Town & Gown: Retail Lessons Learned From Shopping For Classes



mattieMattie Kahn is an undergraduate at Harvard University, class of 2015. She is passionate about social justice, sustainability, and her hair.

"In the '90s, when Apples were for eating and Nickelodeon introduced an entire generation of children to the Rugrats, the PAX Network aired a gem of a game show called Shop ‘til You Drop. In each episode, two couples faced-off in three “stunt” rounds. The winning team then participated in a bonus round, which consisted of scrambling around an artificial shopping mall to amass six specific items from stores that had names like Gary’s Gadgets and Von Schiffendecker's Furniture.

"In my younger years, I could not have imagined the relevance that Shop ‘til You Drop would have to my quasi-adulthood. (Unless, of course, I realized my dream of appearing on the show as a contestant.) That naiveté remained intact until I encountered the single worst acquisition-based activity since bikini season was invented: Shopping Week.

"The idea of Shopping Week is sound. For the first five weekdays of classes, students are encouraged to sit in on as many lectures as they can, before committing to a defined class schedule. “Browse through the course list,” advised an upperclassman during orientation. “Strategize shopping for classes the way you would shopping for clothes. Take a few different styles, a few different sizes.” I was inclined to accept her advice. After all, she was wearing cutout oxfords.

"During Shopping Week, there are no fascist dressing room limits. Undergraduates are free to test out a rolling rack’s worth of options. I set out with a game plan. I was determined to find the equivalent to a pair of skinny jeans in the English department — practical, but also alluring. From the offerings of the romance languages department, I craved a little black dress. And I lusted for the intimidating perfection of a Prada flat-form from history’s metaphoric closet. Bright-eyed, I boldly set out to Shop ‘til I Dropped.

"Maximalist that I am, I shopped eleven classes. But here’s the catch: Although Shopping Week takes great pains to appear supportive and beneficial (like outsourced customer service), it is actually a machine calculated to drive you to the brink of insanity. On day two of Shopping Week, I sat through eight hours of classes. Straight. To the professor whose class I accidentally stormed into halfway through, let me take this time to say: 'I’m sorry.'

"Not every university endorses Shopping Week. Evidently, not every university considers dragging its students through Dante’s Seventh Circle to be of value. For those of you who do not struggle through a week of stress that only a rip in the space-time continuum could alleviate, consider yourselves lucky. And for those who head to the symbolic dressing room, arms laden in a beautifully chaotic mélange of basics, neons, leather jackets, and ostentatious hot pants, my sincerest congratulations.

"You shopped. You dropped.

"You probably dropped from exhaustion, maybe dehydration. You might have dropped your physics textbook, or your breakfast tray. You could have dropped hints to the distractingly cute guy you seem to see everywhere. If you haven’t already, you probably should. And finally, you Shopped ‘til You Drop-ped seven of the eleven classes you tried on for size. Armed with a wardrobe of four faceted, fascinating pieces to mix and match, you realize: This is going to be one stylish semester."