H+M – the Agony and the Ecstasy

Hello, my name is Audrey, and I am an H+M addict.

2003: I was 18. I was a seasoned mallrat, and I had a circuit of all my favourite haunts. But this day, I was with my sister when we spotted a new store – H+M. It was so white – white tiles, white walls, bright lighting, soft music, no posters and adverts – absolutely nothing flashy. It stood in direct defiance to the darkly painted, heavily decorated, loud and colourful sale posters, and blaring music of the stores around it. In fact – it looked like a cheap department store. Except for the clothes – which when compared to my wardrobe of Deliah’s, Pacific Sunwear, and Forever21, were basically the coolest clothes I had ever seen. AND they were cheap – $14.99 for a hoodie, not $39.99? Retro designed tops with vintage reprinted fabric for $18.99? Dresses for $24? WHERE AM I?

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Circa 2003: Me with the very first top I bought at H+M (also me with my parents)

There were clothes everywhere in the shop – all over the walls, on racks all over the floor, just everywhere – all arranged by colour. It was overwhelming and so exciting all at the same time. I’m pretty sure it took me close to two hours to make it all the way through the shop, and I left from that first trip with about $150 worth of clothes. And lo, I had a new favourite place to shop.

2004: I was 19, and I applied for my first credit card – in an attempt to start building my credit history. I was an unemployed college student and I received a brand spankin’ new platinum Master Card with a $3,000 limit.

“I will spend a little bit, once a month, and immediately pay it off. Otherwise, this is for emergencies only.”

Also known as, my most infamous last words.

Over the next three years, my depression spiked, and coincidentally, so did my shopping habits. And H+M became my go-to place of solace. Since what little paycheck I had went to school, my car, going to the movies, and travel expenses, I rarely had money for spending on myself. So I used my credit card. I mean, why pay for something immediately when I can pay for it over the course of 6 years – with exorbitantly high interest rates? And yes, I could make “He didn’t call me tonight – he never calls me so I shouldn’t be surprised but I’m still disappointed” into a use the credit card emergency.

My closet (and dresser, and floor), were littered with H+M goods – most of them with the tags still attached. It got to the point where my friends stopped going in with me, because they didn’t want to support my “problem.” I knew I wasn’t making the best choices, and that I didn’t need that many clothes, and that I wasn’t even wearing half of them, and that I wouldn’t get around to returning them, and that I was sublimating my depression for shopping, but damn I had some cool clothes and that’s really all that mattered – right?

2006: I was 21, and I was on the phone with someone from my credit card company. I was getting the news that I ran my credit card up and over it’s limit – and that I now owed a $667.86 payment in order to bring it back to order. My final balance was $10,667.86. Just on that card. I had 2 others that added up to about $1,200.00. Nearly $11k in credit card debt. I hung up my phone and crawled into fetal position, where I stayed for the next 10 years.

It took about 4 years for me to pay all the cards off. And another 3ish years to pay off my emergency card when I ran THAT one up again. And again.

Somewhere in that time, I revoked ALL my H+M privileges. I knew what I was – an addict. As an alcoholic can’t be around booze, and opiate addicts have to take Tylenol when they break a bone, I can’t walk into an H+M without wanting, needing, to buy everything. It was a crazy, gnawing, almost physically painful obsessive feeling, this need to purchase something and take it home with me. So I just cut it out of my life – cold turkey.

I had 3 years of H+M sobriety, and I felt really good about it. I could walk past an H+M without immediately diving in. If I did go inside, I browsed through the racks without the obsessive feelings, and I tried things on and didn’t buy them. But if I did buy something, it was something I needed, and I never put it on my credit card. If there was a chip for H+M Sobriety, I would totally have it.

Today though – today was a different story. I was out with Joel’s mum for a girl’s afternoon, and I finally got the chance to wander around the new 3 story H+M at the Pitt Street Mall. She mentioned that she wanted to buy me a couple of things for my birthday since we were here, and she was going to get me a voucher anyway. And I instantly thought I CAN BUY STUFF HERE.

uh-oh.

I had the urge to GET IT ALL, I NEED IT, JUST LOAD IT INTO MY BAGS. After 2 hours, I had at least 40 items to try on, delirious with the end of year sale items and all mustard gold coloured things and all the $15 high-waisted super stretch pants (omg did I really just put that on the internet). In my delirium, everything fit like a dream and I saw infinite outfit combinations with everything I already owned and oh I can patch that up and I can lose some weight to fit into this dress better. All I needed was a bubble bath full of foam and I would have reached Alex at the end of A Clockwork Orange levels of euphoria. 

I was plotting ways to afford my bounty when caught myself thinking “Well, I could just put it on my credit card and pay it off slow–” and that’s when I crashed. I looked around and just felt ashamed. Yes, I need some professional clothes that fit, but I didn’t need all of this. And I sure as hell didn’t need to put it ANY of it on my credit card. Sadly, the delirium cleared. I had a stack of clothes that wouldn’t match anything I already owned – besides jeans. I had colours that I never wear once I buy them. And when have I ever lost weight just to fit into a dress I bought 2 sizes too small because it was the only size available? And these pants definitely give me camel toe. The dream burst, and the hangover was intense. I cherry picked the best items, what would fit in with the clothes I already had, what I could see myself wearing in the future, and most importantly – what I could afford. I did buy a $7 dress that was way too short for me JUST because, but everything else was amazingly practical.

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ok, I also got this pillbox cat ear hat. But it’s already brought both of us $10 worth of kitty-hat happiness, so money well spent. 

My heart was breaking as I stood in line to pay for my stuff, and I could hear myself saying “go get those flannel button downs!! You can afford it! This time you won’t throw them out at the beginning of summer!” All the lingering “what if’s” and “but only’s” were painful. We left the store with my bag, and I realised that was my very last H+M trip. I can’t go back.

It goes to show – an addict can’t do a little bit of heroin. And I can’t do a little bit of H+M.

Next on the goal block: STOP BUYING ALL THE CLOTHES.

My Favourite Flannel – a mom story

For Mother’s Day in 2012, my sister Mary and I took our mom to Art and Soul restaurant in Washington, DC for brunch. As we were eating, we noticed a very wealthy looking table near us with about six people sitting at it. Lots of Coach and Michael Kohrs bags aside – it just seemed like one of those tables filled with people who have money. Including a completely bored, sullen, “don’t wanna be here” girls about my age –  completely under dressed in shorts, a tank top and a plaid flannel shirt.

She looked miserable the entire time she ate, but her flannel. I loved her flannel. I mean, I fall in love with random clothes worn by strangers all the time, because I’ve been obsessed with clothes since I was a kid and learned how to dress myself. But this shirt looked so cool. And so comfortable. It wasn’t like the big man flannel that I wore when I was a no-good-angst-ridden 13 year old. It was fitted, looked really soft, and the pattern was reversible – tartan-ish on one side with a royal blue base and green and red stripes, and a red and royal blue check on the other side so when the sleeves rolled up, there was a brilliant contrast.

I’ll admit, I stared at the flannel throughout most of the brunch, wondering where she got it, and where I could get it from, what outfits I’d wear it with, how it’d be the best thing to wear during the summer because it’s light, but soft and warm and how it’d ball up easily in my purse without being too bulky. It was literally like staring at a puppy in the pet shop window, but you can’t find anyone who works there and therefore you can’t reach into the cage and get the puppy because if you do the person wearing the shirt would be like HEY GET OFF MY SHIRT.

Yeah.

So half way through our meal, I noticed Miserable Girl take off the flannel, and drape it across the back of her chair. I thought to myself, oh man I hope she leaves it. And moments later, when the shirt fell off, and wedged itself between herself and the seat of her chair, and she paid NO attention to it, I thought ohhhhhh she might really forget it! I mentioned the shirt to my mom and my sister, who weren’t at all surprised that I was obsessing over a stranger’s shirt. Fuelled by a few brunch mimosas, we all became fixated with whether or not she’d leave the shirt. Or maybe it was just me. I might have had a few more mimosas than them. And then, their check came.

The check came, and it sat there. The group just lingered over their coffees. One of the older people at the table finally slipped an American Express in the sleeve. Miserable girl still looked miserable. Still made no effort to collect her shirt. The waiter came by to pick up the sleeve. The family sat and lingered some more. The girl continued to not give a shit about her shirt. It was driving me crazy. Would she remember? Would she leave it? THE SUSPENSE.

AND THEN – it happened. The family started to gather their things. They pushed out their chairs and got up from the table. Miserable Girl followed suit. And then she left. Without her flannel. I was beaming inside. We all high-fived. I was figuring out how to casually slip over to the table to grab the shirt when the bus boys got to the there and started clearing it off. A new suspense – will the bus boys see the flannel?? I waited in horror. And to my dismay, a bus boy grabbed the shirt and took it up to the hostess, who put it in her stand, and out of my reach. Damn.

We made jokes that it was probably a cursed shirt anyway – who’s rich enough to just forget a flannel shirt that you inappropriately wore to a 5-star restaurant? I tried to put it out of my mind, but I still kept an eye out to see if Miserable Girl would come back.

But she never did, and even I knew it was too much – even for my impulsive hobo instincts – to wait for the hostesses to walk away and give me the opportunity to steal the shirt. I didn’t think I could pretend with the hostess that the shirt was mine because I was wearing a Sunday dress and a cardigan like a good southern girl. So it was a loss. We had had a great meal and an amazing time at brunch, so not getting the shirt wasn’t the end of the world. But it was still a bummer.

We paid for our meal and started toward the car, and my mom told us she’d meet us at the car since she had to use the bathroom first. When mom got back to the car, she pulled something out of her purse – IT WAS THE FLANNEL! “I walked past the hostess stand and asked her if anyone had turned in a flannel shirt, because my daughter left it behind.”

Best Mom Ever.

The flannel was everything I wanted it to be and more – it was soft, and the colours were amazing. Even better, it was a perfect fit- right down to the sleeves being long enough for my Amazon Arms. And it did indeed look great with shorts and it also did fold up perfectly in my purse without too much bulk. I didn’t even care that it was Hollister (I really, really don’t like that brand. Or Abercrombie & Fitch. I think it has residue from all the mean kids who wore it exclusively in high school. Those clothes and Adidas Moves cologne.)

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I was so happy and frankly – absolutely surprised that my good Christian mom pulled something like that. I was floored. I’ve worn the shirt a million times since then, even when I gained weight the shirt shrank and I couldn’t button it comfortably anymore. It’s one of my favourites, and every time I see it I think of how awesome my mom is.

I think there are two kinds of moms – the moms that nag you to not forget your stuff in public, and the moms that will lie to a hostess to get you the shirt you want. I’m glad I have the latter.

xox