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The Recent History of Shopping

We just wrapped up a wonderful symposium at the museum that I work in. The delegates who were coming from all over the world, brought up their individual papers (some being years in the making). I’ll start to sound a bit nerdy now… all their papers revolved around the umbrella topic: Transpacific Engagements: Visual Culture of Global Exchange (1781-1869) or in one word: TRADE. I came out of the symposium mesmerized by the thought that a lot of research has been done about the Philippines and how we might have played a central role in trade and commerce in those few hundred year time frame.

Thinking about the topic in a more recent context,  trade is what we (I’m referring to us, girls), rave about 70% of the time with our girlfriends and that’s shopping. Well, alongside that word is its synonym (at least, practically) — SALE.


If trade was essential in forming ties between cross-cultural communities, shopping is infinitely essential in creating ties among girlfriends.Apart from that, shopping provides a practice ground to find and even create one’s personal trend/s and styles. Shopping can easily be thought of as a purely materialistic endeavor – only to shop for the best and most expensive, extravagant and embellished piece of clothing there is. Underlying the temptation to have all and the best, shopping is a great means for self-discovery! Shopping for fashionable items in the pool of trends, to me, go hand-in-hand because of the great universes we have in each and every person alive. No one person can pull off the same outfit no matter how severely impersonal a situation can ask one to conform to.

I recall hearing a story during the severely strict communist ruling in China wherein the women were made to dress in the same ill-fitting and drab colored jumpsuit as their uniform in their workplaces. No matter how carbon copied they looked, when you peer closely at a group of five women, it would reveal that they wore their hair differently or cut their hair differently.


If shopping is for self-discovery, trends are for grouping similar personal styles that have become popular – it becomes almost like a thesis to the preferences and tastes of a certain group of people – whether of a big or small population. Take for example the parisian style. To zero in on it more, take the iconic parisian style of: high neckline 3/4 sleeved striped top + navy capri + flats + a snug hug of each piece of clothing on her silhouette + bonus: full bangs with a short haircut.

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You know her when you see her. You like her because you feel connected to her in some way and its mainly because you want to imitate some parts of her style that you feel will bring out a certain part of your personality.

Just like the above mentioned trend, history has clustered the iconic styles with their popular representatives by era. As communication started to become far more simple, the trends and the styles followed suit. From having just one look dictate the trend for all the fashion houses, the many fashion houses have their respective trademark pieces that more or less dictate the trends.

Contrary to popular belief, that women go out to shop for the latest trends, I believe that women go out to shop to get to know themselves and express their undying creativity (albeit unintentionally.) What better way to celebrate the feminine uniqueness than opportunities that allow them to express this without breaking the budget. Unfortunately that “way” is better spelled in an infamous four-letter-world which signs hang across the rows of clothing shops just right after the Christmas season. You said it, it’s SALE


Although sales are a woman’s form of a Superbowl or NBA Season, let’s be honest… this whole love for it is pretty much embodied in the satirical image below:


It’s all the more funny because I found this image while I was browsing through my feed and contemplating whether I should head out to my favorite brand’s sale. On the first look at the image, it hurt me inside. I felt the stab at the shopaholic in me. She yelled while coughing out blood: “Noooo… Don’t listen to it. You deserve that pair of super cute pants, besides, you neeeddd it!!!”  On the other spectrum, a light rose from the back of my mind saying: behold, truth. Admittedly, it’s difficult to stare straight at the face of truth.

A good friend of mine and I were talking about her Singapore trip with her family. It just so happened that they vacationed at the same time as the Big Singapore Sale – and when the mid-level luxurious items go on sale… they go on SALE. She then started to describe the gentle hue and perfect structure of a beautiful jacket she saw in Clothing Store X which she happened to have entered and they had just her size. I was surprised at how detailed she could get about describing a single piece of clothing but what really got me was her dialogue to herself. She said: “Well, I made it a point to make the trip about my family and not me… so no side-trips, nothing. That jacket, that beautiful jacket it would’ve totally fit my current wardrobe and could just make it more updated… but then I realized if I didn’t get it, my wardrobe would be exactly how I left it. If I bought it, my wardrobe wouldn’t magically change to be the best wardrobe ever… it would remain the same and I’m OK with that.”

It’s in these unwritten heroic moments that I marvel at – that, for me, truly livens up the person and her inner beauty instead of the constant updates to a wardrobe that’s fine the way it is. That story is a juxtaposition to a tragic story about a man who committed suicide after his girlfriend insisted on buying more shoes. The extent of how affected people may be about shopping – may it be yours or others shopping habits may be just that severe and yet the simple sacrifice of not shopping or not causing a ruckus over what you want to shop for really prevents any possible harm on yourself or others. It’s. that. bad.

How to Shop


After all the rambling about the history of shopping, trends and sales, where is the healthy mean? Other than shopping being a woman’s playground for self-discovery, it’s ultimately her venue for self-restraint (that especially goes for the spend-thrifty type.)

Here are some tips that even I have to consider when I even think of shopping:

1. Do not be deceived by SALES – often times, that is their only purpose: to deceive. It’s ultimately a marketing tactic.

2. Be a Smart Shopper. Be smarter than the illusive word. Don’t let SALE win! Get as many referrals as you can about long-lasting items. Have ol’ reliables. Only buy something when you’ve actually seen it (I am discouraging online shopping. It doesn’t work unless you’ve seen, touched and smelled the product otherwise, you’re doomed by your high expectations vs reality.)

3. Buy when you need something. Shop with purpose. On a personal account, I only really find things that I need when I go on a normal non-sale season to shops and find exactly what I need in my size and I’m a happy shopper because I know that that piece of clothing will last me for the amount of time I believe it to be worth.

4. When you’re faced with temptation and you don’t really need it, step out of yourself. Think about where else that money can go – to your local charity, to a meal for the blind man you see on the way to work…

Let’s make a dent at the history of shopping. It’ll be funny if the scholars of year 4000 find this blog post and see a difference in shopping habits.


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