SENSEation shopping- how much do we really rely on our senses when it comes to fashion?

November 15, 2012 4:42 pm

“Wow, ok, one foot in front of the other. Why is it that suddenly I feel like a gymnast on a tightrope? Is it safe to turn yet? Am I past the security alarms? Oh yes, just.” There’s the gush of warm air pouring onto my hair, allowing my loose strands to tickle my face. Heavenly! What a contrast from the arctic temperature outside. “Right, now just keep walking Louise, and whatever you do, don’t fall over!”

As if I didn’t look strange enough, I look like somebody who had just had one of those irritating mental blocks, struggling to remember how to engage in that fundamental life skill: walking. A fall flat on my face, followed by a domino effect of clothes accompanying me to the ground is not the sort of attention I want to further attract. These are the first thoughts that enter my mind as I go about my ‘normal’ day of shopping.

Now you may think it’s barmy, and yes, you are probably right, but it has always intrigued me just how much we rely on our senses when we are out shopping, especially our reliance on sight. We take in both the physical and atmospherical aspects of our surroundings and process them without question. That majestic shade of deep red which dresses the interior walls, or the dim lighting which sends soft beams over the mannequins positioned in model pose. Wherever the location, whatever the scene, our eyes map it all.

Now being a self-confessed shopaholic and making any excuse possible for a day at the shops, it was on my Saturday morning visit to Bristol that I decided to delve into my curiosity. I headed for my favourite store, Zara, and stepped inside as I normally would, although this time with my eyes, well, closed…

The unknown. I suddenly began to understand the fear which gets associated with the word. I felt completely out of control, a feeling which I discovered I do not like. Funnily enough it is those initial thoughts which panicked me, rather than the fact that I looked like a bemused zombie who was in the slow process of loosing her marbles as I stumbled painfully forward, hands stretched out in front, eyelids fixed shut. I decided to take on the challenge of buying an item of clothing, just how I normally would, however relying purely on my sense of touch, smell, sound and if really necessary, taste! (Somehow though I feel licking a leather jacket to engage in the sensation it gives would be one step too far!)

Once I had found the rails of clothes, I began stroking and ruffling the spectrum of fabrics in my hands. The contrast was so much more noticeable, more exciting, as it was a mystery as to what you were going to feel next. I decided that I liked the more eccentric fibres, the velvets, the sequins, ones which stood out from the traditional cotton or linen. These gave a tingling sensation to my fingertips, to my palms, to my overall body. Could this have been because of their luxury? Because of their rareness on these rails and so I found it more of a thrill when I came across them? For all I knew, what I believed to be a sequin dress, with a deep v necked back and mini length, could have been the most garish and hideous thing ever! However going on touch alone, it seemed sensational.

From pulling it off the rail, a task easier said than done as I probe to find the hanger and un- hook it successfully; I find the loud clang of the two metals meeting sounded catastrophic, and I turn round to see if anyone had noticed. A completely normal reflex, however one in this situation which doesn’t work, as who am I to be able to see this! Eyes closed, remember! I rustled the material up close to my ear and found another sound presented itself in the form of a crisp rustling. The sharpness to it reminded me of the crackling sound you get when you pour milk over rice krispies and the miniature explosions begin- an image I know for sure would never have entered my mind if I were looking at this dress visually.

Touch and sound complete, I then dared to draw the ‘dress’ up towards my nose. To be honest, the people around me would already be thinking I was loopy enough, so I thought ‘why not embrace it and give them further entertainment.’ I sniffed the fabric and immediately the rows of what I believed to be sequin specks oozed that man-made, industrial smell. That fermented, over-processed plastic smell, which is most apparent when you shake open a crumpled Sainsbury’s bag and the scent wafts towards you. This consolidates my idea that this is in fact a sequined evening dress, the solution to my Friday evening outfit panic, and with that I head to the tills.

The experience inside the shop as a whole was a daunting one, mainly because I was unable to see what I was doing, but also because of that unknown mystery of where I was going, what I was touching, what I smelt and so on. Turns out that the dress I bought (and in case you were wondering, I did open my eyes when I went to pay as I couldn’t quite face losing all my dignity in one go) was actually hideous! It was a rainbow of colours, and the sequins made the dress look like a glowing glitter ball, rather than the sleek, luxurious look I was hoping for. That and the fact that I had picked up a size which was 3 times too big for me, settled my mind. Our sight is the fundamental sense when it comes to shopping for fashion.

As for me and my dress? Well if you know any parties where the dress code is ‘attacked by young children in a glitter and paint fight,’ then I shall be expecting an invite.

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