The second I walked into work yesterday, I knew I should have stayed in bed.

I was receiving phone calls from advertisers about mistakes we’d made on their $3,000 ads, the proof for the new issue was going to be 3 days late, and I had to cancel a client dinner meeting due to deadline changes. I wanted to jump out my office window into either a dirty lake infested with piranhas, or dive into Saks Fifth Avenue which was infested with beautiful shoes and mannequins.

Because there isn’t any lake within a 20-mile radius, I went for the latter and had me some retail therapy.


While some women seek therapy in the form of drawn-out sessions in uncomfortable chaises, I prefer the kind that’s readily available and open until 9pm, such as a local department store or boutique filled with ways I can spend my hard-earned money and soothe away my stress.

The rate for this type of therapy varies depending on your budget, but it sure does feel good when you’re done. What is it about meandering around a people-filled, perfume-sprayed arena that excites us so much? What about all this is actually making our brain say everything is going to be okay? 

I’ve had a few shopping partners that don’t care what they buy, they just want to walk out of a store with a bag in their hand and a charge on their card. If that’s what makes them feel better, then that’s all the therapy they need. It’s not about the buying that feels so good, it’s about the search, about the power of choice, about acquiring something brand new that keeps our, I’m-quitting-tomorrow attitude at bay.

Men get simple pleasures out of God-knows-what they do.  They are the hunters, and women are the gatherers. Women thrive on adding quality to life, supporting the family, and feel most powerful when their gathering skills require them to go out and get what they need. A $700 clutch with the newest hardware counts as gathering and providing somehow.

Women love being imaginative and crafty, they love analyzing and spending money, whether they’re scanning for the freshest can of tuna at the grocery store or for the newest pair of patent leather boots, they are searching for a way to assert self-worth.

It’s a healing process when I hunt for something that I believe no one else has, or ever will have once I snag it off the shelf. It’s a mysterious and powerful feeling when you walk into a store and have the urge to pillage through every shelf  to find something unique or something utterly expensive.  I feel exhilarated when I know that the new Philip Lim dress seen on Ashley Simpson at the Conde Nast party is the only one left, and if I buy it, no one else can have it – therefore I am super trendy and everyone will ask me where I got it and who makes it!

Sound familiar? It’s a feeling of living up to someone else’s expectations. A knowing emotion that even if you have nowhere to wear any of it, it will hang in your closet and look at you every time you pass by to say "I was your therapy that day".

As you walk through a store, take a look at the women shopping. Really look at their faces. They usually have a very serious look like they’re physically there, but their brain is somewhere entirely different. They are fulfilling many different needs all in one store, over one simple pair of shoes. Women want to get away from it all, they want time alone, and what do they do? They drop themselves in the center of the shopping madness, among the racks, among the sales people and among the thousands of choices that need to be made. It’s as if they’re taking their negative energy and burning it up by walking, selecting and spending money.

Oniomania is the actual psychological term for people with compulsive shopping disorder.

Retail therapy isn’t for everyone. Sometimes there needs to be self-control with time and budget.  But sometimes life sucks and you need to tenderly care for yourself, not get into another crisis.

My prognosis: when a dirty lake just won’t do, take a walk and find something absolutely fabulous.  Hide your bags when you get home if you need to, and remember that although life may throw many things your way if that thing happens to be a brand new Fendi Baguette bag, consider yourself healed!

Alisa is a wardrobe stylist, editor and freelance writer in the Boston area. Her website is at