When Sex and the City: The Movie was released in 2007, fans across the world heaved a collective sigh as Mr Big showed Carrie her new walk-in wardrobe.
These audible gasps had little to do with its frosted glass doors, etched Art Deco pattern or hand-bevelled mirrored glass and more to do with its palatial sense of space – a new wardrobe frontier just waiting to be filled. Square footage, as most Manhattanites will attest, is a covetable commodity. Mr Big’s ability to hunt down the perfect Park Avenue wardrobe not only fed into Carrie’s legendary gathering tendencies but eliminated any turf wars resulting from a shared closet.
For movie-goers, the empty space tapped into a deep-rooted territorial psyche, prompting delicious fantasies of how we’d furnish our own kingdoms. Whether filled with M&S or Manolo Blahnik, the need to ‘name it and claim it’ is more than a superficial pursuit – it is an evolutionary compulsion that reinforces our individual senses of identity.
According to evolutionary psychology, this stashing urge, in fact, has its roots in Neolithic tribes who hunted and gathered for sustenance. Commonly, men hunted for big game, which involved physical strength, a knack for spatial geometry and a singular approach to getting the kill. Women, on the other hand, gathered fruit and vegetables together in groups. This involved remembering where foodstuffs were located or hidden and determining their value through colour and shape, touch and feel.
This, consumer studies maintain, has evolved over time and adapted to fit the modern milieu of the retail jungle, in which women exhibit similar skills: the ability to examine, compare and collect over many hours in the company of friends – with the added benefit of a Starbucks refuel. You see, it’s all your ancestors’ fault.
Well, maybe not.
Before you blame that wardrobe-avalanche waiting to happen on some prehistoric gender bias, it is best to clarify a few things. Women know how to hunt and, damn, can they do it well. Whether it’s queuing from 5am on Black Friday for a Burberry bag, pre-ordering those filigree sunglasses online or grabbing armfuls of designer cast-offs at a heaving sample sale, females are predominantly alpha-hunters, conquering with credit cards and wearing their kill with pride.
In that span of 10,000 years or so, a little bugbear called consumerist culture developed, throwing a proverbial spanner in the works.
With the advent of the retail jungle, our prehistoric survival instinct has become more non-essential and, as such, self-motivated. We’ve moved away from the tribe and have instead formed tribal allegiances with shops and brands, viewing retail as a reward rather than a reason. Increasingly, the lines between ‘want’ and ‘need’ have become decidedly blurred. All of a sudden, buying a top in ten colours seems a perfectly rational idea – and who doesn’t need a titanium-plated Bluetooth necklace? This kind of excess creates extra weight – the kind that bogs you down both physically and psychologically. And yet we persist, hooked on the emotional release from our desired reward: the heady cocktail of endorphins that keeps us riding the retail high.
It’s not as if shops only want you to visit once. So just what causes this rinse-and-repeat behaviour?
Find out tomorrow.