Fashionably Frustrated: Confessions of a Shop-o-Phobic

Illustration showcasing historic women's fashion.

I rarely think about fashion.

The topic resides in the absolute back of my mind, along with traffic theory and seventh grade gossip.

I wear an assortment of hand-me-downs and those miraculous jeans that still fit even though I bought them in eighth grade, shopping only when my clothes bear visible signs of disrepair. 

Throughout my elementary school years, this was completely normal behavior. But come middle school, all of my female peers suddenly discovered an affinity for shopping. I was left behind. I wondered where I went wrong, and how to explain my distaste for clothes shopping and fashion. I heard questions like, “What you mean you don't like clothes shopping? Are you even human?” on a regular basis, which was particularly problematic as it meant that I had to think about my relationship to fashion when I didn't want to.

I grew frustrated with the girls asking.

I grew frustrated with not having a real answer, only a shrug.

I wanted an excuse, an explanation, some logic on my side.

And so I did the only thing I knew how to do: I flipped it around. I started acting like I was the normal one, and like every girl interested in fashion had something wrong with her. I associated interest in clothing with being boring and materialistic.

My dislike of shopping was a philosophy, and it dictated the way I thought about myself and other girls. Girls who thought about “fashionable” clothing too much were shallow. Girls who spent too much money on clothes were spoiled. Girls who spent too much time shopping didn't have their priorities straight.

I, on the other hand, was leading the feminist crusade toward an era where women would be judged not by the cuteness of their clothing but the content of their character. I, clad in ill-fitting yet fully functional attire, was the ascetic monk of the religion of Not Caring What Other People Think.

It was not until my junior year of high school that I started talking about feminism with a lot of other teenage feminists. When I did I discovered that—shockingly—many of the girls I was talking to loved fashion and shopping. This really threw me for a loop. I had to reconcile my idea of what it meant to be a feminist with what I was discovering about the feminists I was meeting. Furthermore, I had to admit that I had been passing harsh and petty judgments upon people, and that that reflected not on them, but on me.

Letting go of that judgment was one of the most liberating things I've ever done. It let me know that I don't have to put other people down in order to feel validated. It also forced me to look at the bias I have against shopping in the first place. I realized that part of my dislike for shopping comes from deep-rooted insecurity. I don't think that I will look good in anything I wear, so why bother trying? And that's certainly not a feminist perspective.

I'll probably never like shopping, but I've learned to see the beauty in it: that we get to choose what to wear and what our clothing says about us is a form of empowerment. But, more importantly, I've learned that judging people for caring how they look is just as bad as judging people for not caring how they look, and that my brand of feminism will have nothing to do with either. 

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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Great perspective! I have to say that I feel the same way about shopping and about those who shop as you did and now you have opened up my mind a wee bit. Thanks!

You're a great writer; I love this.

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How to cite this page

Goldberg, Ilana. "Fashionably Frustrated: Confessions of a Shop-o-Phobic ." 16 December 2014. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 18, 2024) <>.