Patricia Marx wrote an entertaining piece for the New Yorker on shoes a few months ago, so I was curious to see her take (full view subscribers only) on Century 21, Loehmann's, and the like. Her conclusion? We (first-world women) buy crap we don't like/want/need because it's 60% off. While no doubt the owners of the handbag stores across New York with year-round "60% off" signs subscribe to this philosophy, I'm not sure it's the best way to understand the psychology of sales. It's not so much that we buy worse stuff when it's discounted--at most of the stores I go to, such as Uniqlo, the Old Navy-Gap-Banana Republic trifecta, clothes are full-price for about ten minutes before becoming lowly 'sale' items-- as that, when we pay full price, we feel a) guilt, and consequently b) conviction that we had to have the item in question, and so we a) take good care of it (i.e. keep it away from the ever-growing pile of sweatshirts and leggings and corduroys that is the couch) and, b) though careful not to over-wear it, wear it enough to feel the cost-per-wear is forgivable. As I've mentioned before, in Europe (OK, Belgium, from which I'm overdrawing conclusions) clothing is not necessarily higher quality than at equivalent stores in the US. It's just that Europeans pay more for their own average-quality attire, and so do not leave it in one big heap on the couch.