Men and Women Are Probably Equally Likely to Be Shopaholics

A new article by Buzz Bissinger shows that this addiction doesn't discriminate by gender, no matter what Sex and the City would have you believe.
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Female shopaholics are everywhere in pop culture. There's Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City, who bought so many pairs of $400 shoes over the course of her life that she can't afford a down payment on her apartment. There's Rebecca Bloomwood, the compulsive-buyer-turned-personal finance guru heroine of Confessions of a Shopaholic.

Mainstream news outlets tend to pepper their articles about compulsive shopping with anecdotes about women. A 2009 CNN story focused on the purse-obsessed Elizabeth Deiter and her disapproving husband (who "has threatened to end the marriage if her spending puts them behind in the bills again"). A 2000 article in the New York Times led with the story of "Barbara G," who tried unsuccessfully to curb her shopping habit by freezing her 19 credit cards in a block of ice.

But it's extremely rare to see a prominent example of a male shopaholic, even though men are about as likely as women to be compulsive buyers. Then came an article by Buzz Bissinger—author of Friday Night Lights and a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter—in the latest GQ, "My Gucci Addiction." It's a remarkable piece of writing that describes how he managed to spend $638,412.97 (not a typo) in three years on an array of designer clothing:

The most expensive leather jacket I own, a Gucci ostrich skin, cost $13,900. The most expensive evening jacket I own, also from Gucci, black napa leather with gold threading, cost $9,800. The most expensive leather pants, $5,600. The most expensive jeans, $2,500. The most expensive pair of boots, $2,600. The most expensive pair of gloves, $1,015. Gucci by far makes up the highest percentage of my collection. The Gucci brand has always held special power for me, ever since the 1960s, when the Gucci loafer with the horsebit hardware was the rage, and my father, who fancied himself as being anti-status when he secretly loved it, broke down and bought a pair. Followed by my mother's purchase of the famous Jackie O. shoulder bag. As a 13-year-old, I circled the old store on Fifth Avenue several times before getting up the courage to go in and buy a Gucci wallet covered with the insignia.

I own forty-three pieces of Gucci—twelve leather jackets, six evening jackets, five pairs of pants, six pairs of boots, four shirts, seven pairs of gloves, and three scarves. I own items from Acne, Affliction, Alexander McQueen, Alexander Wang, Balmain, Band of Outsiders, Belstaff, Bottega Veneta, Brooks Brothers, Burberry, Chanel, Charles David, Diane von Furstenberg, Helmut Lang, Ines, Jan Hilmer, J.Crew, Jimmy Choo, Jitrois, Jos. A. Bank, Joseph, Junker Designs, Loewe, Lucchese, Marc Jacobs, Mr. S Leather, Nike, Northbound Leather, Prada, Rag & Bone, Ralph Lauren, Roberto Cavalli, Saint Laurent, 7 For All Mankind, Thomas Wylde, Valentino, Versace, and Wesco. I also have had several pieces custom-made for me by an amazing designer named Carla Dawn Behrle, who specializes in leather; they're worth every penny and more, given her fastidiousness and attention to detail. I apologize to those letters of the alphabet I have not gotten to yet. Zara, don't give up hope.

Bissinger's story sounds outrageous because of the amount of money at his disposal and his talents as a writer. But his condition isn't all that unusual for men. And it's probably not any less unusual for men than it is for women, who get far more attention when they overspend. A study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry in 2006 found that six percent of women and 5.8 percent of men display compulsive-buying behavior, a difference that isn't statistically significant, according to Ronald J. Faber, one of the study's authors.

"One would conclude that there is no gender difference according to the study," said Faber, a communications professor at University of Minnesota, in an email. "In my opinion the issue of any gender difference in prevalence is still an open question."

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Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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