Hi, my name is Sharon, and I have a problem. Growing up, I always knew it was wrong; adults cautioned me against it, and really, I never foresaw any future situation in which I’d do it. It’s a nasty habit to fall into, and expensive to boot. But nonetheless, I just can’t kick it: I am an online shopper.

As do all addictions, my online shopping started small, with a white sweatshirt I ordered on a department store’s website to tie-dye at home. It wasn’t exactly an online buy, I reasoned, because I was going to modify it myself, and besides — plain white hoodies are tougher to track down than one would expect.

Soon, it spread to footwear. How was I, a born-and-bred Californian and a car-less University student, supposed to find winter boots that had traction and retained some degree of cuteness? And while I’m already making a purchase, might as well get some flip-flops to cash in on free shipping for orders over $50.

It was in this weakened state that I met ModCloth — the website that would become my preferred clothing dealer. For the uninitiated, ModCloth is a Pittsburgh-based online retailer with a focus on retro-inspired outfits and indie designers.

I always held that every time you buy a dress online, an independent boutique dies, but the muted design and spontaneous mushroom logo of ModCloth’s website tricked me with an attractive anything-but-corporate vibe. Its creations favor floral patterns, vibrant colors and lots of lace; dresses and tops are often pulled in with belts and empire waists so you don’t look fat. With garment titles adorably referential (the “Slanted and Enchanted Dress”) and punny (“Sweater Late Than Never”) alike, ModCloth drew me in, and I couldn’t say no.

So here I am, beginning my fifth semester of college and loading up on ModCloth every day. When I can’t think of an essay topic, I just take a quick look-see and check what’s on sale. Sleepless at 4 a.m., I scour the site for new arrivals to examine. And so, as I tune out the dresses, tops, outerwear and intimates (yeah, I went there once) and close the ModCloth tab on my browser, I vow to stop shopping online and take a harsh look at the practice instead.

The major point I’ve always held against the purchasing of clothing on the Internet is the potential for overspending. On a glowing computer screen, colors and patterns burst and dollar signs fade into the background — on ModCloth, they’re tiny, grey and utterly unnoticeable. So I base my buys on the items of clothing themselves and load them into my virtual shopping bag — lacking the weight of each garment and its very physical price tag to bring me down to earth.

When I mosey toward the “checkout” button, there are way more zeros next to the total than I would have expected. But what can I leave out? I certainly can’t drop the stunningly accurate “My Top Picks Dress.” But the “Stay or Go Jacket” definitely has to stay. I’ve unwittingly overdosed on ModCloth again, and there’s nothing to be done but break out the credit card.

I’ll have to pay shipping on a package I’ll likely be returning anyway come next week, because nothing looks like the pictures and I didn’t have the benefit of a store in which to try on my choices.

Granted, I’ve had some great successes with ModCloth, as well as Zappos and Endless for shoes, and once, tights from fredflare.com. Between bus delays and a hectic student life, it’s nearly impossible for me to make it to Briarwood, and when I’m home for break, I’m too busy sleeping and eating food that doesn’t say Kraft on it to go to the mall. To be honest, my real-world interactions with clothing stores are few and far between. The Internet, as it is prone to do, broadens my horizons, allowing me access to designs I would never encounter otherwise.

And yet, the Internet’s inherent lack of physicality makes it a pretty counterintuitive shopping ground, and for good reason. I’ve heard rumors that the photos of ModCloth’s outfits are tailored (pun intended), and I can attest that the outfits I carefully pluck from their packages generally have a cheaper look and feel than I would have imagined from their online appearances. When all is said and done, I’m more often than not disappointed with my Internet-bought outfits, and my ModCloth “order history” tab currently lists four returns in a row.

So what’s the answer? Is my Internet addiction OK? Online shopping has opened my eyes to new brands, designs and styles. No, I can’t possibly eliminate it from my shopping repertoire. But it’s simply not worth the cost — in either money or clothing quality — that I’m currently putting into it.

As I retype that familiar URL into my browser and watch ModCloth’s comfortable faded colors load on the screen, I make this solemn vow: No longer will I blindly buy the contents of that virtual shopping cart. I will understand that the Internet is a tool to help me know what’s out there in the wide world of clothes, but that the actual hitting of the “checkout” button must be reserved for the most obscure of garments, the perfect pieces that I absolutely can’t find anyplace real. Online shopping can no longer be my drug of choice — it can only exist as a diagnostic tool to help me find my real-life wardrobe prescription.

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