Women who will not spend on themselves

I've had this thought rattling around since Funny about Money commented (on my post about Mother of the Bride dresses, February 19, 2009):

Where on EARTH do people get that kind of money to spend on clothes????? If I had that much laying around, I'd get some French doors installed in my house...or maybe stop worrying about whether & when I'm going to be laid off."

My first thought was, Same place they got the money for the invitations, reception, and wedding dress, I guess.

My second was, I love French doors too, but this is your child's wedding, one of the most special occasions you'll ever attend. The point is to look as joyous on the outside as you feel inside.*

Few of us have "that much laying around". So shop sales, buy resale, rent, find a reasonably-priced dressmaker, or make your dress the wedding's "something borrowed".

My thoughts about wedding attire led me to another matter.

I have observed that some women I've known will not spend on themselves even when they have money.

I was once browsing in a posh neighborhood of a large city, and chatted with a boutique owner. "Women here will spend on clothes," she told me, and women in (neighboring upscale suburb) will spend it on their houses."

A woman who spends on the house but not on herself may believe that:
1. More people will enjoy the house purchase; buying for yourself is "selfish"
2. The home-oriented purchase endures (you might even leave the item to your children), or could enhance the value of your asset; the dress is gone in a few years, or
3. Buying for yourself is va
nity (a vice), but buying for the house is "making a lovely home" (a virtue).

Or maybe there are other reasons.

I once spent a weekend in New York with a woman of this bent. We visited a flea market where she fell in love with a small antique turquoise and gold locket, for $100. She would not buy it, though the cash was in her handbag.

We later went to Barney's, where she spent well over four times that for table linens that I thought were seriously overpriced. And I could tell she really, really wanted that locket. I asked if her partner would disapprove; she said no.

She practiced the same economy when we ate in restaurants (no wine, the cheapest items), but would commission, for example, a hand-crafted custom door. The house was where she fulfilled her desire for beauty.

Was she making a wise choice? I can't
say. But they sold that place, and the door stayed behind. When she came to my house for dinner in a faded sweater with a conspicuous hole in the front, I wondered once again about women who will not spend for themselves- and I'm not talking about luxury, just averagely nice things.

She was an extreme example, but not the only one I've seen.

So I say, look splendid for the wedding, the anniversary, the graduation- life's bright moments. Roll up that rug, the one with the wax that never quite came out on the fringe, and dance in a dress that lifts your heart.

Which wedding photo photo would you like your daughter to show her children: you in a smashing coat of beautiful fabric, or you in a just-okay jacket? Would you like your child to say, "There's your grandmother, her napkins always matched her table setting?" or "Look at your grandmother, wasn't she something?"

(The embroidered coat shown, by Toronto designer Alexia von Beck, about $400.)

* Exception: my mother, at my first wedding. She wore black and wept nonstop. At least her attire matched her mood.


Frugal Scholar said…
Hmmmm. I am a bit guilty of this myself. But it's partly that I don't VALUE certain things. For instance, I have a great antipathy to things like weddings and similar celebrations. I would rather give my kids the money for a fabulous trip.

Plus, I think I am overly proud of being able to dress well on very little.

I also think I'm lucky that my husband doesn't really notice how I look or dress. Annoying as this may be, it takes off a lot of pressure. (I'm talking about the desperate wives of successful men who live in fear of being exchanged for a younger model--I see a lot of these around even in my neck of the woods)

Fascinating post. Worthy of more thought.
Duchesse said…
Frugal: I'm writing about the woman who wants, even longs, for something for herself, but denies herself. If one has no desire, there is no lack.

"I also think I'm lucky that my husband doesn't really notice how I look or dress": Again, there's a lot of room on the continuum b/t the husband who 'doesn't really notice' and the one who 'exchanges for a younger model'.
materfamilias said…
Agree with every word! I so often want to point out the contradiction in spending habits -- those who claim virtuosity because they won't spend on good haircuts or dresses for special occasions or shoes that delight, yet charge up expensive tv screens or fridges so smart they could run a small country.
btw, is that you in the photo wearing that fabulous coat -- doesn't quite look like you, but could be, and I can't make the picture big enough to tell.
Duchesse said…
materfamilias: Photo is of Popsy Johnstone, a staff member of The Canadian Art Foundation- and also a customer of Alexia von Beck's. I pulled it from a profile of her by Linda Frum, and posted on Frum's web site. I do wish I'd bought that coat though!
Anonymous said…
I certainly don't deny myself now, if I can afford what I want - though I do have boundaries and will not spend sums I consider excessive. I just would not spend £200 on a pair of Louboutins for example (and not simply because I have more sense than to wear 5" heels).

The house example made me laugh - I have been doing work on mine recently - things that have long needed doing generally - and mainly because I have every intention of moving when the girls have both left school in about 3 years. In the meantime, I want to benefit from a fully repaired and nicely decorated house rather than doing it all at the last minute and not seeing the benefit of the effort and expense. And I can still buy myself nice shoes and jewellry
Nancy (nanflan) said…
This was my mom all the way. When she was young, she looked well turned out and dressed nicely. But she was excessively frugal with herself after marriage, even when she didn't have to be. It was almost as if she didn't feel like she deserved anything. It would have been better for her mental health if she had loosened the pursestrings a little.
Anonymous said…
I'm glad you clarified about the longing bit. I have noticed that spending on things rather than self adornments is sometimes an old money thing. I had a sister-in-law once who would serve a $50.00 piece of cheese without blinking but did it in an holey cashmere sweater. On the other hand, at Christmas she asked her husband to buy her $450.00 Le Chameau wellies for working around the farm.

Frugal: Doesn't notice? My guess is he doesn't parse and articulate.

Imogen Lamport said…
Interesting piece Duchesse!

Is it about self-worth and value? If you don't value yourself the you won't spend money on yourself. But a house has a quantifiable value (resale etc) so therefore spending money on the house and living environment is not a seen as a 'waste' but spending money on yourself is?

I notice this particularly prevelant amongst women who are over their desired body weight.
Anonymous said…
Luckily I have no problem with spending on myself. I'd so much rather have a nice dress and a tablecloth from Target.
sallymandy said…
There's so much emotional baggage tied up with spending on ourselves. I know in my case it involves a lot of almost unconscious ties to how my mother did or didn't spend on herself..and what HER mother did during the Depression.

I often have to make a conscious decision to buy brand-new items that cost significant money. It's getting better as I get older.

It's not an issue with my husband at all; it's all about me, and the little voices in my own head.
Anonymous said…
Duchesse, you have just described one of my friends and whilst I couldn't put my finger on what was bothering me with her, you have articulated it perfectly.
I know that I feel more virtuous when I buy things for the house (its for ALL of us, to improve our lives etc) than when I buy stuff for myself. Luckily for me I have NO problem spending on either!
Duchesse said…
Imogen: I'm guessing large-sized women may be so frustrated finding beautiful clothes, so they displace their beauty-fix on home things. Or there's jewelry :)

sallymandy: One's mother or other older family members have a powerful influence. My mother (just married during the Depression) would save tea bags but did buy herself good clothes.

cybill: I usually get my DH to accompany me when I buy for the house, that way we both get to feel virtuous. You have exposed my ruse.
lagatta à montréal said…
Duchesse, fortunately my mum sewed beautifully, so she always looked nice, though our family was very hard up (my dad was seriously ill all the time I was a child, and died when I was 15 - yep, he was a very heavy smoker.

I also tend to agree with you about plus-sized clothes. Most are dreadful; even the expensive ones tend to be mumsy unless one can afford Italian imports, or else too gaudy and clownesque.

Frugal, I tend to agree with you about weddings but that is a) an over-reaction to some absurdly expensive ones I've been to and b) the fact that here in Québec, we have the lowest marriage rate in the world, and the majority of children are born in (stable) common-law relationships. There are problems with that, particulary the fact that we don't truly have "common-law" as our civil law is French. But people here find lots of other occasions to dress for.

That said, I see a lot of "what's the point anymore" dressing, among women who certainly could find and afford nicer clothes.
WendyB said…
My mother always says, "Everyone has their priorities" regarding what they'll spend on. For some people it is clothes, for others the house, gadgets, sports, vacations, cars. I don't think anyone deserves to get on his/her high horse because s/he prefers one category to another.
Duchesse said…
Wendy: I agree that each person has priorities. The particular behaviour I was writing about is the woman who yearns to spend on herself, and denies that desire.
Mardel said…
An interesting piece and interesting comments. I see the point about choosing, I have friends who put everything in their homes and really could care less abut what is on their persons. And I know other people who are the other way. I like nice clothes and don't feel guilty and I am married to a man who would rather indulge in a good pair of shoes than fancy home decor or big screen televisions.

But to deny oneself and spend on something else is so sad. I sometimes wonder if this sense of guilt contributes to the "exchanges for a younger model". I've seen to many put all their time, energy, and money in homes mostly aimed at showing how successful they are, only to lose it all when the husband finds someone else.

I don't begrudge people putting their money in whatever their interests are, as long as they don't criticize my choices. But I feel sorry for those who don't feel they are worth indulging.

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