Retail Therapy Redefined

Don doesn't get the whole "retail therapy"concept. He knows what he needs, period. He simply says, "I need a new blue shirt for work," and then heads out to find one. His shopper-mind is a steel trap: find blue shirt, buy blue shirt, call it a day. And that's how shopping had always gone for him, until now. Driving home from Nordstrom last week, he kept saying, "I can't believe they don't have a blue shirt that's made in the USA."

"You don't have to do this," I told him. "Besides, there's no reason we can't change the rules as we go along. It's not like anyone's going to care." But Don is one of those admirable people who does the right thing even when no one's looking. Yes, Richie Cunningham on Happy Days was exactly like him, but Richie Cunningham was a fictional TV character. Don's the real thing. "I care," he said. "This is important. So what if my shirt cuffs are frayed? No big deal."

Lest you think he's perfect, a few days ago Don / Richie C arrived home from the grocery store with foreign goods. I'd given him a grocery list but left the veggies up to him. "Just get anything that's grown here and looks good," I'd said. "Maybe broccoli and cauliflower…?" Week after cold winter week, we'd eaten {locally grown} broccoli and cauliflower. We lusted for rain-free days. We lusted for the sun on our arms and warm climate produce. We lusted for--dare I say it?--Mexican goods.

"Hope you won't get mad," Don said, taking pledge-busting zucchini and baby tomatoes out of the bag. "I'll take them back if you want me to. " I didn't miss a beat. "Wow, Richie. Can't believe you caved. You’re the best." We quartered the zucchini, sliced the baby tomatoes in half, sautéed them in olive oil and garlic, then added chopped mint (which grows wild in our yard). Don grilled fresh wild local swordfish. We spooned the zucchini-tomato combo over the grilled fish. Colorful. Delicious.

But that said, the typical concept of retail therapy isn't on Don's radar. Sure, he'll head out for a new hose at Home Depot and arrive home with additional hardware-gadgetry he's found along the way. But that's not the same as what women like to do: meet for lunch, browse department stores and shops, comment on what's out there, buy clothes that for seemingly magical reasons make us feel good. It's shameful, but there you have it: retail shopping as therapy.

I mention this topic because, since being on this buy-USA quest, I haven't met up with a friend for lunch and shopping in months. Not since prior to January 1st. I feel like someone who's recently quit smoking. It's tough to be around others who haven't quit. It'd be too tempting to give in and puff away. That's why I suggested dinner at the Nordstrom Café with Don last week. To get out, be in the retail milieu. Put my toe in the consumer waters. I knew he'd be anxious to eat, buy his shirt, and leave. Worked out just right.

A couple of days after the Nordstrom dinner-and-a-cardigan event, I found a "sorry we missed you" slip in my mailbox. The mailperson had tried to deliver some packages but I hadn't been home. Oh, my Etsy.com handbags must be here. I grabbed my keys and headed over to the post office a few miles away.

And here the difference between online shopping and brick-and-mortar, impulse-oriented shopping becomes glaringly obvious. It had been nearly a week since I'd ordered my three purses. I tried to remember what they looked like. Talk about delayed gratification.

Can online retail shopping be "therapeutic"? I thought about this on the way to the post office. Clothing designers say the mere touch of a fabric gets their creative juices flowing. Patterns and colors release endorphins. Designers thrive on this tactile, sensory response. Soon they're sketching away. I think brick-and-mortar shopping--at least for women--can be similar. Physically touching the clothes and other products we're going to buy triggers a response in us. We like to pick up the folded clothes on the display tables. Marketing research shows doing so increases the odds that a shopper will actually buy an item. That's why all those display tables are there: to entice us to buy.

But it goes further than that. Much to our chagrin, women don't know how something will look until we try it on. Nothing seems to fit the same, even items from the same manufacturer. And we're not really sure if a dress or blouse or pair of jeans is "us" until we try it on. We even "try on" purses, to see if the straps are comfortable, to see if the overall handbag's size is in proportion to our height and stature. When you think about it, shopping can be a creative endeavor. We're seeking ourselves out there. Who are we, what's our mood, today? It's all very changeable and unpredictable and complicated.

Now think about shopping online. There's a barrier between us and the products. And hope plays a huge role. Hope it fits, hope I like it, hope it arrives when I need it. Hope returning it is easy. Hope they don't charge me again for shipping. Is hope therapeutic? Hope indicates optimism, which is nice. But the flip side can be worry, uncertainty, pessimism, even regret. Shoot. I have no idea if I'll like what I ordered. I shoulda just gone to the mall.

The postal clerk was cheerful and smiling as she handed three packages over to me. But I'd already spent $15 per package to have them delivered to my house. So far, not therapeutic. I arrived home, dumped the contents of each package onto the kitchen table. Oh, there's The Purse Peddlers Jeff and Candy Halstead's black leather tote. Much more generous in size than I'd imagined. Just right for all my stuff. And the leather's so soft. The inside lining's upholstery quality--much nicer than anything I'd ever had inside a handbag, including high-end designer bags. And there's a leather key holder, snapped to the inside. Now I won't lose my keys. How cool! I tried the handbag on. It didn't slip off my shoulder because Jeff and Candy had sewn a small, inconspicuous piece of black, non-slip fabric right where the straps hit the shoulder. Awesome. And TT Totes Toni's one-of-a-kind purses were a wonder. Totally professional looking, with adorable fabrics (a Paris street scene on one; beach-and-shells on the other) and sturdy yet unique handles.

Was my online shopping experience therapeutic? Eventually, yes. Not during the choosing and ordering process, which can be tedious. But at the point where I sat at my kitchen table and marveled over three Americans' talented handiwork. That's when good feelings rushed over me. And they've stayed with me, as I alternately wear each USA-made purse all over town.

Guess you could say it's retail therapy redefined. It's therapeutic to buy products made in America. And with this redefined retail therapy, Don and I are on the same page. In fact, he's the one who won't back down. Late last night I found him looking at cars online, trying to figure out which one is truly most American. "Oh honey, really?" I said. "You don't have to take it that far. Just get whatever you want. Buy another Honda. Does it even matter, at this point? Who really even cares?"

I think you can guess what he said.