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Retail Therapy

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Katara: I know something that's going to make you feel better!
Sokka: You do?
[scene change]
Sokka: Shopping!
Avatar: The Last Airbender, "Sokka's Master"

A character, who is almost Always Female, is depressed or unhappy and goes shopping to make herself feel better. A variation involves the character getting a makeover for the same reason. Shopping may even be a part of said makeover.

Retail Therapy often accompanies a Shopping Montage, although to demonstrate that a character is truly depressed and in a really bad spot, she may be grimly and desperately shopping alone. Alternatively, a group of friends may decide that a particular friend is being too mopey and take her shopping in an attempt to cheer her up. Depending on the character, this can be met with mixed success.

Usually this occurs after experiencing rejection or turbulence in a romantic relationship, but Retail Therapy can be a response to all sorts of trauma, ranging from things like having a bad day to losing a job. A sympathetic character generally won't use Retail Therapy to cope with the death of pets and/or other characters, as this implies the character attaches a monetary value to lives. Male characters who use exhibit this trope often carry connotations of being effeminate or extremely materialistic.

Compare Distracted by the Luxury and Mid Life Crisis Car (its rough Spear Counterpart). Can overlap with Credit Card Plot if the character in question incurs massive credit card debts because of the excessive purchases made during Retail Therapy. The character is often (but not always) Ms. Red Ink.

This is Truth in Television for a very large number of people. Even men (as much as they deny it).


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The 100 Girlfriends Who Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Love You: Ahko can't resist buying anything cute she sees in a store, to the point that her bedroom is filled to the brim with junk she doesn't want to throw away.
  • Ergo Proxy: Re-l's robot assistant tries to take her shopping to keep her out of trouble early in the series.
  • Kaguya-sama: Love Is War: Tsubame is described by Papa Shirogane as the type who goes impulse shopping when she's worried when reading her palm, and on at least two different occasions she's shown at the tail end of a shopping trip trying to work of the stress from Ishigami's crush on her.
  • Peach Girl: Sae attempts a massive shopping spree to make herself feel better at seeing her friend Momo so happy with her boyfriend. It doesn't satisfy her at all as she's jealous as well as insecure and she comes to the conclusion that she has to have Momo's boyfriend to feel better about herself.

    Comic Books 
  • The Avengers: In one issue, Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch) follows Janet van Dyne's (Wasp) advice and tries to shop herself into a better mood. She collects an impressive heap of packages but doesn't feel any better. Clint Barton (Hawkeye) who followed her to help carry said packages, suggests what he does for therapy: find someone and fight them! Wanda declines.
  • Gold Digger: Britanny Elin Diggers, the Happily Adopted were-cheetah sister of Gina Diggers, is an Action Fashionista who spends absurd amounts of money in clothes (at least partially justified because being a seven-foot-tall were-cat prone to Clothing Damage just from running near-supersonic speeds is not cheap), even calling her daughter Tiffany (after, yeah, that Tiffany). She eventually explains to Tiffany that said purchasing obsession was a way to deal with her Freakiness Shame.
  • Supergirl: At the beginning of Adventure Comics #397, Linda Danvers—as well-known as Kara Zor-El, alias Supergirl—is feeling gloomy and depressed, so she goes shopping to cheer herself up. After trying some new clothes she feels better right away.
    Linda: Poo! This is for the birds! I've gotta get over this feeling! And when a girl feels this way—some new clothes are in order!
  • Wonder Woman: In The Legend of Wonder Woman (2016), Lita Little loves shopping, and thinks going out on the town with her friends for a shopping spree is a great answer to most things.
  • X-Men: In Uncanny X-Men #210, Rogue has spent all night looking for Rachel Summers who's gone missing, also stopping along the way to rescue two window-washers whose scaffolding fails. By dawn, she's mentally and physically exhausted, and looks like a wreck. Once she realizes it she makes the executive decision to take the rest of the morning off and heads to Bloomingdale's, where she buys a new outfit of clothes and has a makeover.

    Fan Works 
  • Mean Time to Breakdown: Iwanako's mother uses this to try and cheer her daughter up and succeeds at first. Unfortunately, when she tries applying it again after her daughter lands back in the hospital after another brush with death, it's considerably less effective.
  • Asuka takes Rei out clothes shopping in Doing It Right This Time, after finding out just how her fellow Pilot had been living thanks to Commander Ikari. A Justified Trope in this case as she didn't have any clothes except her school uniform beforehand.
  • Once More with Feeling: After arriving at Tokyo-3, Asuka often takes Rei and Hikari shopping to cheer herself and her friends up.
  • The Second Try: Invoked when Asuka angrily explains to Rei that the point of going shopping and buying clothes isn't sufficiency but making yourself feel better.
    Misato: Ah, hello Rei. What brings you here?
    Rei: I am in need of new socks.
    Asuka: Figures. The devil will probably visit the Arctic to spend a holiday in the warmth before you'd buy yourself some new outfit.
    Rei: The clothes that were supplied by the school are sufficient for me.
    Asuka: Sufficient, sufficient. This is not a matter of sufficiency. You should do it to feel more comfortable, to show the world that you have another life than school and duty. And most importantly to make you feel better!
  • Thousand Shinji: After finding out that NERV cheated her out of her combat pay, Asuka goes shopping together with her fellow pilots and friends to calm herself down.
  • In One More Time, One More Chance, one of the ways Satsuki goes about bonding with Ryuuko is by taking her shopping.
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: In Out-of-Dungeon Experiences, it's suggested as a way for Ami to relieve her stress:
    "It would do you a world of good to just relax for a bit and have some fun shopping, like a normal girl your age. All that worrying can't be good for you."
  • In Archie Comics story Maybe the Last Archie Story, Veronica suggests Betty go out together and hit the mall when both girls are feeling depressed.
  • You Are (Not) At Fault: After spending the night in an abandoned gas station, Asuka decides to go and get clothes. She wants to feel excited about a shopping trip, but not even the thought of new clothes can lift her gloomy mood.
  • Scarlet Lady: In "Troublemaker", after Penny has a Self-Care Epiphany, Scarlet Lady suggests retail therapy to her as a way to help with that. While it's sound advice, the fact that she specifically suggests buying a diamond-studded phone case shows that she's Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A rare male example occurs in Anchorman when the news team decide to cheer themselves up by buying new suits. They never actually make it to the suit store, getting lost and caught up in a Big Badass Battle Sequence.
  • Cher from Clueless goes shopping whenever she's feeling down. This is actually used as a joke at one of the more serious parts of the movie, as she's mulling over how much of a mess she's unintentionally made of things while walking past a store.
    Cher's Inner Monologue: Oh, and this Josh-and-Tai thing was wiggin' me more than anything. I mean, what was my problem? Tai is my pal. I don't begrudge her a boyfriend, I really—ooh! I wonder if they have that in my size.
    [Cut to Cher walking home with a shopping bag, her monologue picking up as if nothing had happened.]
  • In Confessions of a Shopaholic, the character Rebecca has shopped herself into debt through her constant spending.
  • Going Shopping: A couple of the women being interviewed say they go shopping because it makes them feel good, especially after a tough week.
  • The makeover variant happens in Legally Blonde whenever something bad happens to Elle.
  • In Marie Antoinette (2006), Antoinette breaks into tears when her sister-in-law gives birth to an heir before her and the court gossips about her infertility. The scene cuts to the famous Shopping Montage where she buys extremely expensive (and flashy) clothing along with loads of shoes (designed by Manolo Blahnik no less).

  • Animorphs - Rachel, unsurprisingly, believes in this.
    "There are few emotional problems that can’t be made better by shopping Old Navy and Express."
  • At the start of Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday, Emma is upset to learn her husband of ten years has kept his real name and title from her, and after Lori tells her that Bill has secretly been her noble father-in-law's attorney for three months, Emma says, "I'm tired of boys' games. Let's go shopping." Lori notes, "We spent the next week buying clothes." It seems to work; after getting a newly becoming haircut at a salon, Emma stops scolding Lori for addressing her as Viscountess.
  • Jody from Bloodsucking Fiends when she's upset about Tommy having friends over during the day.
  • The first Undead And... book has Betsy getting a pedicure to feel better about the whole "now a vampire" business. Sadly, vampiric bodies revert to the way they were at death the next time the vampire sleeps. Seeing the pedicure undone reduces Betsy to tears.
  • Madame Bovary uses this trope as a way to deal with depression... and loses her shirt over it.
  • On the Street Where You Live: To cope with her strained marriage and her frustration over being stuck in a small town where she's not well-liked, Natalie regularly splurges on designer clothing and makeovers. Unfortunately, this only worsens matters because her husband gets stressed and argues with her about spending so much on unnecessary luxuries when his finances are in poor shape, nor does it improve the townsfolk's opinions of her.
  • Becky Brandon of the Shopaholic series, who has issues with overspending during her Retail Therapy.
  • Takeshi Kovacs learned how to use shopping trips as a way to cope with resleeving alienation while scouting out the local culture as part of his Envoy training.
  • You Don't Own Me: Prior to being widowed, Kendra would go on spending sprees to temporarily make herself feel better due to her depression; it was a way for her to regain some control in her life and to stick it to her controlling husband, who was the breadwinner. Kendra tells Laurie that she has some clothing items, including a pair of designer heels, that she's still never worn.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Victor, from the Canadian TV series Student Bodies. He was rich and he usually dealt with negative emotions by going out and buying something expensive.
  • Lily Aldrin from How I Met Your Mother spends money and shops clothes and shoes to cheer herself up on a regular basis. It gets her into trouble after she maxes out a huge stack of credit cards doing it; she then goes on another shopping spree because she's depressed about her huge credit card bill.
  • Friends:
    • Rachel indulges in shopping in the pilot (she's a runaway bride) and often after she gets a better-paying job. Whenever she's depressed, she shops for nice clothes or shoes. In particular, she goes on a huge spree after Ross leaves for London to marry Emily, declaring to Phoebe after she arrives home with multiple shopping bags, "Manhattan does not have enough stores"
    • Jill, Rachel's sister, goes shopping after running away from home. She claims she doesn't want to be supported by her father anymore, but she has memorized all his credit card numbers. When Rachel finds out, she... keeps all the purchased items for herself. To teach Jill a lesson.
  • The Big Bang Theory, "The Leftover Thermalization", Penny decides to cheer up Leonard who's sad because Sheldon got all the credit for their theory and joint article. Leonard doesn't think it'll work because it's her thing, but she buys him a helicopter he can control with an iPad.
    Penny: My baby is sad, and I’m gonna make him happy again.
    Leonard: Look, I know shopping cheers you up, but it’s just not really my thing.
    Penny: Well, what about this helicopter you control with an iPad?
    Leonard: Does it have a camera in it?
    Penny: It does have a camera in it.
    Leonard: Baby’s listening.
  • Big Love's Nikki does this, not only because her isolated upbringing has left her genuinely clueless about how credit cards work—this isn't free money, you have to pay it back—it's also to console herself in her loveless marriage (she is fully aware that she's The Unfavorite of Bill's three wives).
  • Cheers: After her break-up with Robin Colcord, Rebecca decides to go on a shopping spree in San Diego... using Woody's credit card, having stolen it from him (along with his entire wardrobe) before leaving the bar.
  • In Parks and Rec, Tom and Donna celebrate an annual “Treat Yo’ Self Day”, where they go shopping together and indulge themselves. In one episode, a depressed Ben is invited in an attempt to help him feel better. He initially has trouble getting into the spirit of the celebration, only buying some new socks, but after a cathartic release he embraces the holiday and treats himself to an elaborate Batman costume.

  • The Barenaked Ladies song "Shopping" is about this. ("Everything will always be all right/when we go shopping!")
  • Queensrÿche's song "Retail Therapy" is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, though it's about a male character who gets his jollies from buying electronic gadgets and downloading apps.
    "I've got 62 apps to keep me happy.... but what about tomorrow?"
  • Pink Floyd deconstructs this time and again, first with "Money" from The Dark Side of the Moon and also with "Empty Spaces / What Shall We Do Now?" from The Wall.
  • Is an actual musical piece written by Stewart Copeland, and performed at SummerFest in 2009.
  • In Blu Cantrell's "Hit 'Em Up Style," the woman in the song goes on an expensive shopping spree at Neiman-Marcus with two of her friends...and her soon-to-be-ex's credit card. This is because she found out that her husband/boyfriend/fiance cheated on her. The shopping spree makes her feel better not only in the usual way but because she's trying to clean the soon-to-be-ex out before leaving him as revenge for cheating.
  • Compulsive shopping is the titular bad habit in Imelda May's "Bad Habit" (on the album Life Love Flesh Blood).
  • Miley Cyrus's "Flowers" starts as a Break Up Song, then turns into an Anti-Love Song where she talks about doing this.
    I can buy myself flowers,
    Write my name in the sand,
    Talk to myself for hours,
    Say things you don’t understand.
    I can take myself dancing,
    And I can hold my own hand.
    Yeah I can love me better than you can.

    Puppet Shows 

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • Parodied by Reductress in "Retail Therapy Cheaper than Actual Therapy", where a woman, due to the high cost of healthcare, realizes that shopping gives her the same happiness at lower cost.
    “Now, whenever I’m sad or anxious or feeling bad about myself, I just wander around Target and I feel better in, like, ten minutes tops,” said the 24-year-old. “I just dropped $200 on shit I absolutely don’t need and that’s still cheaper than a month of therapy. Which is saying something, because I’m still on my parent’s premium insurance plan!”

    Western Animation 
  • Sokka from Avatar: The Last Airbender loves to go shopping, and on occasion when he's feeling down, his friends will be more than happy to oblige him. It's usually for things like weapons, but he does have an eye for coordination and is happy to find a bag that matches with the Earth Rumble belt.
  • On The Simpsons, Mr. Burns says this is the only way he knows how to cope with defeat.
  • On Beverly Hills Teens, Bianca Dupree in one episode says this always cheers her up since she didn't get a leading role in her high school's soap opera — yet right after she said it and bought tons of things, she still feels "as miserable as ever".
  • Lampshaded in Metalocalypse when the band gets rid of their insane therapist who got them hooked on banana stickers by simply buying a bunch of stickers themselves.
    We won't be needing your banana stickers! We have found out that you can just, you know, buy psychological validation, so...
  • Family Guy: In a variation in one episode, Lois ends up shoplifting from stores and winds up in prison. She reasons that she had a hole she needed to feel with expensive things. Quagmire gets turned on by all the supposed Double Entendre.
  • Teen Titans (2003): Raven takes refuge in her room often as she sometimes prefers to be alone and Starfire will occasionally pop over to suggest going shopping with her or doing other female friend activities. It's implied to be because the other Titans feel she is troubled by her powers fueled by emotion and want to make her feel better.

    Real Life 


Video Example(s):


Crapshots - The Retail Therapy

Crazy Louie's Retail Therapy Outlet promises to make you feel better about your life. At least temporarily.

How well does it match the trope?

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Main / RetailTherapy

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