The Stages Of Shopping For Things You Can't Afford

Alright, I’m going to generalize all twentysomethings right now and just say it: The majority of us are broke. Yes, yes, some of you have 401(k)s and have apartments that aren’t stocked to the brim with five other roommates, but the majority of us are still hoping our parents forget to kick us off of their family plans.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t like pretty things. Or wish that said pretty things were on our bodies this given moment. We all know the struggle of running to catch the train, when from the corner of our eye, we see a flash of color or a pretty sleeve, and our attention gets caught. Maybe you even stop in your tracks. And press your nose up to the store window, fogging up the glass a little with your straight-up lust for the dress.

All of a sudden, though (with a slight tilt of the head, of course) you notice that the window that you’re fogging up belongs to Michael Kors or Balenciaga. Oh god. Back away from the glass before they make you buy it.

But sometimes — usually when you’ve done a fair job swaddling yourself in denial — you’ll get the courage to march up to the door and walk in. (To walk in, and then quickly regret that decision.) We all know those feels. The nine stages of walking into a store you clearly don’t belong in, Pretty Woman style (except, you know, she totally showed them up it in the end):

1. The Sidewalk Stutter Step Stage

One never just wakes up and goes, “I think Imma go into Burberry today.” No, it happens randomly, when you’re usually speed walking down Fifth Avenue, late to a two-for-one Crest teeth bleaching special at Walgreens. And usually when you’re wearing sweatpants and Lisa Frank style socks with your moccasins, or something to that deplorable nature.

So you’re weaving between pedestrians, trying your hardest not to vault over slow-moving children as the coupon is burning a hole in your pocket — when you see it. Just a flash from the corner of your eye. A beautifully embroidered spring coat, looking all rosy and fresh in the display window. And just as you’re about to weave between a group that seems to have their arms linked in solidarity across the span of the whole sidewalk, you stutter step. You feel yourself hold back a gasp and you bring a nervous hand to your throat, feeling your insides melt like butter on toast. You walk up to the window and — gently, tentatively — put a hand against the glass. You must own this. The coupon gets forgotten.

2. The “What The Hell Am I Wearing Right Now?” Stage

You look for the front door and as you glance up the street you notice, apparently for the first time that day, exactly what you’re wearing. And sister friend, what are you wearing? You’ve got your ex-boyfriend’s sweatpants on, a pair of moccasins from college, and a puffer jacket that looks more end-times-ready than winter-chic. Last night’s eyeliner is still smudged around your eyes and let’s not even talk about what’s going on underneath your coat. It’s that sea foam green Eeyore sweatshirt your mom used to wear in the 90s, isn’t it? Of course it is. Because why wouldn’t you have that as a viable option in your closet?

You take in the situation and bite your lip. Could you really walk in there looking like this? Will the fancy people shoo you out with a spray bottle? You glance back up at the coat... and enter the rationalizing stage.

3. The “Rich People Dress Broke All The Time” Stage

It comes to you: Uh, rich people like to dress to look broke all the time. Just look at the Olsen twins circa 2007. You couldn’t tell if that was Mary Kate under that down comforter in Starbucks or a Tom Waits circa 1974 in for a spell. The key to looking like you have a lot of money is to pretend you have none of it. So, you know, unzip that coat and let Eeyore see the world. The sales people will come flocking to you.

Well okay, maybe keep the coat zipped. In all honesty, Eeyore should have never left the Hundred Acre Woods. But yeah, head to the front door. Go!

4. The “Oh God, I Think They’re Onto Me” Stage

Also known as the “Opening the Door Phase.” You walk into the small space, smile winningly at the security guard with that tie that costs about the same as your rent, and the whole store comes to a screeching halt. Every perfectly blown-out blonde head swivels in your direction, sensing the smell of Walmart. Trying to feel undeterred, you take a tentative step forward. Eyes narrow. It doesn’t help that your puffy coat makes a swooshing noise every time you move. Wait, is it just you or does the swoosh sound a lot like, “Coupons, I use couponssss?

Judging by the way the sales rep is walking towards you, it might not just be you. Wait, is that a spray bottle in her hand?

5. The “I’m About To Get Called Out” Stage

You clear you throat, remembering you have a black Amex card in your wallet. You put on your most charming smile. Mackenzie isn’t going to have any of it.

“Our sale section is upstairs,” she smiles sweetly.

You wrestle with twin feelings of wanting to push her into a mannequin display and/or calling an ambulance for that BURN YOU’RE NOW NURSING.

Damn Mackenzie, damn.

6. The “I Don’t Care; I’m Still Going to Poke Around With My Sticky Fingers” Stage

You thank Mackenzie for the tip and, determined to ride this out, head for the upstairs in search for your coat. Lord knows you won’t be able to give it the home it deserves, but you at least want to visit it for awhile. You walk through rows of intricate, fairytale-like dresses, smiling at the tulle and lace. You stop to admire a sleeve, pause to stare at ribbon-like pleats. You reach out a careful hand to touch a swath of silk and hear a collective gasp from the back.

You turn and see all the sales people, huddled in their black suits, eyeing you like a sticky three-year-old, ready to wipe his jam smeared face all over his mom’s skirt. You put your hands safely back in your pockets and scuttle away.

7. The “Can I Try This On? Stop Laughing, I’m Serious” Stage

Bold move my friend, bold move. You’ve found your coat and you have the steel ovaries to march yourself straight to the dressing rooms. The ones with the silk, draping curtains and the little platform in the middle. Maybe one of the attendants will even give you champagne while you try it on? God, do rich people know how to live!

You come up to the now-distraught attendant, handing her the coat. She raises a skeptical eyebrow. You fold your arms in challenge. There’s a moment of tense silence between you. Both of you scowl, daring the other to go through with what they’re thinking of going through with.

Then, with an angry sigh, she brusquely walks to an open changing room, throwing the curtain open to let you in. You take the coat from her with your pinky up, making sure to unzip your coat and let her see Eeyore before you close the drapes.

You hear a strangled gurgle from the other side. And smugly lose all hope for that free champagne.

8. The “Why Did I Major In Liberal Arts?” Stage

You give the coat back to the sales rep, and as you slip your beanie back on and watch her put a “needs dry cleaning” tag on the hanger, you head back downstairs and towards the exit. Your shoulders are slumped and you feel slightly empty inside. Who knows when you’ll get to visit your coat next? You frown sadly as you pluck a loose feather from your own jacket, and let it float to the ground as Mackenzie scowls at you from across the room.

God, why did you major in liberal arts? You reach for the door and hear the bell trill goodbye, thinking that it’s probably not too late to go to grad school for finance. That way you can open, like, your own financial planning practice and afford a nice apartment in the city, giving that coat the home it deserves. Or, you know, if that takes too long you can always create one of those investment ponzi schemes. Those seem pretty easy.

9. The Acceptance Stage

You step onto the sidewalk, already mentally going through nearby state school programs you could apply to. Then, as you weigh the merits of taking online courses versus in-class curriculums, you spot someone walking passed with a Walgreens bag. Your coupon!

Naaah, you think, waving you last goodbye to the coat in the window. There’s still a chance your e-book could, you know, become a bestseller. Like in Germany or something.

And putting your hands in your pockets, you head back down the street.

Images: Touchstone Pictures; Giphy