feel good, despite the frightening realities of debt and the knowledge, deep-down, that our next purchase will not make us into the woman in the glossy advert.
Where does it come from? My serious clothing obsession began as an awkward, bushy-haired teenager, desperately bullied at a penniless comprehensive school, who needed to use her appearance to convey a message about herself. The clothes spoke for me, and they told people that I was cool and tough and could be the kind of girl they wanted to hang out with. It seemed to work for a while. On entering the entirely alien world of a top university, my tough-girl clothes lost their magic charm. Everything was about names and labels, and I soon realised that I had to change my approach. I took on a plethora of nasty, low-paid jobs and spent the money on the clothes I thought I needed. Despite the upgrade to higher-priced items, my motivation was the same. I wanted what I was wearing to transform me into the 'right' kind of person, with friends and lifestyle to match.
For every new garment or pair of shoes I purchase, the rush of endorphins is frustratingly fleeting. The Ted Baker and Philip Armstrong dresses, the Joseph fur coat, the Louboutins and the Vivienne Westwood bag did not deliver what I hoped they would. They did not transform me into a Poppy Delevingne-esque 'it girl'. My first reaction was to go bigger, find a way to buy Chanel and Mulberry and Alexander McQueen, to get The Job and then find The House and above all, to keep spending. But, given a moment to pause, I have to ask myself what it is I'm trying to find at the bottom of the Selfridges bag and who I'm trying to prove myself to.
Clothes are about creativity, having fun and feeling good. For me at least, they're also about identity and status, keeping me in with the in crowd and creating an illusion of success and wealth. But that's all it is, ultimately, an illusion. My designer purchases render me all fur coat and no knickers because they do not make any financial sense in my current situation. But even if they did, would they make me happy? The answer is disappointingly obvious. I cannot afford to stay on this twirling carrousel of consumption. Maybe I need to take a leaf out of my mother's book and stop buying.