The Zebra Dress Experiment

As I mentioned here, I made a calculated attempt last week to see what would happen if I let myself go into a store.

It has been at least twenty-seven weeks since I have allowed myself to do this; probably longer, because back in December stores were closed because of global plague issues. But for our purposes, for the purposes of my Buy No Clothes in 2021 Challenge, I was twenty-seven weeks into the challenge.

I can’t say that this had been my intention from the beginning: to test my mettle halfway through, to check and see how firm was the progress if confronted with temptation. But as I considered that I was now six months into the project, it might be an interesting experiment.


I knew I would be having lunch in town with a friend last week. The indulgent husband had taken scalawag duty, so I would not be missed at home. I had a gift certificate to the restaurant where we were going, so that was all I took. No wallet.

Lunch was lovely. I walked my friend to her car, then I set about setting my trap.

I didn’t go into stores I liked. I went into a little line of stores that are each almost identical. The clothes in those stores are cheap, trendy, usually eye-catching. Back in the day, I used to live on the street where these stores are, and back in the day, I let myself be tempted more than once by something cute in the window, with varying degrees of satisfaction.

The goal was just to walk into stores, look at things and walk out. I was not to buy anything, but I could let myself look at things, imagine things, take things off the rack and hold them up against myself and see what I thought of them.

Heading off covetousness

Something I learned early on in this adventure towards learning to stop impulse shopping and start loving what I owned, was that telling myself I can’t even think about something was the surest way to make myself miserable. I discovered that if, rather than rejecting or trying to shut down a little covetous thought immediately, I let myself imagine what it would be like to own something, or do something, that this seemed to diffuse the situation.

Somewhere in the Bible it says to “take captive every thought…” It does not say, “close your eyes and try to think about something else while trying to convince yourself you don’t need it.” Taking captive is an active process. As I considered this idea, I got to thinking that in times of war, captives are taken and often interrogated for information: captives can provide clues that will help advance a cause.

If I wanted to “take captive” my covetous thoughts, I needed to interrogate them. Why is this tempting? is a good thought to start with. What do I like about this? is another. What does this desire to have (insert thing) say about me? is a really interesting one. How would my life be better if I had this thing? Is often the one that most quickly diffuses the situation.

From first step to first difficulty

Stepping into one of these stores felt familiar and a little overwhelming. At first, removing the blinders I had put on my heart over the last six months was tough. But I made myself do it. I started touching fabrics, studying prints. Giggling to myself at how hideous some things were.

There was one green dress that caught my eye (you know how I feel about green dresses!) which I pawed at for a few seconds too long. I was really trying hard to examine my thoughts, because the process was fascinating: I had gone from not daring to even look, to now plucking that green dress off the rack.

It was pretty, definitely. But it did not strike a chord of covetousness. The cut was wrong and the fabric was an awful texture. I put it back on the rack, but at the same time as I did, I had a distinct thought: “What am I going to wear on Sunday?”

Fascinating turn of events. It seemed I was starting to enter into the danger zone of my experiment. I had now allowed myself to consider the eventuality that I might have an occasion to wear something new. Sunday. A day when I would need to get dressed up for church.

Then it happened: You need something new, my overactive imagination whispered. With that thought, my brain flipped from examining my thoughts to engaging the pleasure center of my brain. Now I was in trouble.

Face to face with the Zebra Dress

The act of flipping through the dresses became more urgent, as if I was actually looking for something.

And, as ever, when someone goes earnestly looking for trouble, she generally finds it. Trouble, in this case, was a strappy wrap dress made from a material similar to my rainbow dress: lightweight with a nice sheen to it. However, this strappy wrap dress in a lightweight material with a nice sheen to it was zebra printed.

Zebra. As in, black and white. As in, my motif obsession ever since I read Living with a Creative Mind, the book which helped me come face to face with the obsessive, maniac creativity that I possess, and helped me learn how to live with its ebbs and flows. In the book, it is explained that a creative person is either all-in or all-out. On or off. Black or White. There is no gray area for a creative. In that way, they compare the creative to a zebra: white and black co-exist, side by side, each retaining their essence, but do not mix to create gray.

I have several tiny little zebra things that I have collected over the years: a handkerchief, an umbrella, a shopping bag. Nothing terribly important, but they make me smile when I see them. I was tempted to ask for a zebra mug from my boys, when they broke my favorite mug and wanted to buy me a new one.

So, needless to say, the zebra dress was appealing to me. I plucked it off the rack. I went to a mirror and stood in front of it.

Oh! I thought, looking at my masked face in the mirror, where I saw that my eyes were sparkling a touch too much. This is fabulous.

I imagined wearing that dress. I imagined wearing it to drop my boys off at school (it would be just a notch under as being as loud and noticeable as the rainbow dress), or to the grocery store (chilly. I would need a sweater.) Oh yes, I could imagine these things.

I looked at the price tag. The voice of reason whispered, “That is quite a few wears you’ll have to get in, my dear.” The thought of my ever-decreasing Cost Per Wear, and the pride I was taking in it shot me back to reality.

Plus…well, I just don’t wear animal print clothes. I’ve tried leopard, but decided that I would be putting that on hold for a while, since it made me feel like my Grandmother (who was a stylish woman, don’t get me wrong.) Accessories were fine. Clothes were a bit much.

And just as quickly, the little covetous thought passed and was gone.

Further distractions

There were a few other items that I spent some time drooling over, notably a brightly patterned loungewear set that I was fairly certain could take me from being a person who does not wear loungewear to being a person who does. I left it behind.

I found an amazing pair of tennis shoes that nearly had my name written on them. I left them behind.

I didn’t have my wallet anyway. This street is just far enough away from home in a direction that I don’t usually take to make any return visit more trouble than it’s worth.

Staying out of the habit

I am glad that I did this experiment. I am glad, even though at least three times this weekend I fantasized about that loungewear. It was more like “In my Ideal Life, I am a person who wears loungewear,” than “I need that loungewear.”

On the other hand, I don’t want to make this a habit, either. I don’t want to start wasting time in stores. I don’t want to remove the guardrails just yet, because while I feel like I have made progress, and the thoughts have been taken captive and interrogated for the information they might hold, I still don’t trust myself as a captor to be able to keep them from knocking me out and stealing the key to their cell. I do not want to become their accomplice.


Six months into my Buy No Clothes in 2021 Challenge, I am still on track. I’m not pickier about quality (I would have hoped this would be true), I’m not less prone to falling in love with something on the hanger (unfortunately). But I am more trusting of my ability to welcome my thoughts without succumbing to them.

This feels like a win!

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

4 thoughts on “The Zebra Dress Experiment

  1. YAY!! 2 Corinthians 10:5
    Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: