We wouldn't regard this as a particularly stylish fashion choice, and certainly not as a glamorous one. We are unlikely to stare wistfully at a cotton t-shirt in a shop window, or buy one in anticipation of a special event. We don't luxuriate in the feel of the fabric when we pull the freshly laundered garment over our head - yet Louis XVI would have been deeply impressed by this rare and decadent phenomenon.
The t-shirt itself has not changed; only our attitude to it. When we have to pay a lot for something nice, we appreciate it to the full. Yet as its market price falls, passion has a habit of fading away. It’s a pattern that we see recurring in a range of areas – and it’s a cultural misfortune. We need to rethink our patterns of consumption.
This entertainingly informative book considers how to do so, and shows how more of the things we could love are already to hand. We might be surprised to find that we are already a good deal richer than we are encouraged to think.
About the Author
The School of Life is a global organization helping people lead more fulfilled lives. It is a resource for helping us understand ourselves, for improving our relationships, our careers, and our social livesas well as for helping us find calm and get more out of our leisure hours. They do this through films, workshops, books, and giftsand through a warm and supportive community. You can find The School of Life online, in stores and in welcoming spaces around the globe.
Read an Excerpt
v. Why We Are So Bad at Shopping
It sounds very strange to suggest that we might need to learn how to shop. We know we have to learn how to make money, but spending it is overwhelmingly understood to be the straightforward bit. The only conceivable problem is not having enough to spend.
Yet, when we try to buy a present for someone else, we can often see that we don't quite know what would really please them. We wisely acknowledge that shopping for others is hugely tricky, but we don't extend the same generous - and ultimately productive - recognition to shopping for ourselves.
A host of obstacles frequently prevents us from deploying our capital as accurately and fruitfully as we should - a serious matter, given just how much of our lives we sacrifice in the name of making money in the first place.
For a start, far more than we normally recognise, we're guided by group instincts - which can tug us far from our own native inclinations. A major defence of capitalism has been the impressive notion that it provides us with unrivalled customers choice and it can indeed seem as if the system actively caters to every possible nuance of taste. Yet, while seeming to provide for an apparently inexhaustible individuality, surprisingly standardised consumer patterns in fact dominate the economy.
Day-to-day, it feels like we are wholly in charge of our consumer decisions - but when we look back in history, we can see how strangely impersonal shopping choices really are. Our desires may feel intensely our own, yet they seem social creations first and foremost.
How else to explain why, in the 1950s, so many people arrived - apparently by their own free will - at the feeling that orange was a properly appropriate colour for a sofa? Or why, in the 1960s, many otherwise very sober people spontaneously (yet simultaneously) discovered they were keen on tail fins on their cards? Or why, in the 1970s, almost everyone in the world was struck by the urge to buy shirts with very large collars?
The choices may well have suited many, but it is impossible not to believe that at least a few of those who shopped woek up from the age of wide shirt collars or orange sofas with a puzzled sense that they had been induced to want things which had precious little to do with who they were.
Table of Contentsi. Why We Hate Cheap Things ii. Why We Look Down on People Who Don't Earn Very Much iii. On Being an Unemployed Arts Graduate iv. Good Materialism v. Why We Are So Bad at Shopping vi. Using Sex to Sell