« Employers continue to cut office perks | Main | Lipstick effect grips consumers »

April 03, 2021

You take to no shopping, the rich turn to "shame shopping"

By Jason Buckland, Sympatico / MSN Finance

If you’re, say, a laid-off worker ashamed that your neighbours saw repo men make off with the family car from your driveway, just be lucky you’re not filthy rich.

Because that’s when the real embarrassment starts.

As the recession hits and our spending habits seize tighter than Cher’s face, nobody’s talking about the wealthy shopper, who still has cash to spend but is now too shy to do so.

It’s one thing to drop five-figures on a pair of pumps during a healthy economy, but to splurge so lavishly while the rest of the world scrapes to get by? Why, you’d have to be a monster.

Yet there’s a new trend among the elite called “shame shopping,” where rich boutique-hoppers still spend big but now reject the signature bags of their high-end retailers, choosing to conceal their indulgence rather than promote it.

Yes, you’re reading this correctly. It’s apparently become standard procedure on Madison Avenue for customers to now opt for plain, logo-free bags to place their goods in so as to not rub in their spending during the Era of the Penny Pinch.

“Once upon a time, carrying a Holt (Renfrew) bag was something to be proud of – now it signals excess,” industry publicist Jocelyn Smith tells Fashion magazine. “If I’m walking around with 10 shopping bags, I feel ridiculous.”

This pattern has even crossed-over to online shopping at sites like, which specializes in posh clothing and accessories. Now, select shoppers can have their orders delivered in non-descript wrapping to keep inquiring postmen and nosy neighbours none the wiser to your spending.

“Psst … Your secret is safe with us!”  it reads under the website’s packaging options page.

Here was my favourite anecdote I found on “shame shopping”: A female client, wishing to keep her spending discreet, ordered a $1,200 Gucci snakeskin bag from a catalogue.

“She said, ‘Please ship it with a gift card wishing me a happy birthday, so my husband doesn’t kill me,” the retailer said. “So I didn’t put the invoice in the box. I just put a card that said ‘Happy Birthday, I hope you love the bag!’”

Now, it’s easy to sit here and bash the rich for being rich – that’s a certified perk to not having much money – but isn’t this a bit much? Isn’t brown paper packaging reserved for the neighbourhood pervert carrying home his nudie-mag each week?  Isn’t this a tad presumptuous?

While I can understand the gesture (and even appreciate it on some level), it seems misguided. Most of the people really affected by this recession – the ones at risk of losing their homes, losing their cars, losing their retirement – aren’t likely to be spotted in Yorkville or strolling through Fifth Ave. or Rodeo Dr., anyway. And if they are, chances are they haven’t even looked twice at the bags dangling at your side, a sight I’d expect is to be anticipated in such ritzy areas of town.

Do I care that you’ve spent $4,000 on a new Hermès bag? Not really. Do most other people? Probably not. Besides, a Hermès bag sounds like something my friend Shane should’ve seen a doctor about the night he went home with a girl who could best be described as “rugby player-esque.” We don’t mind that you’ve got one. Honestly.

After all, is a world where you can’t enjoy a $1,200 snakeskin purse free of guilt one you really want to live in? Let the wealthy spend, I say, free from social persecution.



Post a comment


Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...