2014 spend analysis: Dogs and Stars

Regular readers know I track personal spending with the focus of a scientist at CERN, not for Nobel glory, but for insights that add extra oomph to my budget. In 2013, I needed new clothes or costly alterations, an expensive reward for losing weight. I was relieved not to have to do it again (in either direction) in 2014.

You are probably more interested in the mistakes than the superstars, no? In descending order of egregiousness, here are the top three blunders:

Walk of shame

Mistake #1: A skirt for work... but I don't.
A skirt, bought while on a trip to Toronto, at a boutique I frequented when I worked full time. I'm tall, so can wear mid-calf length, but now I don't wear skirts for the few occasions when I still work, and this one requires dry cleaning. I was overcome by nostalgia for clothes I wore five or ten years ago. 

You can see the tag, upper left, still on. I am cringing with embarrassment, but if this saves somebody a couple of hundred bucks, I'm posting it and then it will be sent to a friend.

Mistake #2: The sheddy sweater
A grey wool Donegal-tweed J. Crew sweater got compliments but shed copiously on everything, but especially black pants, which looked positively furry, and the lining of every coat. The wool blend does not delight, and how many times do we have to learn that? It was on sale, but I ended up buying another grey sweater (described below), so it returned poor value.

Mistake #3: One-season shoes
Aubergine suede and black leather Chie Mihara shoes, about $160 on sale last July, reduced from $400. But in fall I forgot about them and by snowy winter I wear slippers at home, boots outdoors, and carry lighter-weight shoes to friends' homes. Perhaps these extremely well-made shoes might get their fall wear, come next September. Still, a one-season pair is a mistake.

Stars: From the unexciting to unexpected

1. Grey cashmere v-neck
Three months after buying the J. Crew shedder, I bought this cashmere v-neck. I shot it in full boringness, below, because that's how it looked in the shop. It's so easy to disqualify these unassuming workhorses, and yet, the plainest piece invites us to truly use our accessories. Cashmere season is seven or more months long in northeastern Canada so colours beyond the deep-darks are useful and mood-elevating. Also feels infinitely better against skin.

Yesterday, I wore it with fancy-coloured Tahitian baroques, vintage emerald and diamond pin, antique diamond lavalière, and (not shown) a wide orange, grey and pink enamel cuff with Indian motif.

2. Vintage Italian mohair coat

On a mid-December shopping expedition with a girlfriend, I snuggled into the supple, light warmth of the Tina Turk mohair coat at left. 

The muted plaid would relieve my solely black winter coats, from leather to duffle to puffer. While she tried on dresses for a party, I debated. Girlfriend said, "Buy", but I thought that coat was insufficient for our frigid winter winds, so, at over $800, I called it an expensive 'extra' and resisted.

Days later I dropped by a vintage store, checking for a gift a son wanted to give, and found this secondhand Italian mohair coat, for $45.

I brushed the surface gently to remove minor mats, reviving its luxurious loft, and there was no other sign of wear. I've worn it on days when a puffer is too heavy, and come late winter, when a raincoat is still too light, it will be at hand.

For the last several years, I had visited vintage stores only to accompany young relatives and visitors. Now I see it pays to look, especially if I have an article in mind; I just might hit a lucky strike.  

3. 2014's big spend: jewelry renos
I've described how a talented jeweler restyled twenty-year-old emerald earrings into two new pairs and, later in the year, made a pearl/moonstone pendant to update a gold chain. 

The total cost was about $2,000 (my contribution of some scrap gold lowered the cost.) I feel especially satisfied when I check prices for new jewelery of comparable quality.

Is my affinity for such projects why I receive more mail about jewelry renos than buying clothes?

Reviewing all the buys, I give myself C+, a long way from the A I shot for. Dammit, that skirt! Even though I've about squashed the sale/special offer bug, when oh when will I learn to buy (only) clothes for my present life, not my old one?

Do you analyze your buys? What have you learned in the past year or so?


You KNOW how much I love a boring grey sweater - there's nothing boring about it once we've been through our scarf or jewelry drawer! And I think your coat is nicer, and better for your coloring, than the one you tried on in the store. Sort of an unexpected reward for the discipline you demonstrated while shopping with your friend!
Anonymous said…
Like most women, you are being too hard on yourself. Give yourself an A and go on!
frugalscholar said…
I tend to buy all plain items myself, though I lack your cache of great accessories. As for J Crew quality: I just don't buy from retailers that don't back their products FOREVER.

Love the shoes you see as a mistake. And my favorite (besides the beautiful earrings) is the vintage coat, which in the photo looks even more gorgeous than the new one.

Very impressed by the small NuMBER of purchases also. I can learn from that.
What a pretty coat. I think your "mistake" skirt is very pretty too, but I won't buy anything except outerwear that is only dry-clean.

Was that the vintage shop on St-Laurent in Petite-Italie, or another?
Madame Là-bas said…
The coat is gorgeous with so many colours. I have found that the plain grey sweater is an important piece in my wardrobe. I have a few dogs myself this year and mistakes are especially costly now that I am retired.
Anonymous said…
I think it is good to exercise self control when buying clothes . I have a list of my do's & dont's just to remind myself - eg. No high boots or skirts , I never put them on but I get plenty of wear from my selection of practical outerwear as I do lots of dog walking . Having said that my list of "rules " has the last entry of " break the rules sometimes for fun " . Those things can turn out to be the most loved . So don't beat yourself up over mistakes
Wendy in York
Duchesse said…
Janice: Thanks! It did feel 'meant to be'.

Anonymous: I take your intended complement and still, that's $700 or so that could have been spent more wisely, which is not pocket change to me.

frugal: Very small number of purchases though I did buy some lingerie not shown, a pair of gym hoes and 2 prs of straight legs jeans, my tried and true Talbot's.

Never thought about complaining to J. Crew, and should have.

lagatta: It was as if I was hypnotized in that place, usually the care tag about the first thing I look at!

Mme: Absolutely; my clothing budget is a fraction of what it was when I worked, and also my closet space is far smaller. On one hand I find it fun to try to get value •and• quality and on the other, mistakes can't be "buried"!

Duchesse said…
Wendy: I love your idea of a list/reminders. I too break rules occasionally (the mohair coat, b/c of colours and fact it has to be drycleaned is one).

lagatta: No, it is on St. Zotique.

Susan B said…
Three cheers for the boring grey sweaters! I've made so many mistakes of the buying-for-the-life-I-don't-have variety, and now am pretty gun-shy of pieces that are outside of my usual parameters. I think I tend to err on the cautious side, but I have fewer buying regrets that way. Is your sweater a Bompard? Pretty coat, what a good find!
Coats don't have to be drycleaned often; I don't see that as a major problem.

Yep, know where that one is. I've never found anything there, but it is the luck of the draw. Yours will look just splendid at a neighbourhood Italian café when its a bit warmer.
Duchesse said…
unefemme: It is from a small boutique called "The Cashmere Shop", their own brand. Bompard sell similar.

lagatta: With my moth problem I've had to be very thorough on the drycleaning. They love wool, usually the better stuff gets hit first.
That is true. They have very good taste; they destroyed my beautiful grey loden coat.
materfamilias said…
I'd squirm and cringe too much if I took such a harsh lens to many own buying practices. I know I occasionally use retail therapy inappropriately. It's true that my neutral cashmere sweaters work harder to earn their keep than virtually anything else in my wardrobe. . . and oh, do I covet that mohair coat. It's fabulous! So happy for you that you found it (and for it -- no one else is likely to take such good care of it, nor to style it as well).
LauraH said…
Love that coat! It is gorgeous, the colours are wonderful for our oft times grey dreary winter/spring days. I too have been looking for something not quite as warm as my puffer. With the weather bouncing all over the place, it's become a necessity.

As for the mistakes, it's so hard to buy for our actual lives...not sure why that is. I still make those mistakes. And maybe it's not too late to return that sweater. I bought cashmere from Talbots, perfect colours and style but they shrank significantly. I took them back and they refunded me. A pleasant surprise.
I think that skirt is gorgeous! Could you wear it out for dinners or to a party? I can see it paired with your grey cashmere....which would be my top pick as it is a versatile style in a great neutral that makes up the basis of a working wardrobe. I bought a cream sweater in angora that she'd all over everything and I wore it once before donating it to the charity shop. J crew is usually pretty good about returns so I would contact them and see what they can do for you.
Your coat is a fabulous find....now you've inspired me to go shopping !
LPC said…
I have never looked back at a year, per se. I haven't made too many mistakes in clothing recently - haven't been buying much! Have gotten very good at saying, out loud if needs be, "That's gorgeous but I don't need it and I won't wear it:)" Also, given that I am having my house repainted, my garden replanted, and doing some substantial refurnishing, I have a great incentive to hold back on clothes, and an alternative outlet for my impulse towards beauty:).

BTW I like your thrifted coat even better than the Trina Turk!
bomm said…
Never commented before but that skirt is *so* lovely. Couldn't you wear it to dinner? Doesn't look like office wear to me.
Rita said…
You will be glad to have those beautiful shoes next fall.
Duchesse said…
mater: You buy a lot more than I do (from what you post), but you are still working. You may find that retiring changes your habits!

Laura H: I bought it in fall 2014, I think it's too late! It is not unworn, I just don't like how it sheds.

hostess: You are a shopper, hostess, and do require inspiration from me ;)

The skirt has sat unworn and I've gone to many a dinner out. It's just not the thing I reach for. Not worn once in a year tells me something.

LPC: well put re "alternative impulse toward beauty".

bomm: In my former life, I needed mostly "business casual" so I would have worn it to work. Note tag still on after one year (and we do go out!) That tells me even though it is beautiful, time for a life with someone else.

Rita: I hope so! Have to put them out on the rack where I see them.

Dr. V.O. said…
Dear Duchesse, you know your self-grading effort would warrant a reply from me (especially as today is grading day) - I would cry with joy if my graduate students would take the time to assess their failures and successes so elegantly, so I'm upping your score to B+ for reflexivity. And your successes are wonderful! Yes, I made some failures too last year; a standout was the purchase of two pairs of pricey brogues simply b/c they looked good on others -- I am not a "tie shoe" gal, so of course I didn't wear them. I would have gotten much more wear out of a couple of chelsea boots or Lanvin style loafers. So, I have resolved to think such purchases through much better. And this year I'm getting even more "boring" pieces -- a good sweater or two and a couple of good button downs.
Duchesse said…
Dr. V.O.: Gosh, brogues, I love brogues! What are you going to do with them? Just as others urge me to wear that skirt (I cannot, she is waiting), I'm tempted to beg you to try them, again. If they fit you, the brogue is such a jaunty shoe and you can walk for miles in them.
Hummingbird5 said…
Your "boring" grey sweater looks spectacular with the jewelry. Boring is my favorite clothing choice, for exactly this reason.
Barbara said…
Not only is this a post about "Dogs and Stars"...
Your new look is simply stunning.
Jean S said…
Well, I like that skirt, too, but you know yourself and your life better than we do....

Also, I love those shoes! .... And the combination of the pearls and the sweater is sublime.
Jean S said…
coming back to add: I think the reason you get so much mail re: jewelry renos is that you 1) have such a great eye for such projects and 2) have the actual experience.

Folk like me sit out here lost in indecision and ignorance, dontcha know. ;)
helen tilston said…
I like your honesty. It is also a good reminder to purchase for the life we have now rather than a previous one or imaginary life. The vintage coat is a great find. I have not had success with J Crew clothing. I find they are hit and miss in quality and style.Your cashmere sweater is beautiful and a staple.
The shoes are fine for the springtime as well. Obviously not when it is slushy or heavy rain, but there can be a long period past boots and before we feel like getting our sandals out. That is beautiful leather, and one of my favourite colours.

To say nothing of travelling to places where there is civilized weather...
Anonymous said…
I analyze my clothing buys. Seems to me the regrets and the successes both tell me a lot about what my own style really is. As in the case of the beautiful skirt, I've also bought lovely things that I thought were great for me, and am often not sure why I never really did wear/enjoy them.....maybe they didn't suit my real life?? Have to agree with the others-you've made some great purchases....the sweater with those pearls!
Cathy Wong
and I'm with Barbara~your new look is stunning!
Mardel said…
The tariffed coat is a real beauty, and I too like it better than the original inspiration coat. Boring gray sweaters are the most used items in my wardrobe, and somehow they never seem boring...
Anonymous said…
Love your new look - very flattering. You look so confident, delighted, & radiant.

I too am letting my salon-assisted blonde hair revert to natural - light silver. I feel it is time to finally "own" my look.

Leslie said…
I too, love the new picture. My mother-in-law gifted me a set of freshwater pearls today; necklace and double strand bracelet. I wanted to read your past posts on the subject and was pleasantly surprised by the revised picture. You are a vision and an inspiration.
LPC said…
I missed the new photo until now! Love the gray hair!
Eleanorjane said…
I agree, you're being a bit hard on yourself there with your grades! You might get a bit more wear out of those purple shoes in Spring, perhaps and that jumper shouldn't have shed that badly. Still, the grey cashmere is infinitely superiour (I'm quite jealous!).

I think I might do a bit of an audit on my blog as it's a good idea. It's hard to remember what I bought in the last year, though as my real winning buys are still going strong some years on.
LauraH said…
Wow, your new look/photo is lovely. You look lighter and somehow rather electric. And that necklace brings out your eyes wonderfully. If I missed this on the original post, I must have had my head in the clouds.
HB said…
Your analysis is humbling - I did that just for shoes (my weakness). There is now a pile of them I have collected for ebay-ing, and I am learning to go with whatever my new "uniform" seems to be in order to maximize value. Funny how our lifestyle and tastes evolve.

One of the best purchases I made last year was at the Bompard sale - a light heather grey off-gauge stole. I wear it constantly in place of three or four itchy and less nice ones in my wardrobe which will go to people who appreciate them more than I. Cheers for the unexciting grey workhorses of this world!

I have a pair of Chie shoes which have barely gotten worn. Lovely quality and snagged at a great sale price, but for some reason not the ones I gravitate toward. Off they go.

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