7/31/11

Meet the Man Who Invented Shopping as We Know It Today

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I adore shopping. It’s something I’ve taught myself to do and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve become good at it. But these days whenever I enter yet another gleaming retail temple, I’m always painfully aware of the labour that’s gone into creating the goods that are now presented in upmarket and sometimes opulent splendour for my delectation. There’s always another setting that is not seen, but that I think about.

This is what struck me most about Seduction in the City, a wonderful documentary screened on SBS, a government-funded Australian TV channel, last Wednesday night. It was a fascinating program about the birth of the modern department store. Many innovations that we take for granted today are incremental. But if the show is to be believed, the entire department store concept as we experience it today seems to have been dreamed up by a visionary marketer, the French entrepreneur Aristide Boucicaut.

Boucicaut owned one of the world’s first department stores, Le Bon Marche. It started off as a dry goods store in 1838 but after 1852 Boucicaut began to innovate, and he was spurred onto greater things by the World Fair that was hosted by Paris in 1855. The innovations he pioneered, and that we now can’t imagine life without, include price tags, the ability to return goods, on-site toilets, lifts, home delivery, sales, store catalogues, relying on high turnover to sell goods with a low mark-up, and the very idea of browsing. According to academic Sally Feldman, ‘The freedom to wander and gaze without having to buy ... was the most arresting feature of the very first department store’. And this, of course, is what still seduces us today.

Most important of all, Boucicaut decided that he was not just selling individual goods, but a lifestyle. Boucicaut’s consumer paradise offered customers more than the satisfaction of material needs. He was selling consumer desire itself.

Boucicaut was decades ahead of his time, but not just through his concept of an inviting store that would offer a complete experience. He focused on a target market that was ignored and denigrated at the time by a sexism that had permeated every discourse: women. Patriarchy was at its intellectual height and science was ‘proving’ that women were both weak and, to put it plainly, stupid.

Ironically, department stores became portals to female emancipation. They got women out of the house and into the public sphere and gave them objects of desire and aspiration. They created new public spaces that welcomed the presence of women, and developed the idea of consumerism. They gave jobs and a measure of independence to young women who came to capital cities and obtained work as shop assistants.

With half the population radically disempowered, leisure shopping for the first time offered women not only a public space where they were valued, but a dazzling array of consumer choices. Is it any wonder that so many women still adore leisure shopping today?

Continuing the tradition
Australian online shopping is way behind the USA and the UK both in popularity and the choices available to customers. Australian department stores and shopping centres are still undergoing stunning and opulent refurbishments in a bid to immerse customers in a seductive bricks-and-mortar experience. In late 2009 Chadstone Shopping Centre opened a new luxury precinct where shoppers stroll in light-filled splendour past elegant, architected-designed spaces housing international luxury brands. Myer’s flagship department store, a Melbourne institution, unveiled its dramatic architectural redesign (pictured above) in March this year.

I visited Myer’s Mural Hall in the city centre on the weekend. The 1933 hall, restored as part of the recent renovation, is a grand art deco space on the sixth floor of the main building, with a striking double staircase that sweeps down from twin balconies and three huge, ornate chandeliers. A series of murals around the walls that are set in decorative panels celebrate the achievements of women. Given that the murals were painted decades before second wave feminism, they attest to the importance of women as a target market at the time, and the need for the store’s design to contribute to women feeling good about themselves.

Behind the scenes
Watching the beautifully produced Seduction in the City, with its recreations of a nineteenth-century department store complete with quaint rows of wooden drawers to hold the stock, and elegant ladies in Edwardian costume, I kept thinking about the coal mines that powered the industrial revolution, and the horrific conditions in which the goods had no doubt been produced.

I was saddened to think about how little things have changed – we’ve simply exported the dark satanic mills to China. Indeed the show’s director, Sally Aitken, has written:

Many a time I have marvelled at the ingenuity and the tenacity of the early department store retailers. And many other times I’ve been appalled – their cunning ploys have left us the legacy of a society beset with instant gratification, debt, throwaway goods and endless fashion.
I still get seduced by the gleaming retail temples I visit, although increasingly less so. Simultaneously appalled and enthralled, I keep reminding myself that new models of making, buying and selling are now being developed that are in contrast with this model of consumerism, which is arguably outdated. We just don’t hear about these new models in the mainstream media – a subject for a future blog entry?

The final instalment of Seduction in the City will screen in Melbourne this Wednesday at 8.30 pm.

If you liked this blog entry you might enjoy Last Days of a Dying Behemoth.
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7/27/11

11 positive money beliefs that can help you save

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Sometimes it’s the things in our psyche we don’t acknowledge that have the most power over us. Once we’ve taken them out, dusted them off and held them up to the light, they lose their ability to sabotage our lives.

In my last blog entry I listed a set of negative beliefs about money and spending that could be holding you back without you realising. This time I’ve identified a range of positive beliefs that can help motivate you to successfully stick to a budget, save money and spend wisely.

Money is a charged subject, and beliefs about money and spending are influenced by our values and political affiliations. While the beliefs listed below are very general, they’re also subjective. Certainly they’ve helped me to save my hard-earned, and buy things that are right for me and my budget. You may have other positive beliefs that are helpful to you.

If you find any one of these beliefs particularly helpful, you could write it down and place it somewhere prominent so you can be reminded of it on a regular basis.

Here’s my list.
  • I can’t control everything in life – the world and life itself are inherently unstable. However, it’s possible to improve my chances of being financially independent by planning ahead and being prudent in my spending.
  • The feeling of satisfaction I get from looking after myself by paying a bill can sometimes be as gratifying as the short-term high of buying something I don’t need.
  • Just because my parents were poor at saving money doesn’t mean that I have to be.
  • Just because I’ve been a spendthrift all my life or lived in insecure housing doesn’t mean I must always remain in that position. Plenty of people have changed their fundamental attitudes to spending as well as their financial situations.
  • Some of the best things cost little. I can have fun while spending little or no money.
  • Money is not love, and I don’t have to spend a lot of money to tell others I love them. My hyperactive cocker spaniel would much rather I took him to the park for an hour than bought him a diamond-studded collar.
  • It’s not self-indulgent to treat myself sometimes – it’s important!
  • Money and possessions aren’t measures of personal worth. I don’t need to judge others on the basis of how much money they have and what they own.
  • The world is an unfair place. Many people have more money than me, and some of those at the top have rigged the system for personal gain. I can work for a more just society if I choose to, but in the meantime I have to deal with the world as it is, and look after myself accordingly.
  • Even though I may be sure that I want something, this doesn’t mean I have to have it the moment I decide I want it. Waiting for it may actually be a good thing.
  • Everyone is on their own path. I don’t have to have a particular material item or the latest piece of technology just because my friends, family members or colleagues have it. I buy what’s right for me and my lifestyle.

Try this exercise: find paper and a pen, and brainstorm a list of helpful beliefs about money and spending that you either already hold, or would like to. For the next week or so, keep the list handy and add to it whenever you become aware of any additional positive beliefs that you hold.

Use an e-file  to create your own permanent list of positive beliefs about money and spending. Include any beliefs you find helpful, whether from this list, other lists, or your own.

Whenever you make a spending decision that you think is unwise, refer to your list to help put you back on track.

What positive beliefs have helped you stay on track with your saving and spending?

If you enjoyed this post you might also like Beware the Shopping Shoulds.
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7/25/11

Are Any of These Negative Beliefs about Money Holding You Back?

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I’ve got a confession to make – I used to be a spendthrift. Basically that meant that I spent whatever I had. This seemed natural to me, an unwritten law: money was there to buy stuff, not to be saved. I’m ashamed to say that during my school years I even distrusted school friends who had managed to put away nest eggs!

We all have beliefs about money and spending, even though we may be unaware of them. I’m not one of those people who claim that you will achieve instant prosperity as soon as you change those beliefs – life is much more complicated than that.

But if you do have negative beliefs about money, until you face them fair and square they will almost certainly influence how you shop and how much you spend, and you’ll have trouble being more frugal, saving money for significant goals, and gaining control of your finances.

Here are some destructive beliefs that may be holding you back, starting with the most obvious. (I’ve subscribed to many of these beliefs at various times of my life.)

Note: you may still be holding onto some of these destructive beliefs even if you are being successfully frugal; even if you’re not acting on those beliefs any more, they may be making you unhappy.

• Money is there to be spent. When money comes in, it has to go out again.

• When I get a windfall, I need to splurge, otherwise I’m missing out.

• I always need to have the latest piece of technology, otherwise I’ll be uncool and out of the loop.

• I need to keep up with the standard of living pursued by my friends, family and neighbours.

• I need to be rich before I can start giving.

• I deserve to have [insert item of your choice!] because I am a good person.

• The world is an uncertain place. It’s safer to spend money rather than save it.

• Saving money is boring. It’s the kind of thing accountants do, not creative people like me.

• I don’t have to worry about money because the universe will look after me.

• I don’t have to worry about money because my parents will bail me out if need be.

• I don’t have to work for money - I’ll just attract it if I believe I can.

• I always have to buy only cheap goods and sale items otherwise I’ll go broke. It’s not safe to spend extra money to buy higher quality or ethical goods.

• It’s not fair that my sisters [or brothers, friends, neighbours, colleagues] can afford [their own house, an overseas holiday, a renovation, private schooling for their children] and I can’t, so it’s okay for me to borrow and overspend to obtain these things myself.

• I’ m a progressive and believe there should be a decent welfare safety net in place, so there’s no need for me to look after myself financially.

• The cost of living these days is outrageous. It’s not worth trying to live within my means.

• I’m too chaotic to develop the organisational skills that would enable me to save money, eg preparing my lunch in advance rather than buying it.

• There’s no point in trying to save money because whenever I start to get ahead, something happens that sets me behind again.

Identifying your negative money beliefs
Here’s an exercise: grab a piece of paper and brainstorm a list of negative beliefs about money and spending that may be holding you back. Note that some of these beliefs may lead to underspending rather than overspending.

Keep the list handy. Start to notice whenever any of these beliefs (or ones you haven’t yet pinpointed) are in play when you’re shopping, or doing anything that requires spending money, including paying bills. Add to the list any new negative beliefs that you’ve discovered you have about money.

Next time I’ll look at some helpful beliefs that can replace the unhelpful ones.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like 11 Positive Money Beliefs That Can Help You Save.
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7/21/11

How to Stay Calm When Shopping Online!

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Shopping online, or just browsing, is great fun. But because it is so convenient, it’s all too easy to fall into a delicious trance from which you wake hours later, having bought up the entire stock of Heavenly Homewares or Car Accessories R Us! Below are some useful tips for staying grounded when buying online.


* Ensure there is some natural light in the room. Open all blinds and curtains to let the day in.

* How are you sitting? Are you comfortable? Adjust your posture so you’re not slouching. Hunch and then relax your shoulders and move your head in a circle, a few times one way and then the other, to loosen your neck muscles.

* Be aware of your body in space – the feel of your feet resting on the ground; your fingers as they type on the keyboard or touchscreen; your breathing; your backside sitting on the chair; your back leaning against the chair or hunching forward. Try to maintain this body awareness for the entire shopping or browsing session.

* Take note of the temperature in the room. Are you hot, cold or just right?

* Stay aware of sounds: traffic, a clock ticking, floors creaking, a heater or air conditioner whirring, the hubbub of an office, a child’s voice, a dog barking, your fingers on the keyboard. Don’t judge the noises, or focus on any particular one; just be aware of each sound and then let it go.

* Tune into your emotions. What are you feeling right now? Where are the feelings? Are they in any particular part of your body? Don’t analyse or judge the feelings, just acknowledge and let yourself experience them.

* Don’t try to do more than one thing at once. Don’t text someone or speak on the phone as you’re browsing or shopping online. Stay focused on what you’re doing.

* Take your time. If you find yourself wanting to buy something in a hurry, perhaps you’re trying to tamp down some hidden doubts about the purchase. Slow down and listen to any doubts you have. Work out where the doubts are coming from, and whether or not you need to take heed of them.

* Stay grounded during the purchasing process. If you decide to buy something, stay aware of what’s going on for you, both physically and emotionally, as you buy.

While the tips above may slow you down a bit, the more grounded you are, the more efficient you’ll become. And of course, these techniques aren’t just useful for online shopping; use them throughout the day to stay grounded and in the present.
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7/18/11

Great tips for successful op and thrift shopping

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Now that July is here, chances are you’re either stuck in the middle of a freezing cold winter or  enjoying (or enduring) a sizzling summer. Op shopping (thrift shopping) is great fun whether in the dead of winter, boiling hot weather or anything in between. The tips below will help you make the most of your op and thrift shopping. Happy adventuring!

* Use the poor merchandising at some op shops to your advantage. Some stock may not be displayed prominently enough for casual shoppers to notice. When you’re in the store, don’t just keep your searching at waist level. Look up high to the goods displayed on the top shelves and the pictures hanging on the walls, and look low to the goods in boxes and bins on the ground. Search out hidden nooks and crannies and stock that has been poorly positioned and displayed.

* Bring cash when op and thrift shopping. Op shops in Australia often specify a minimum spend if you want to use a credit or debit card, which may encourage you to spend more. There may also be an extra charge for the use of the card that volunteer staff may not always remember to mention!

* Find out about op shop sales and specials, and take advantage of them. For example, Salvos stores in Australia offer a 20 per cent discount to pensioners on Tuesdays, while at least one Salvos store in Melbourne (Dandenong South ) offers a student discount on Wednesdays. Salvos stores also have daily half-price offers identifiable by a coloured sticker system – ask staff for more details. Savers stores in Melbourne have student and pensioner discount days (Sunday and Monday respectively). You can register on the Savers website for email updates on special offers; Savers also runs a loyalty program with a discount card.

* Don't use op or thrift shopping as an excuse to hoard. Because op shop finds are often so inexpensive, it can be tempting to clutter up your home with cheap rather than overpriced junk. Even if something costs only 50c, don’t buy it unless it feels right – it could be meant for someone else who will be able to make better use of it. And, unless you’re a reseller, pass up that once-in-a-lifetime bargain if you really don’t need it. On one op shop trawl, I found a whole stack of new Sass and Bide designer jeans for $35 a pair; I just didn’t need jeans and I’m not a huge eBayer, so I let them go. I knew there were other shoppers they were meant for!

* Use the resources of the internet to get the most out of op shops. I op therefore I am is a fantastic group blog detailing op shop finds in Melbourne; a similar blog operates for Canberra. There are dozens of blogs that combine op shop savvy with craft skills and repurposing; two of the best US ones are Apron Thrift Girl  and New Dress a Day. The Thrift-ola blog chronicles thrifting adventures in the UK.

* Time your visits so as to get the most bargains. These days, at the op shops I visit, goods are being put on the shop floor constantly throughout the day. This means that getting to the store early in the day doesn’t guarantee the best bargains (unless you’ve spotted something in the window while the store is closed), but it's often worthwhile simply because there are fewer shoppers and therefore less competition.

Regardless of the time of day you go, watch for volunteers putting out the stock, and check any full trolleys hanging around. At op shops you visit regularly, ask the staff if stock is put on the shop floor at particular times of the day or week.

Many people drop their goods off on weekends, so in theory Monday afternoons or Tuesday mornings, when op shop workers have had time to put new stock out after the weekend, should be good times to visit. However, some op shops are so behind in the processing of stock that the day of the week is irrelevant. Still, the same advice applies here as it does to shopping in the morning – there tend to be fewer other shoppers in the store during the week compared with weekends, and therefore less competition for the goods.

* Focus on stores most likely to have good stock. Stores in the wealthier suburbs can offer excellent goods, but also try outer suburbs that are becoming more affluent. And in my experience, it’s harder to find bargains in inner suburbs housing high numbers of students and young people in general.

* To save time, suss out all the op shops in a particular shopping strip and visit them all on the same expedition. If you plan to go early, keep a record of opening times as they won’t necessarily synchronise; one shop may open at 9 am, another nearby one not until 10. If necessary, plan an activity to fill in the time or locate another op shop to go to in between.

* Don't try to haggle with staff. In my experience haggling is a no-no at op shops, unless you think the item is absurdly overpriced. I have seen volunteers throw tantrums after dealing with customers who they felt were driving too hard a bargain. (Of course you’re entitled to complain if pricing signage is misleading.)

* Use your gut feeling to decide whether something will look right in your home and become a seamless part of your decor. Your intuition is a vital tool when buying furniture and knick-knacks at op shops, because sometimes the goods that catch your eye are surrounded by junk (and may be dirty!), and it’s hard to visualise how they’ll shape up once you’ve got them home.

* Check everything thoroughly before you buy. Remember that it’s much harder to take things back to an op shop than to a store run for profit. These shops are run for charitable purposes, and it can be embarrassing to return things, even if they are faulty. However, it’s not wholly a bad thing if you do make a shopping ‘mistake’ at an op shop – you can rest assured that you’ve made a donation to a worthwhile cause!
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7/11/11

Wanted – An Annie Hall for the 2000s

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In the last few years a new look that combines 1980s and 90s female fashion and preppy 1920s male style has been dancing around the edges of the fashion world while failing to completely make it into the mainstream.

Its central elements are loose, man-style pants, waistcoats, oversized shirts, ‘boyfriend’ jeans, golfing shoes and long-line oversized cardigans. It’s often combined with raunch culture influences – high-heeled boots and cuffed shorts, for example.

Yet the more masculine elements of the look haven’t really taken off in their own right. I have a theory about this – raunch culture, derived from porn, currently dominates mainstream fashion, and has brought us totter-producing heels that recall sadomasochistic props, tight short skirts and strapless dresses. The main market for fashion is younger women. These women are often desperate to conform to current style, and may be reluctant to appear too ‘masculine’.

Cut back to 1977, when the film Annie Hall took Hollywood by storm. Directed by Woody Allen and starring himself and Diane Keaton, it was partly autobiographical, chronicling the one-time real-life relationship between Allen and Keaton. The latter played the irrepressible free spirit Annie Hall.

Keaton used her own wardrobe,
despite the protestations of the film’s wardrobe mistress. Her individualistic fashion style, featuring man-style baggy pants, white shirts, loosely knotted ties, vests and oversized jackets, unleashed a whole new fashion trend. Newly liberated women embraced the anarchic yet elegant androgyny Keaton offered them.

The film was one of Woody Allen’s most popular; it won four Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Diane Keaton and Best Picture.

Keaton taught women that fashion could be fun, inventive and creative; that dressing stylishly was consistent with  an artistic sensibility; and that it wasn't purely about being attractive to men. Most important of all, Keaton's adventurous look symbolised the growing social power of women and their status as equal partners in romantic relationships. Her sartorial style is indissoluble from the aim of the film, which is to depict a modern relationship of equals.

The publicity poster for the film featured below is a case in point. Keaton’s large hat makes her appear taller than Allan, who contemplates her frankly, with his hands in his pockets. She smiles at him in her exaggerated garb, an individual whom he must accept on her own terms rather than subdue or protect, as in more traditional romances.
Keaton’s distinctive style is not simply a copy of masculine dress of the time, but an adaptation, as the flowing skirt, clumpy boots and oversized hat indicate.

It’s impossible to exaggerate how exciting the advent of this style was to a 14-year-old Melbourne girl who loved clothes but had no money. Here are last was truly accessible fashion, available at my local op (thrift) shop.

The cover of one of the 1977 winter issues of Australian Vogue trumpeted the arrival of the Annie Hall look in Australia. It featured a narrow-faced blonde model in a quaint rustic setting, wearing a houndstooth jacket and waistcoat, white shirt, black necktie, and flared tailored pants, her golden hair escaping from under a fishing cap.

But I didn’t have to spend a fortune to adopt the look, or something similar. With my best friend at the time, Sharon, I raided the local stores for long white men’s shirts and narrow ties in dark colours (we wore these long shirts over jeans). I adopted my grandfather’s fishing cap, which looked a little bit like the one in the pic below, but I could also have bought a cheap Stetson hat from any op shop.
The term ‘more dash than cash’ was never more applicable.

Today, high heels, tight miniskirts and fitted dresses will trump the more relaxed ‘masculine’ styles. But, with the return of 1980s and 90s masculine-influenced fashion, at least we have alternatives to choose from. Yet Annie Hall teaches us that we don’t have to adapt to current fashion styles at all – we can create our own.
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7/5/11

Buried Treasure, Hidden Duds – What Lurks in Your Wardrobe?

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Think of the clothes and accessories in your wardrobe. Chances are there’s at least one item that you probably shouldn’t have bought and will never wear again.

But chances are there is also a hidden treasure lurking at the back of a drawer or cupboard, or, in my case, at the bottom of a pile of clothes resting on a chair – something that you’ve forgotten exists or simply haven’t worn for a while that you could be mixing and matching with your other clothes for a whole new look.

The hidden dud

Most of us have bought duds at some time or another – something we buy to wear to a special event, or for everyday use, and realise belatedly is all wrong for us. No matter how much you try, a dud will never work in your wardrobe. It’s simply wrong, and it’s better to admit you have made a mistake and get rid of it – either by selling it, carting it off the op shop (thrift shop) or storing it in readiness for the next local government hard rubbish collection.

You could also swap it with a friend or take it to a clothes-swapping event such as those held by The Clothing Exchange.

Why do we hang onto duds for so long? Psychology researchers describe the reason as ‘the sunk cost fallacy’. When a project clearly fails, we humans are naturally concerned about the money and time we’ve already invested in it. Unfortunately, sometimes we’re so concerned about these costs that we use them to justify continuing on with the project, even though to do so just compounds the problem.

An item of clothing that we bought for the wrong reasons is a kind of project – getting rid of it would mean we’d have to admit to ourselves that buying it in the first place was a waste of money.

While the sunk cost fallacy may explain something as trivial as the alligator skin belt that’s tucked away in a bottom drawer in your spare room, its effects are often not so trivial – they explain, for example, why a nation might continue to pursue a war of occupation even though it has clearly failed.

Admitting you made a mistake, bringing your hidden dud to light and getting rid of it can be a huge relief – you’ll probably feel as if a weight has been lifted. Remember, something that’s a dud to you may well be a treasure to someone else, so passing it on to a good home can be an act of altruism!

The buried treasure

Fashion has changed out of all recognition in recent years. It’s no longer dictated from above, with one set of styles holding sway for one season and then disappearing for years at a time. Instead, different looks and styles are worn together, savvy street fashion is relayed across the globe on style blogs such as Facehunter, retro clothes combine with new ones, and it’s all mashed together in a gloriously anarchic way.

It’s very likely that there’s at least one item in your wardrobe that you think is out of date but may not be. An item that may have swung back into fashion, or one that could be given new life by a more recent item that you already have.

Whether it’s a belt, scarf, skirt, top, pair of pants, jacket, shoes or something else, this item may be waiting for you to rediscover and make use of it.

So, why not go to your wardrobe and see if you can find at least one example of a hidden dud and one example of buried treasure? You might be surprised at what’s lurking in there!
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