It’s not so much about what we buy, but the power to reinvent and reclaim ourselves.
A few months ago, I found myself in love, or serious like, or at least a kind of real infatuation, with a pair of clogs.
“Clogs?” you may ask. “Who can love clogs?” But let me explain. These were not Mario Batali Crocs-in-the-kitchen-type clogs, or even your cool-great-aunt-who-is-a-midwife clogs. These were the hippest clogs that a person who’s ever shopped for clogs can aspire to. From the brand No. 6, they’ve got a chunky wooden heel and a luxe suede upper in a color the company referred to as “mocha.” (To me, it was more reminiscent of desert sands blowing across the horizon to be viewed from the comfort of a luxury hotel where I’d inevitably wear said clogs with a long, loose skirt and sip some drink accented with a large piece of fruit and a tiny straw.) These were the clogs of dreams. You could wear them with socks or not! They even seemed, dare I say it, comfortable.
“What do you think about clogs?” I asked my then-boyfriend, and that was my first mistake.
“Clogs?” he said, wrinkling his nose. “They’ve never done anything for me. I remember this guy who used to wear them…” and with that, he launched into a tale of some horrible man and his horrible clogs that were nothing like the clogs of my desire.
”I’m not talking about Crocs!” I interrupted. “These are not nurse clogs!”
“Never did anything for me,” he repeated, and my love for my perfect clogs was quelled.
They say that if you let something go and it comes back, it’s yours to stay. And luckily for me and those clogs, this boyfriend and I parted ways soon after. In the wake of our breakup, I texted a friend about how, now that the guy was gone, those clogs could be mine: Look, an upside to all the despair!
“You can’t buy breakup clogs, though,” she informed me.
“But look at them,” I said, sending her a link.
“Yeah, they’re cool, but, like, you can’t buy breakup clogs. That’s just too sad.” She was right, I decided. It was sad. I was sad. Plus, I shouldn’t spend the money (also sad).
So I walked away from the clogs, at least metaphorically; I left them to expire in my online cart, and I pledged to heal from my breakup without incurring any credit card debt. Still, much like the guy, those shoes continued to occupy some too-ready portion of my brain, demanding my attention in the most inopportune moments. I’d regularly check for sales, and sometimes in the middle of the night I’d end up on the site gazing at them and imagining the life we could have had together. I hadn’t bought them, and I was still sad. And mad, to be honest. I took out my pain and my rage by punching my personal trainer (with gloves) and imagining acerbic texts to my ex. It helped, a little. But I kept thinking about the clogs.
It is perhaps the most uncontroversial statement of all time to declare that breakups are shitty. But there can, in fact, be an upside: As two formerly romantic parties split ways and agree that never again the twain shall meet (at least not sober), there is freedom. Everything you were in that relationship is on the table to be taken or left behind, and sometimes the easiest place to start is with what you wear. Did you like that when you were with Nathaniel, he loved you in wrap dresses? If so, carry on, but this time, do it for you, not him. If you’re over the girly thing because fuck Nathaniel, maybe it’s time to experiment with a life in which you wear really great jeans and pizza-print tees.
Whatever it is, it’s time to shop. We shell out for that adorable clutch, we splurge on new shoes, we get tattoos. “I went through a period in my 20s where I would get bangs every time I had a bad breakup,” Jo Piazza, author of the upcoming book How to Be Married, confessed to Racked. “Without fail... bangs! And they were never a good idea. I even did it the first time I got into a fight with my husband because it was like my comfort food or cutting or something.” Our stylistic decisions in these post-breakup times are not always keepers; they may simply be temporary solutions to get us through. Either way, they’re gifts to ourselves, attempts to evolve through the pain by, in some simple but very real way, changing our lives. “I got a breakup dog. That beats clothing!” a friend told me.
What we buy is more than just a distraction. These purchases help build us back up, providing immediate visual representation of our new selves in a time we most need to see it. Jessica Wakeman shared the harrowing story of an ex who broke up with her, leaving her a list of 10 reasons he didn’t want to be together. “One of the items on the list was that he didn't think I wore cute-enough clothes,” she said. “So for the next several months, I went a little nuts buying heeled booties, silky blouses, and lingerie. Even though the circumstances of buying these clothes and shoes was bullshit, it did feel like costuming a new, single me. My self-esteem was in shambles after this breakup, and feeling freshly decked out in more sophisticated clothing really helped.” She eventually turned around and dumped the booties — ”They hurt my feet,” she said — but the swagger they provided was hers to keep.
Post-breakup shopping isn’t about what you buy, but about power.
Or take Larissa Pham’s tale of dating awakening by way of her septum ring. Her high school boyfriend “liked me with long hair, he liked when I wore earrings, he didn't want me to dye my hair,” she said. “I'd always wanted to pierce my nose. It'd been in my mind for a while, but he hated the idea. [In college] we went home for break, came back, still together, and we had a huge fight. It spiraled out, and we broke up. And pretty much the next weekend I went to the tattoo shop and got my nose pierced. It essentially changed my entire relationship with men and how I was visible to them. It was really thrilling to me to be seen for who I thought I was, who I wanted to be.”
Sometimes, as with falling in love, the magic is in finding the item at all. After the kind of split “that has you crying into the manes of dogs that aren’t yours,” Jacqueline Raposo stopped by a random yard sale in the Hamptons, where she stumbled upon “this long white, red, and black cross-checked dress. I tried it on, and it was like it had been made for my body. I put it on and I had moxie again. I felt taller and regal. As I went to pay the, like, measly $70 bucks for this treasure, this rosy-gold fake square-cut diamond costume ring was by the checkout, and I bought that, too, to have something sparkly on my hand. I didn't take that ring off for years. Every single time I wear that dress to this day, I feel unique and of substance and a bit timeless.”
It was about a month after my breakup that I got there. My relationship with the guy was over, that much was clear. But me and those clogs, we actually could have that life together I’d dreamed of. One evening after a glass or two of wine, I looked at my bank account, said “fuck it” to the world, and bought them. I planned to wear them on my first post-breakup date; I was already imagining the guy who would appreciate them. When the package arrived, I opened it slowly and luxuriously, as befitting a gift to myself, and though there was snow outside, I put the clogs on immediately and paraded around my apartment, admiring them from each angle. I felt better than I had in weeks. Maybe this is the power of hindsight, but I’m pretty sure I felt better than I had even before he dumped me.
Post-breakup shopping isn’t about what you buy, but about power: the ability to change your look, and in changing your look, to change yourself — whether that means reclaiming those parts you kept hidden from a partner and sharing them with the world, or searching for fresh ways to express yourself now that the person who didn’t deserve you is out of the picture. It’s a chance to come into your own again, stronger and wiser than before; bent, maybe, but never broken, another step closer to the person you truly want to be. With this purchase, or that one, you grab hold of all those forgotten possibilities instead of clinging to the painful past. In one moment it feels like you’ll never get over the wrenching end of a former romance. And then all of a sudden, your feet are ensconced in a pair of sand-colored clogs you can’t stop looking at, and you’re not thinking about old what’s-his-name at all.