Friday, May 4, 2012

On buying things that on closer inspection you find you don’t like

We all must have been there; bought something impulsively, thinking it’s fabulous, then, after a day or two (or an hour or two) of owning it, you look at it and realize that it was not what you thought it was. You have somehow miss-seen it.

I did it the other day. On a compulsive whim I bought a pair of trainers, quite expensive trainers, the most expensive trainers I’d ever bought in my life. I thought they were perfect, in my head they were plain, but sort of cool. What I would call ‘funky straight’, a look I’ve always aspired to. I looked at them once, left the shop thinking about them, then rushed back 20 minutes later, tried them on, and bought them in a rush of endorphin triggering consumerist joy. They were just what I wanted, bouncy and comfortable, with maybe just enough hip-hop style for a 45 year old to get away with.

When I got them home I noticed that part of the trainer, quite a large part - the side panels, had a leopard skin pattern on them. I hadn’t noticed that when I bought them, I thought they were plain. How come I hadn’t noticed? It wasn’t a loud pattern, it was quite subtle, but I don’t like leopard skin patterns. Even as a detail on a trainer they look inappropriate.

[A friend of mine once became obsessed by leopard skin, and spent sometime researching its history. He traced it back to Bacchus, and then onward to marching bands and teddy boys. He saw them as a symbol of the excessive romantic/rocker tradition. The friend self-identified as a rocker. I’m definitely not a rocker, I’m more of a mod, but really I’m just a shabbily dressed middle-aged man. My dress sense had gone to pot in recent years. But one thing I definitely know is that me and leopard skin patterns don’t go together.]

And of course once you’ve noticed the detail it becomes more and more prominent, swamping everything else. I imagined people laughing at me, noticing the absurdity of a man of my age wearing anything with a leopard skin pattern on his feet, trainers surely designed for a hip female teenager or a young electro DJ (Do electro DJs still exist?). Or maybe no one had ever bought a pair of these trainers before, such was the absurdity of their design. In the shop they were still laughing, someone had bought the worse trainers in the world!

What to do? I wore them for a couple of days in the hope things would change, maybe I’d learn to love them – I felt unwilling to admit my mistake.  By the time I finally accepted that they were never going to grow on me, that they looked absurd, they were already too scuffed and dirty to take back to the shop. I am stuck with trainers that feature a signifier that makes me look ridiculous.

Somehow I am going to have to find a way of living with them, they were too expensive to throw away or refuse to wear. They are comfortable, and I like the rest of the trainer, just not the light blue leopard skin pattern that takes up 30% of their surface area.

At the moment I’m seeing them as my walking trainers. Things I go for walks in. But that wasn’t what I wanted, I wanted some feel good footwear, footwear which gave me pleasure for years to come, every time I put them on. I do have a pair of shoes like that, and they make me happy whenever I wear them. 

I take some solace that I'm not alone - that other people suffer a temporary blindness when purchasing things. One friend, quite poor at the time, decided that he wanted to buy a classic raincoat, the sort beloved of 1960’s businessmen. So he went out and bought one, pushing the boat out, treating himself. But something went wrong in the purchasing and he ended up with a raincoat that didn’t stop above his knees, but went down nearly to his ankles. I would have described it in Western cowboy parlance as a duster, made for the horse riding fraternity. This was not what he wanted. When he showed it to me, it looked absurd. He lived in Whitechapel, not Wyoming.

He did try to make it work, wearing it out and about, but it looked so odd that it earned stares of derision from passers by. Kids in the street shouted out ‘Hey Mr., what’s with the coat’. Friends would ask ‘Are you really going to wear that?’ as they left the house with him. Eventually he folded it up and gave it to Oxfam. He’s got a Belstaff jacket now he’s much happier with.

Mind you, it’s not the first time this has happened to me – I once bought the world’s dullest coat, and then there was the uncomfortable folding bike, the DJ decks I never used, the ugly coffee table, the list goes on. I’ve got history with the unfortunate purchase.

So in the future when out shopping I will slow down and think of the leopard skin trainers and check that there is nothing absurd, nothing I intensely dislike, about what I am about to purchase. ‘Remember the leopard skin trainers’ will be, from this day on, my consumerist mantra. 


  1. I like the fact you only reveal that they're BLUE leopardskin halfway through. And I never knew about the DJ decks...tee hee.

    mind you, i've been there too.

  2. I own a red and black leopard print dress, an APC grey and blue leopard print jumper, leopard print socks (a present) and a pink with a hint of leopard print silk shirt.

    uh oh... Can we still be friends?

    I have made so many stupid purchases in my time but none as entertaining as reading this.

  3. I think we all get hoodwinked by consumerism from time to time. Like food, we have complex emotional relationships with STUFF. We lie to ourselves; tell ourselves that the thing we are spending our money on will somehow solve a problem in our lives, or shift our life in a positive direction. I'm fascinated by this ability we have to lie to the one person we glibly think we are steadfastly honest with. In fact, it seems impossible that we could be fooling ourselves! But we do.
    I tend to do it with smaller things. DVDs in particular. I often find myself in HMV on Oxford St choosing a pile of films, many of which I've longed to see for decades. But somehow I then whittle the pile down to a couple (in the mistaken idea that I'm being thrifty): these are usually films I've seen many times or are rather trashy. By the time I get home I'm wondering WHY I ended up with these disappointing additions that do nothing but add to the pile of STUFF that takes up room in my flat. If I'd stuck to the original splurge I woud at least have ended up seeing new films and maybe discovering something that truly enriches my life. Instead I've reinforced bought useless things and the personality that I'm constantly disappointed by.
    Sigh. It's a laugh innit?