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The Midlife Sage Says: You Don’t Need to Shop ’til You Drop

Using free time.

While on a business trip, most women use their free time to exercise in the hotel gym, find the nearest wine bar, or pretend they are comfortable browsing in Saks Fifth Avenue. I usually combine all three by briskly walking past Saks into the nearest establishment that offers a dry Cabernet.

On a recent visit to Phoenix, I stayed near an upscale mall, a place that according to the glossy brochure “pampers shoppers with a gardenlike ambiance.” I scurried over after my business appointment. I felt perky and confident meandering into the mall and mingling with sophisticated women toting Coach and Louis Vuitton and wearing those fancy shoes with the red soles.

I muttered out loud when I spied a Ralph Lauren store. I’d give a month’s salary to dress like the exquisite model in the RL ads, the tall, thin one with Rapunzel hair, boots to her thighs, and chiseled features who lounged with a bevy of beautiful people in a pristine meadow beside magnificent horses. I sashayed into the store and was drawn to a lovely sweater that actually cost a month’s salary. That wouldn’t leave me any money for the jeans and boots, so I sauntered back out.

Next came Saks Fifth Avenue.

I grew up on a farm outside of Wendell, Idaho, population 1,000. The village had one general store called Simerly’s with a slogan that said, “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” Saks did not have this slogan on their ornate entrance. I went in anyway and immediately felt my confidence drain like air fizzling from a pricked balloon. My inner child begged to leave and find a store with more practical items such as a clown nose and a whoopee cushion.

I meandered about, trying to emulate the nonchalant attitude of the other impeccable shoppers but those astute sales women could detect an imposter from 100 yards. They were almost haughty in their demeanor and I sensed that they were laughing at me. “Go back to the farm, Sweetie. You don’t belong here. And take last year’s purse with you.”

Most of us enjoy a little retail therapy, and we work so we have money to purchase items we want and need. I believe in free enterprise and in the economic principles of supply and demand. Louis Vuitton wouldn’t make $10,000 bags in they didn’t have customers who could buy them. I also believe it’s better to pay a down payment on a house instead of a purse, but that’s just me.

There was a special room just for Coach purses. They didn’t have price tags but you know when a bag is encased in a lighted and locked glass display box that it will cost more than your car. The elegant woman behind the counter smiled politely but didn’t offer to show me anything. It was as if she suspected I still had manure on my shoes and my pick up truck was double-parked behind the feed store.

I finally left without buying anything, mainly because I didn’t want to spend the monthly mortgage on a pair of shoes that consisted of two inches of leather and mocked my ability to stand upright on four-inch heels. I found a cute coffee shop that sold cupcakes with an amazing concept: they were split in the middle with a cream filling spread between the layers and not on the top. I sat outside and enjoyed my $20 latte and cupcake while I watched the people.

Every now and then I spied a few kindred souls emerging sack-less from Saks.

Without needing a mall directory, they would find and disappear into the shop and emerge with coffee and a sweet treat. Then they would find a bench and pretend to be pampered in the gardenlike ambiance. We all were poignant actors in our own morality play, trading Burberry for blueberry and Fendi for frosting. But we chose to savor the experience with every bite. We’ll probably never live nor look like the lovely women who patronize the luxury stores, but we were best friends with the cupcake maker. She had it, and we needed it.

Elaine Ambrose is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire, a blogging community created by Annie Jennings.