When I was a teenager, every week my dad did what dads who don't know what to do with their teenage daughters do: He dropped me off at the mall. For some teenagers, this would be a social thing—a few hours to contemplate shoplifting with your pals or to throw fries around in the food court—but in my case, it was the opposite.
When my dad dropped me off at the mall, usually around noon on Sundays, it was so that I could be alone—and most importantly, for me, so that I could walk around in a kind of retail-induced daze, dreaming of being somewhere else entirely.
I had a pretty set loop: Start off at the Neiman Marcus makeup counters, say hello to the ladies looking after Versace cosmetics. Pop by La Prairie to let them know that the free samples they'd given me were working out great. Take the escalator upstairs to women's apparel to try on a suede Burberry bathing suit I would never buy for the umpteenth time. What kind of person buys a suede bathing suit—a bathing suit you can't get wet? I was dying to know. And then I was dying to be her.
After Neiman Marcus I would hit all the major players: Louis Vuitton, Tiffany and Co., Dior, etc. I would study the things people wore in the stores. I would memorize their perfume. I would figure out which piece was most likely to be within my reach (a $300 mini-purse from Louis Vuitton; the "Return to Tiffany's" bracelet that you could have engraved with your name) and then I would practice my pitch to my dad about why I deserved it for the ride home.
Half of you who are reading this right now are probably at least a little repulsed by my materialistic lust. The other half, I would guess, are feeling something like déjà vu. In my 29 years of being a few different versions of the word "materialistic," I have learned that people more or less fall into two camps: you either get it or you don't.
The number-one reason I like fashion is because of its ability to communicate so much about a person without that person saying a word. And when you're someone who doesn't like talking very much, which as an awkward teen I sometimes did not, or felt I could not, it can be pretty useful. Before people could stalk you on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, etc, the T-shirt or bag or dress you had on was a crucial way to let people know what you're all about. It was an invitation for the right person to come say hi. But why does it have to be expensive? Well, it doesn't. That all depends on what you're trying to say.
I wanted expensive stuff because I wanted to meet people who cared about what goes into something being expensive. People who were obsessed with details and who wanted to know, with open hearts and potentially open wallets, why the hell some eccentric fashion designer thought they should buy a bathing suit that can't get wet. People who thrive on absurd ideas like that, and, if they could afford it, would prefer to give their hard-earned money to that creative crackpot rather than whichever marketing executive was running a generic fast-fashion brand with glazed eyes.
I think the most important thing about being a materialistic teen (and making it an asset rather than a hindrance) is to realize that at the end of the day you're not buying a thing, you're buying a fantasy. Sometimes you need a little bit of time to make that fantasy real, so that's all the "thing" is: a symbol of the life you don't yet have and the people you'll one day meet—your people—even though the receipt is right there in your hands. It couldn't hurt to wear a little reminder on your wrist.