Beginning in the Great Recession of 2008, I recorded every penny I spent, which revealed that I was a fritterer, an impulse buyer, a stockpiler who had more clothing than a costume supply house.
Because I had more discretionary income then, I also paid less attention to cost. Recently, I overheard a conversation between two older women whom I passed on the street: "$120 for a t-shirt? What happened?" I realized that in addition to the well-known Princess Dollars (buy item on sale, subtract sale price from full price, then award yourself the difference to spend) women my age think in Gran Dollars: we not only remember when a soft, 100% cotton tee cost $35, we remember when it had set-in sleeves and was made in North America.
My desire for quality (which relates to value) means ever-escalating expense, and that therefore means I am buying less.
Three pairs of work-appropriate trousers I bought late last winter were barely worn, nor will they be, because I was sacked in August, when the owner changed the qualifications for the part-time job.
My mood when I entered the women's chain store after work last February should have alerted me: tired, rushed, not wanting to dig out something for the next morning—a guarantee for lacklustre results. They fit, require no thought to wear, launder well, but were dispiriting.
Lesson: Work clothes need to spark joy, too. Though I like deep blue denim, the navy poly trousers were stiff and did not breathe. The grey wool made me feel like a security guard; the black were interchangeable with a dozen other pairs I've owned over the last twenty-five years. Donated.
L.L. Bean sheepskin slippers are irresistible...to moths. These are wonderful house shoes if you don't have pest issues, but I had to replace the sheepskin with washable plush. Since they cost nearly $100 given the currency exchange, not a good buy. Binned.
The (obvious) lesson: We cannot keep woollens out, at least for now. We laundered all knits, then froze them on the balcony (thanks to Montréal winters, a natural deep-freeze) and bought more snap-lid storage boxes. We found moths incubating in an old down duvet and an Ikea woolen Christmas ornament. (Making progress; no new moths in the traps or sighted for a month.)
At the same thrift were I found an impeccable black velvet blazer, I bought a peach top with a taupe velvet trim, very pretty. But pale peach is not my colour, no matter that it was new. Given to a friend, out $7.
Lesson that experienced thrifters know by heart: it may be great, but if not perfect on you, pass it up.
While walking through the Toronto Outdoor Art Show last summer, I saw these wild peacock-dyed 12mm Chinese freshwaters. The price was reasonable (about $200) and I liked the handmade silver clasp. (Note to pearl buyers: "Dyed" is the forthright, accurate term; many vendors use "finished with a special process", "enhanced" or "organically-treated". Those words mean dyed.)
These are as obviously dyed as a pink poodle, and should be worn in the same frivolous spirit. They pick up neutrals when it is dark by 4:30 p.m.
Lesson: I have the minimalist thing more or less in hand except for pearls.
Then, there's that new-to-me leopard-print velours coat. Do you sense a theme here? Someone needed a pick-me-up. So much spotty style for $70!
Lesson: I hardly ever buy "fun" clothes but when I do, secondhand is the way to go.
Puffer: Northern necessity
Here's the other solid star, actually a replacement item: a knee-length khaki down-filled puffer, road-tested against -25C windchill. And washable! (Worn with an eight-year-old Eric Bompard milles pattes scarf, a discontinued style, in cumin, a bronzy green.)
Lesson: We have minus zero temps for months here, no excuse needed!
Another good buy from 2016: a long black skirt from Muriel Dombret, bought during end of summer sale so not worn much, but it will return good value and pleasure in 2017.
2016 Grade: B
Even though 2016 was a record low for purchases, what I bought was not wholly well-chosen. Back in 2009, I got a D and vowed, among other reforms, to buy fewer and finer. The fewer has been easy, but the finer harder than I thought—those damn Gran Dollars—though by now overpriced clothes seem absurd, rather than covetable.
I wish I'd bought one pair of less-generic trousers, even if they cost more. And—I did not need three. (If Christine is reading, she will laugh, remembering my shock over the price of her teal velvet Italian pair, but she knew. The cost equalled that of my three, but hers was the smarter buy.)
|Mrs B. at her 90th birthday party last winter|
The words of 1940s designer Vera Maxwell continue to guide me: "Clothes should be beautiful, adaptable, and sound."
And where were those words when I bought the trousers? Maybe I need them stamped on my wallet!