The Psychology Of Shopping: Why Women Put So Much Time Into That Dress They Wear Only Once

11/06/2017 05:44 pm ET

Chances are that right now, you have an item (or more likely, a few) sitting in your wardrobe that you have only worn once. Perhaps, you even have items with their tags still on them that have been in there for ages, but you keep telling yourself that you will one day have the right opportunity. Yet, ten years later, you may have found that the special dress is still only worn once, or that right moment never came up. But there is much more to the psychology of shopping that simply that.

Men Vs. Women

Firstly, we need to examine the way in which we shop. We all know men and women vary vastly. After all, men are from Mars and women are from Venus (or so they tell us, anyway). So it would come as no surprise that the psychology of shopping is also very different between the sexes.

In 2013, a survey conducted on 2,000 people discovered that 80% of men disliked shopping with their partners and in fact, 45% of men completely avoided it. Apparently, 50% of shopping trips end in arguments because the man becomes annoyed with the lengths of time his female partner spent shopping. The survey further revealed that men tend to become bored after around 26 minutes of shopping, while women get bored after about two hours.

Steve Taylor, a senior Psychology lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, and author of several books on psychology described how these traits interestingly date back to our Hunter-Gatherer ancestors.

“For hundreds of thousands of years, until around 8000 BCE, all human beings lived as hunter-gatherers—that is, they survived by hunting wild animals (the man’s job) and foraging for wild plants, nuts, fruit, and vegetables (the woman’s job). I learned a lot of surprising things about the “hunter-gatherer” lifestyle in my research. For example, it wasn’t a particularly hard life. When anthropologists began to look systematically at how modern-day hunter-gatherers use their time, they discovered that, far from exhausting themselves in their search for food, they actually spent only 12 to 20 hours per week at it. (This led anthropologist Marshall Sahlins to call hunter-gatherers “the original affluent society.”)

“Interestingly, women were the main “breadwinners” in hunter-gatherer groups. Anthropologists estimate that women’s gathering provided around 80-90 percent of groups’ food —a fact which has led some anthropologists to suggest that these peoples should be renamed gatherer-hunters. This is also meant that their diet was largely vegetarian (only around 10-20 percent meat), and also quite healthy, with a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, roots and nuts, all eaten raw.”

Dr Taylor further identified the link between the behavioral patterns of those times to the psychology of shopping.

“When most women shop, they are in more of a ‘gathering’ mode – browsing from tree to tree (or shop to shop) looking for ripe and nutritious fruit. They spend a lot of time examining the food, checking its freshness and edibility, and they discard quite a lot of it. At the end of the trip, they return home laden with a wide variety of food stuffs (or shopping bags).

“In the same way, men’s shopping habits may be related to their hunting heritage. This might explain why men appear to be more mono-focused, rather than browsers. In prehistoric terms, they have one thing in mind: kill an animal and go home. They don’t want to waste time browsing, and it’s not so necessary for them to examine their food acquisitions. They just look for animals, kill them, pick them up, and go straight home.”

Why Do Women Waste Money On Clothes They Never Wear?

So the next time a woman’s other half lectures her about her sporadic shopping spree or how much she has spent on things she probably doesn’t need, she now has proof that it’s technically not her fault but all down to DNA.

It does give a better insight into why women are inclined to spend money, extra time and effort on that one dress that they may end up wearing just once. Apart from the evolutionary argument, the psychology of shopping also has further tangents.

Loss Aversion

The reality is that people are scared of losing things, which is why they may cling on to that dress that they wore once.  While it might not seem rational, the pain of losing something resonates strongly with many–especially if they have formed sentimental attachments with things over the years.

Perhaps this could be the prom dress that you wore or that expensive outfit you treated yourself to when you got that promotion you had been hoping to get for a long time.

Have you ever wondered why retailers offer those big bags or baskets to help you whilst you are shopping? Of course, it helps you to better carry whatever it is you are hoping to buy. But let’s be honest–more than likely, you ended up going to the store to purchase one thing but ended up leaving with additional items.

The retailers do this from the psychology of shopping standpoint that once someone holds something and in particular, for a longer period, they will feel more tied to it and not want to “lose” it. And this will, of course, encourage them to make those spur-of-the-moment purchases.

False Expectations

People create an untruthful perception of themselves, which is another aspect of the psychology of shopping. They envision themselves as being a certain way or perhaps, having a certain lifestyle that would then facilitate their purchase.

One of the popular reasons that people do this is because of wanting to lose weight. I once knew of someone who was trying to shed some pounds. As a way of motivating herself, she went out and purchased some very costly designer jeans that were two sizes too small (which was her targeted size). Unfortunately, she was never able to lose the weight in the way that she had hoped and so, the jeans remained unworn. And to the best of my knowledge, years later, they are probably still in her wardrobe.

Impulse Purchases

This is a major reason why that outfit was only ever worn once or even never at all. People make impulse purchases, especially if the item is on sale, despite not being fully sure about it. They convince themselves that it would be suitable for their needs, yet an appropriate time to use it rarely manifests.

Consumer psychologist and researcher, Kit Yarrow, who has long studied the psychology of shopping explained,

“It’s a classic example of something called choice-support cognitive bias, in which we ignore information that doesn’t support our desires. For example, one shopper I interviewed named Karen described an emerald green silk blouse she purchased as “so luscious to the touch.” That’s the good part. The not-quite-right part is that it doesn’t go with anything in her wardrobe, and it’s a bit snug. But it was on sale at 80% off, and that sealed the deal. “I missed the return window,” Karen said. “I was so determined to make that blouse work.” Ultimately, though, the blouse didn’t work and has never been worn.

“Similarly, Jasmine purchased sky-high Prada heels that squeak a bit and are uncomfortable. She’s not convinced that they were a bad purchase even though she’s had them for more than a year and hasn’t worn them yet. “They’re Prada!” she said. “My only pair. They were 75% off! I’m waiting for someplace to go where I don’t have to walk.”

How To Remain Rational

It is difficult when you hold on to something you really love or that you may have formed an emotional connection to. It may feel painful to let go of items like those. But, it maybe isn’t as hard as you think.

There are many techniques to help you learn to de-clutter. One of the most popular ones moving across the globe right now is the KonMari method, which teaches people how to let go of things they no longer need. It abides by the question “Does it spark joy?” If the answer is “no” then it states that it should be easier to part with those items. Its creator, Marie Kondo, however, does not completely condemn the sentimental attachments people form with their possessions, saying:

“These are the types of things you should boldly hold on to. If you can say without a doubt, ‘I really like this!’ no matter what anyone else says, and if you like yourself for having it, then ignore what other people think.”

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* Article originally featured in SilkRoll

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