Spent: Memoirs of a Shopping Addict

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Overview

As a child, Avis Cardella devoured the glamorous images in her mother's fashion magazines. She grew up to be one of the people in them, living a life that seemed to be filled with labels and luxury. But shopping had become a dangerous addiction. She forwent food for Prada. Credit card debt blossomed like the ever-increasing pile of unworn shoes and clothing in the back of her closet. She defined herself by the things she owned and also lost herself in the mad hunt for the ...

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Overview

As a child, Avis Cardella devoured the glamorous images in her mother's fashion magazines. She grew up to be one of the people in them, living a life that seemed to be filled with labels and luxury. But shopping had become a dangerous addiction. She forwent food for Prada. Credit card debt blossomed like the ever-increasing pile of unworn shoes and clothing in the back of her closet. She defined herself by the things she owned and also lost herself in the mad hunt for the perfect pair of pants or purse that might make her feel whole.

Spent is Avis Cardella's timely, deeply personal, and shockingly dramatic exploration of our cultural need to spend, and of what happens when someone is consumed by the desire to consume.

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Editorial Reviews

Susan Squire
These are the confessions of a real shopaholic, riveting to read and painfully self-aware. Avis Cardella speaks truth to power—the power of delusional thinking that is peculiarly female in nature. As in: Never mind that I'm already 20 grand in Visa debt, I desperately need that Prada suit to make my life-to make ME-perfect. If this sounds scarily familiar, what you need even more desperately is a copy of Spent, right now.
author of I Don't: A Contrarian History of Marriage
Sarah Haight
Cardella, now in her late 40s, has an elegant, serious voice in Spent; a bauble-decked shopaholic straight out of a frothy chick lit novel, she's not. Clothes...are described earnestly, and she casts the fashion industry...in an occasionally deeply unflattering light. But Spent is less an indictment of an industry as a whole and more an examination of Cardella's own vulnerability to its particular pitfalls: insecurities placated by dressing well and buying luxe, as well as an exhausting run with a fast crowd.
Women's Wear Daily
Malcolm Ritter
For anyone who has felt the thrill of snapping up a bargain or buying something extravagant, this glimpse of the far side of shopping's emotional kicks can be fascinating.
San Francisco Chronicle
Caroline Weber
bracing... Avis Cardella's "Spent" relates how the author's "compulsive shopping habit" pushed her to the brink of financial and existential bankruptcy. This riveting, painfully candid memoir exposes the dark side of the belief that we are what we wear.
The New York Times Sunday Book Review
Caroline Weber - The New York Times Sunday Book Review
"bracing... Avis Cardella's "Spent" relates how the author's "compulsive shopping habit" pushed her to the brink of financial and existential bankruptcy. This riveting, painfully candid memoir exposes the dark side of the belief that we are what we wear."
April Lane Benson
"In this intimate and revealing portrait, Avis Cardella unapologetically invites us to bear witness to the devastating effect that her mother's sudden death had on her life, and the ensuing serious shopping addiction that temporarily took away her fragility and numbness and bolstered her shaky sense of self. It came with a very high price, however. Spent is a cautionary tale for the millions of women who try to build a sense of themselves based on fashion or images presented in the media--and don't realize that 'in the process of trying to create a new self, another self that is more central may be annihilated'."
Malcolm Ritter - San Francisco Chronicle
"For anyone who has felt the thrill of snapping up a bargain or buying something extravagant, this glimpse of the far side of shopping's emotional kicks can be fascinating."
Sarah Haight - Women's Wear Daily
"Cardella, now in her late 40s, has an elegant, serious voice in Spent; a bauble-decked shopaholic straight out of a frothy chick lit novel, she's not. Clothes...are described earnestly, and she casts the fashion industry...in an occasionally deeply unflattering light. But Spent is less an indictment of an industry as a whole and more an examination of Cardella's own vulnerability to its particular pitfalls: insecurities placated by dressing well and buying luxe, as well as an exhausting run with a fast crowd."
Susan Squire - author of I Don't: A Contrarian History of Marriage
"These are the confessions of a real shopaholic, riveting to read and painfully self-aware. Avis Cardella speaks truth to power--the power of delusional thinking that is peculiarly female in nature. As in: Never mind that I'm already 20 grand in Visa debt, I desperately need that Prada suit to make my life-to make ME-perfect. If this sounds scarily familiar, what you need even more desperately is a copy of Spent, right now."
From the Publisher
"These are the confessions of a real shopaholic, riveting to read and painfully self-aware. Avis Cardella speaks truth to power—the power of delusional thinking that is peculiarly female in nature. As in: Never mind that I'm already 20 grand in Visa debt, I desperately need that Prada suit to make my life-to make ME-perfect. If this sounds scarily familiar, what you need even more desperately is a copy of Spent, right now."—Susan Squire, author of I Don't: A Contrarian History of Marriage

"Cardella, now in her late 40s, has an elegant, serious voice in Spent; a bauble-decked shopaholic straight out of a frothy chick lit novel, she's not. Clothes...are described earnestly, and she casts the fashion industry...in an occasionally deeply unflattering light. But Spent is less an indictment of an industry as a whole and more an examination of Cardella's own vulnerability to its particular pitfalls: insecurities placated by dressing well and buying luxe, as well as an exhausting run with a fast crowd."—Sarah Haight, Women's Wear Daily

"In this intimate and revealing portrait, Avis Cardella unapologetically invites us to bear witness to the devastating effect that her mother's sudden death had on her life, and the ensuing serious shopping addiction that temporarily took away her fragility and numbness and bolstered her shaky sense of self. It came with a very high price, however. Spent is a cautionary tale for the millions of women who try to build a sense of themselves based on fashion or images presented in the media—and don't realize that 'in the process of trying to create a new self, another self that is more central may be annihilated'."—April Lane Benson, Ph.D., author of To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop

"For anyone who has felt the thrill of snapping up a bargain or buying something extravagant, this glimpse of the far side of shopping's emotional kicks can be fascinating."—Malcolm Ritter, San Francisco Chronicle

"bracing... Avis Cardella's "Spent" relates how the author's "compulsive shopping habit" pushed her to the brink of financial and existential bankruptcy. This riveting, painfully candid memoir exposes the dark side of the belief that we are what we wear."—Caroline Weber, The New York Times Sunday Book Review

Caroline Weber
This riveting, painfully candid memoir exposes the dark side of the belief that we are what we wear. For if a woman doesn't know who she is on the inside, Spent reveals, then concentrating obsessively on the outside will only lead her farther astray. This is what happened to Cardella, a former fashion editor, whose excessive spending habits wreaked havoc with her finances, her relationships and her soul.
—The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
A study in how compulsive acquisition can lead to untold loss. Cardella exposes the self-destructive shopaholic tendencies that plagued her throughout early adulthood. Captivated at a young age by the allure of the fashion world depicted in the pages of Vogue, as well as her mother's glamorous sense of style, the author writes that she first looked to fashion as a mode of self-expression. But soon after her mother's death in 1989, that expression morphed into self-destructive behavior as Cardella began shopping compulsively, using the physical rush derived from buying clothes and accessories to fill a gaping emotional void. With the eerie intensity of a junkie getting a fix, the author recounts in encyclopedic detail garments worn on pivotal occasions, the arresting pleasure of shopping at exclusive boutiques-"Having a handbag placed in a special silk or flannel sack gave me a secret thrill, and seeing a simple white blouse disappear in a cloud of brightly colored tissue paper was as mesmerizing as a magic trick"-even the sensual appeal of closet hangers holding up her evening gowns: "There were hangers entwined in beautiful pale pink satin, looking as delicate as a ballerina's toe shoes; hangers that came with their own pearl-tipped push pins with which the thinnest of spaghetti straps could be secured." Not surprisingly, Cardella's attempts to heal deep psychological wounds with surface balms led to a string of failed relationships and serious financial woes before she somehow righted the ship. While this confession admirably avoids self-help territory, it reads more like a self-indulgent exercise in retrospection than a serious inquiry into the causes of the author's affliction. Onewoman's quest for the meaning of living beyond her means-a middling memoir.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316035606
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 5/14/2010
  • Pages: 263
  • Sales rank: 568,829
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

After spending her formative years reading fashion magazines voraciously, Avis Cardella found her calling writing about photography, fashion, and culture. She has written for British Vogue, American Photo, and Surface, among other publications. She lives in Paris with her husband.

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First Chapter

Spent

Memoirs of a Shopping Addict
By Cardella, Avis

Little, Brown and Company

Copyright © 2010 Cardella, Avis
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780316035606

One

BARNEYS, BERGDORF’S, BLOOMINGDALE’S

I used shopping to avoid myself. I used shopping to define myself. And at some point, I realized that I was no longer consuming; I was just being consumed. When I stood in the lingerie department of Barneys, flanked by rows of candy-colored Cosabella thongs and Ripcosa tank tops, and couldn’t remember how I got there, I knew I was in trouble.

That was back at the turn of the millennium, when life couldn’t have been better, but when I knew that something was going terribly wrong. Why was I standing in Barneys in a stupor? Why was I buying twenty pairs of underwear?

“Can I help you?” said the salesperson.

“Yes, I want one in every color.”

And then the walk home, the strange feeling of not wanting what I now had: twenty Cosabella thongs wrapped in whisper-thin tissue paper at the bottom of a black Barneys shopping bag.

I returned to my apartment and threw the bag in the back of the closet, where other discarded purchases were already marooned.

But, by all appearances, life was good. I was living in Manhattan and had a career as a freelance writer. I was engaged to a wealthy European businessman, and we had two homes, two cars, and an abundance of friends. My closet was full of beautiful things to wear, and there were all kinds of places to wear them.

It was the late 1990s—the age of “irrational exuberance”—and everyone was irrational; everyone was exuberant; everyone was shopping. Why not me? What could be wrong with that? Shopping almost felt mandatory in Manhattan. Just outside my front door was a veritable candy land: Tiffany’s, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Manolo Blahnik, Bulgari, Takashimaya, Bonwit Teller, Prada, Linda Dresner, Emporio Armani, Tod’s, Nike, Burberry’s—and my three favorite department stores: Barneys, Bergdorf’s, and Bloomingdale’s.

Let me give the geography because junkies are always concerned with logistics: Bergdorf’s was the closest of my beloved retail fixes, about a six-minute walk from the luxury high-rise tower in which I lived. Barneys was next, about a ten-minute walk depending on the route I’d take. Bloomingdale’s could be reached in fifteen minutes at a good clip.

Of the three, Barneys on Madison Avenue was the one I liked best. Barneys was modern, fresh, and white walled. Stepping into Barneys always felt a bit like boarding a spaceship. Sometimes I felt there was a distinct atmospheric change, a subtle barometric shift that seemed to occur in the small vestibule that led from the street to the store. Consequently, everything for sale at Barneys carried an aura of specialness, even otherworldliness. When I was strolling alone around Barneys, the world outside ceased to exist.

I could spend hours anchored in the shoe department. The salesman knew me by name. I knew his too. John had been selling me shoes for years. We first met when he was working at the downtown Barneys on 17th Street. It goes back that far, perhaps to the late eighties. He was always friendly and seemed to enjoy his job, but what he really wanted to do was bake cookies. I confided that I wanted to become a writer.

This is what happens when you spend a lot of time shopping: You get to know sales associates, and they get to know you. Sometimes you end up receiving handwritten notes in the mail, informing you of the arrival of a new collection or inviting you to a private sale. You get Christmas cards too.

At Bergdorf’s I never knew anybody on the selling floor by name. I liked to float through the store and not speak. I felt intimidated there and slightly out of my league. Pretending to be born and bred Bergdorf’s was something of a private fantasy for me. It must have been a New York thing. I didn’t enjoy shopping at Bergdorf’s as much as at Barneys, but Bergdorf’s had an air of superiority. Even pushing my way through the heavy, gilded revolving door felt like an initiation rite. Getting my hair cut and colored on the light-filled top floor at the John Barrett Salon was the closest I ever came to feeling like the “real deal”: a Bergdorf blonde.

At Bloomingdale’s I could indulge my most secret self. I had a history at Bloomingdale’s because that is where I had shopped with my mother and where I could always return to dive into the folds of my past. As I came to realize, my shopping habit had deep roots. The memory of shopping with my mother is a touchstone.

I used shopping to avoid myself.

At the end of the twentieth century, as the Y2K bug was threatening to sour the big party, as New York’s dot-com bubble was growing and Wall Street mavericks were riding roughshod through town, guns blazing, I was waking up from my big sleep, my stupor, my sidestepping grief.

Who was I?

I was a woman living in Manhattan. I was a creature with a cultivated appearance. Everything about me was carefully calibrated. Tips and cues were dictated by the pages of fashion magazines; I tried to follow them meticulously. My regimen included Pilates classes, yoga, and core fusion. The resulting body was taut and toned, rope muscled and fine. My skin also was polished and buffed like a brand-new automobile; it caught the light and glowed. This was the expensive appearance, the shopper’s appearance, because shopping was an essential part of the lifestyle. If you didn’t look the part, the sales associates wouldn’t take you seriously. It was the acceptable appearance, because on any given day, as the sun came slanting down New York’s grid of corridors, hundreds of women who looked just like me could be seen scampering to and fro clutching shopping bags.

Looking back, I realize that I must have joined that team as a sleepwalker. At the time, I had no recollection of how I got there. I only know that I awoke one day to find my closet filled with the right kinds of suits—Prada, Armani, Calvin Klein, Jil Sander—and the right kinds of shoes with heart-stabbing heels, the type that made my legs look just right, like magic. (It’s all about illusion.) And in my bathroom cabinet, there were the right kinds of creams: the Laszlo Night Serum, the Crème de la Mer, the regenerating fluid, the Clinique soap, the vitamin C rejuvenating gel, the whitening toothpaste, and the amino acids with strange-sounding names.

I awoke one day with the realization that the only way I could have acquired all these accoutrements of the cultivated appearance was by having shopped for them. Therefore, I must have been shopping for a very long time.

So that is how, one glorious, sunny Tuesday afternoon, I found myself in Barneys and couldn’t remember how I got there. Where I should have been was home finishing a story about the fashion photographer Michael Thompson. I had interviewed Thompson at a downtown studio where he was photographing Halle Berry for Revlon. It was my prize interview, hard-won from the clutches of another writer. But now the story was overdue, and I… well, I was standing awestruck in the lingerie department.

I was staring at the Cosabella panties.

There must have been twenty colors or even more. There were so many delectable colors: Tang orange, bubble gum pink, grape, lemon, Astroturf green, lipstick red, fuchsia, lavender, blush, and café au lait. Some Ripcosa tank tops in white and black were dangling from a railing just above the panties, and I asked for three of those. “Two in black and one in white, please.”

Thongs and tanks—an army of undies surrounded me. There were also brassieres and bustiers, camisoles and cotton pajama tops, satin lounging robes and silk tap pants. And it was all there to be bought. I was there to buy. That’s where I was when I should have been at home working.

I watched as the salesperson carefully checked the label of each pair of panties, and I felt as if a helium balloon was being inflated inside my head. It took up the space where my brain was supposed to be. I could have floated to the ceiling and stayed there for an eternity, hovering above the lingerie department, because I felt a kind of high at the thought of purchasing all those panties.

But as I walked home that day, I wasn’t sure what I wanted anymore. I only knew that I was slipping. It was impossible to imagine how far the slide would be or how hard the landing. I definitely didn’t know where it would end. I only knew that I had started to experience something troubling and inexplicable.

What was this shopping itch that had begun to appear with regularity? It was like an alien being that tapped into my psyche and told me to stop everything I was doing in order to shop. Even though shopping was a routine part of my life, this itch felt different. It demanded to be scratched. When the itch would return, the only thing to relieve it was a purchase. I had begun to shop like someone on autopilot, purchasing impulsively, mindlessly. These shopping episodes were followed by regret and sadness—sometimes so profound that I couldn’t breathe, as if something heavy had settled on my chest and couldn’t be moved.

I had loved shopping since I was a young girl. What could be wrong with shopping? When I was in my teens, it hardly seemed possible that something as pleasurable, as innocuous—one of the most ordinary of pastimes—could wreak havoc with my life.

When I got home that day, I opened my closet door and was confronted with the contents. There were my beautiful suits, my columns of cashmere sweaters, stacks of T-shirts and summer dresses. Everything was in its place. But at the back of the closet, there was a growing pile of unopened shopping bags. One bag contained a $500 denim jacket; another had three pairs of yoga pants. I threw in the glossy black bag from Barneys and shut the door.

Shopping was my escape, my friend, my balm, my release, my pacifier, my pleasure, my secret, my pastime, my kill time, my fantasy, my reality, my recreation, my therapy, my drug, my stimulant, my lover, my memory, my link with the past, my trip to the future.

Was it also my addiction?



Continues...

Excerpted from Spent by Cardella, Avis Copyright © 2010 by Cardella, Avis. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

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( 16 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Incomplete therapy session masquerading as a book about shopping addiction.

    The author's real problem seems to be a lack of identity: She goes from clique to clique and man to man, each of whom dresses her in the style that he prefers and that is appropriate for the social events and activities in his life. If this were fiction, the book would end with the author finding her true self and developing a real identity. I kept hoping that the author's lifelong fascination with fashion photography, referenced repeatedly throughout the book, would ultimately lead her to become a creator rather than a consumer, but the transformation never takes place. Instead, all we're left with is the vague conclusion that she stopped shopping because she ran out of money, somehow re-met and married a man that she had fallen in love with in her youth, and moved to France to live with him -- probably taking on aspects of his preferences and lifestyle, as she had with all the others who went before. No doubt there was/is a true addiction described here, but shopping is the means, not the end -- just this chameleon's way of blending into each successive social group or boyfriend's world.

    Engagingly written with a bit of actual research into shopping addiction, but the reader looking for a book about shopping addiction may find this navel-gazer a bit of a bait and switch.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 3, 2010

    Relatable

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it was hard to put down. I understood the author's desire to keep up appearances and I think most people can relate to that. It was definitely a wake up call because I know people who spend their last dollar on an expensive pair of shoes as opposed to food for the week. I highly recommend this book if you are going through a similar situation.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2013

    I really enjoyed this book and thought it was very insightful. N

    I really enjoyed this book and thought it was very insightful. Not many people write with such brutal honesty about their addictions and it was fascinating to get an inside look into a shopping addicts mind. A very easy and enjoyable read.

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  • Posted July 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A book you really should get into!

    This memoir about Avis who was a shopaholic made me thankful that I am not one! She had her hard times with being indebt because of her shopping habits and the bad times with her friends that didn't last long! It was a good read and maybe it will help you think twice about purchasing"things".

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  • Posted June 4, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Bridget's Review

    Every little girl has looked through magazines and thought about what it would be like to wear those fancy clothes and expensive jewelry. Avis, desperate to be that beautiful model dressed in Gucci, grew up to only purchase the finer things in life. The problem was, she didn't have an unlimited amount of income to afford her shopping habits which landed her in an enormous amount of debt.

    Spent is just like Confessions of a Shopaholic except that it's a true story. I was able to connect with Avis because I know what it's like to bury your fears and frustrations by consuming your time with one thing or another. Now go out and buy this book so that Avis can get a new pair of Prada heels.

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