Shopping Value: 2017 Stars and Dogs

Happy New Year! And welcome to the eighth annual wardrobe value assessment.

In 2017, I bought few clothes, fewer than any other year in adult life, for two reasons. One, I need little since leaving a 'work wardrobe' world, and second, I decided now was the time to buy some jewellery I'd been thinking of for several years. And, this allows me to slide in another tradition: opening a new year with a pearl post.

Today, what I added in 2017; the grade is my assessment of value for the cost.

Two ultrafine cashmere sweaters 

Two from Eric Bompard bought on 50% sale* in late spring: a colourblock cardigan, and a black shirt. EB took the shirt out of production, so I jumped when old stock turned up.
Grade: B
Lesson: My tendency to feel the cold more as I get older makes a cashmere sale mighty appealing, but ultrafine is not warm enough for the record cold we've had this winter.

(*Note to non-EU buyers using e-commerce: On delivery, you will be charged import duties and taxes, which depend on your country's tariffs; some of you will be lucky enough to have a package slide in without any, but don't depend on it. However, for certain sales, you might be overcharged.

Here's why: For the "national sales"—the two government-approved six-week sale periods that begin mid-January (now) and mid-June—EB list the sale price on the customs form. For "promotions" outside this period (such as "VIP Days") they list the full price on the customs declaration. Once you have paid duty on that, you may then request an adjustment from your country's customs agency. This will involve submission of proof (e.g., credit card statement) that what you paid for your order was less than the amount listed on the customs declaration. Why EB list the full price is beyond me; I have contacted them and received no reply. Reader LauraH and I have received adjustments from Canada Customs.)

A flowy tunic

A last-minute purchase for my brother's memorial, for which his family specified purple attire; it is not purple but coordinated with a scarf with lots of purple in it.

I had a hunch I'd never wear it again, because I'd chosen expensive dresses for my parents' funerals, and could not even look at the clothes, let alone wear them. Inexpensive—about $35 at Winners, our TJ Maxx. It's not really my style, either, but I suspect nothing would have truly pleased me, given the occasion.
Grade: C
Lesson: For something you suspect will be a one-time wear, go to a discount retailer. (You could also try thrifts or consignments, but if pressed for time, hit the discount store.)

Cashmere scarf, secondhand

I walked by a consignment store with icy wind blasting my neck, and was a goner when I saw a Royal Stewart tartan scarf in the window for under $30. The only impulse purchase I made all year!
Grade: A, wearing almost daily.

Jewellery: Three pearly pieces

My Achilles' tendon, which consumed nearly all my budget. (I also divested several pieces no longer worn.) This was a spree, but also planned for several years.

Left: Kokass by Céline Bouré "Les ailes du désir" silver ring with gold South Sea pearl, yellow sapphire and Swarovski crystal. Céline has won prizes for her work in pearls, and also makes gorgeous jewellery set with coloured stones.

I wanted a piece by her to commemorate a "decade birthday", which is not till mid-2018, but she was here in December, so I jumped the gun. A Susanfriend and I arrived at her booth at the annual holiday arts and crafts show, Salon des métiersthe first half-hour it opened. I wanted to take photos, but she was swarmed with clients trying on and buying, and I was not going to come between those women and their gems!

Céline, based in Quebec City, exhibits at some shows, and has an e-store on her web site.

Upper right: Janis Kerman silver dangles with stick pearls, iolite, purple spinel and pink sapphire. At her 40-year retrospective, "Reminiscence" last spring, I was taken with these, paid a refundable deposit, slept on it for a couple of days, and cracked. They are low-key compared to some in the show; Le Duc calls them my "Janis Kerman starter earrings". OK, fella!

Janis is both a renowned jeweller and generous mentor to the upcoming generation, including Céline Bouré. She is represented by galleries in North America and other locations.

Lower right: Vivienne Jones made this bracelet last January, using my pearls and tiny diamonds; many persons have stopped me to ask about it. Vivienne's work is available in a few galleries in Canada or by appointment at her Toronto studio. I could close my eyes, pick anything she makes and be happy.

I paid for my jewellery just like any other client, which may not matter to you, but is essential to me in terms of writing an objective post.

Glasses: #1 expense

Vinyl Factory "Cooper"
The biggest-ticket item was new glasses, solid tortoise frames fitted with my first progressive lenses. I'd held off for several years, but it sure is nice to see who is on the other side of the street. I could have put new lenses in my old frames, but they aren't strong enough to cart around.
Grade: B+ because these frames are dark. I might buy a second pair for spring/summer in a lighter colour, if I find some on sale.
Lesson: From a friend who got hers at the same time: If not happy with the lenses, take them back within three months. (And make sure to deal with opticians who have this policy.) From me: Think about whether frames will look good year round.

Thrift: Thrills of the find

I've posted before on my thrift finds; here they are again, because the total cost was $27! 
Grade: B (I have not worn the jacket or turquoise sweater that much, but will in spring)
Lesson: If I counted the cost of my time, these would be pricey, but hey, I'm retired!

The savings I gained by finding things I needed (except the scarf) helped to fund the jewellery.

Overall Grade for 2017's clothing: B, because I have not yet worn the EB sweaters; I'll use them  in late winter.  I like them, but this assessment is about value, not aesthetics.
Eternal lesson, for any year and budget: You can buy "perfect" things, but if they sit in a drawer, your  money is wasted.

For the jewellery, A. Artisanal jewellery is still a world where you can have something beautifully hand-made and even bespoke; unless you have very deep pockets or can sew confidently, just try that with clothes. I also had the pleasure of supporting three sublime women artists!

What's next?

I thought a cool challenge for 2018 would be to shop for clothing entirely from thrifts, but because I need a long inseam, I can't find trousers and skirts are too short.  The clothes look like what they were: someone else's.

I could also resolve to do no shopping except for say, socks and underwear. Note that "could": it's scary. To learn how one woman spent a year without buying any clothes, and more crucially, how it shifted her awareness, read novelist Ann Patchett's "My Year of No Shopping" in The New York Times.

One of Patchett's most moving observations:
"Once I got the hang of giving shopping up, it wasn’t much of a trick. The trickier part was living with the startling abundance that had become glaringly obvious when I stopped trying to get more. Once I could see what I already had, and what actually mattered, I was left with a feeling that was somewhere between sickened and humbled. When did I amass so many things, and did someone else need them?"

In 2017, I got rid of more than I bought. A flip through the notebook where I've recorded all purchases since 2009 shows I've dramatically whittled back my shopping, but I have but no regrets about a single pearl.

If you made either mistakes or especially wise buys in 2017, please join in and tell us about them!



Venasque said…
Welcome back and Bonne Année a vous. You are right about the artisanal jewellery. I recently bought a necklace which I saw in a store window a couple of weeks before. When I walked by the store again, I thought I'll just pop in an see if they still have it. It was more than I would normally spend but I was in love. I've discovered I like much more dramatic jewellery now as I've gotten older and this fits the bill - it's five pieces on leather cords (originally four but I had her add a fifth because I think odd numbers look better, not only in jewellery) consisting of a slice of antler, a piece of amber, a slice of Septarian Nodule (a 50-70 million year old mud ball), a piece of citrine and a shark's tooth from the Cretaceous period. It is just stunning. It is made by Studio Tiny Loft and cannot recommend her highly enough.

As far as the clothing is concerned, I do think you're being a bit hard on yourself not having worn everything equally. In a country with weather as varied as ours you need different weights at different times of the year. I think you'll get wear out of the lighter pieces in early spring and autumn. I do have pieces that are only suitable for those times when my heavy, deep winter sweaters are too hot.
Madame Là-bas said…
Happy New Year. I think that I will start recording my purchases this year because expenses have a way of "slipping". I really like your jewelry. I received some grey pearl earrings this Christmas. They were made in a local workshop. I'm seriously thinking of some redesign (jewelry, that is) while I'm back to work. I agree about memorial purchases. I bought a two-piece (dress and jacket)
for my father's five years ago and I never wore it or the sensible black pumps again. Glad to see you back!
Happy New Year. Welcome back.
Your jewellery is beautiful. I will certainly check out the artists.
Think about Melanie of BagandaBeret. She buys thrift only and she has very long inseams! I guess it's a matter of spending a lot of time looking and trying on.
Laura Jantek said…
Happy new year and lovely to have you back. 2017 was my first retired year and I think I really need only about a dozen items for each season. Our city is very casual and dress up clothes barely worn. Between gym and gardening I don't wear my jewelry like I used to (except for earrings). After sort of naturally buying almost nothing I too can echo Patchett's thoughts -- going to shops is almost overwhelming due to volume choice and the erratic nature of pricing! mass market clothing is so depressing on so many levels. Enjoy all your posts!
materfamilias said…
Once again, I admire your discipline almost as much as your discerning taste and your thoughtful analysis. I can't claim any of those qualities, but I do find I've become much more considered a buyer and I think that's made me a better-edited dresser as well -- or perhaps it's the other way 'round. Just coming to the end of a six-weeks-one-carry-on "capsule wardrobe," and while I admit my activities didin't run to opera-going or much socializing at all, I mostly felt quite content with a few carefully chosen pieces. I find that if I really like my few pieces, I don't mind repeating them.
Love your new jewelry and I also think that tartan scarf was a clever find.
Happy New Year!
Duchesse said…
Venasque: Fascinating jewellery, and it is terrific to see these materials used in truly modern designs. Love it. Would you tell me who carries it where you live, as there is no e-shop? I am sure this will be s "signature piece" for you. (Agree with you about odd numbers!)

As far as hard on myself, yes.When I see clothes unworn, with the tags still on, my heart drops. This spring will tell the tale on those.

Mme.: I warmly encourage you to record. That way you see the value month to month, not only when you do a closet clean out. It has saved me from mistakes (mostly), and definitely saved me money.

Vancouver Barbara: Yes, I might find something, but if I committed to only thrifting for a year, I would be scared about that. In the past two years that I have returned to it, trousers have been the elusive thing. But I am having a terrific time finding beautiful books for my nearly two-year-old grandson.

Laura Jantek: You put your finger on it, it can be depressing to shop. But I also find defaulting to some of the generic clothes on offer from popular e-vendors (LL Bean, Land's End, and the frill-crazy Talbot's) depressing too. Still longing for interesting fabrics, beautifully-cut, even if causal wear.

materfamilias: Look forward to your analysis of what served you well in that carry-on. And I believe you have a few days in Paris during "les soldes"? The scarf was serendipity on St-Laurent. I actually like repeating wears- responding to your comment in a J Crew cashmere ribbed v-neck at least 12 yrs old and worn endlessly but I think their cashmere quality was bette then.

Venasque said…
Here's the website: I bought mine at a shop in Hazelton Lanes and met Tanya for alterations afterwards.
LauraH said…
Happy 2018! Good to see the first post of the year.

Love your hard headed analysis although I thought the purple flowy thing rated an A as it was in the price range you set for yourself and did the job. Great reminder about your super thrifting finds - love that tartan scarf, just brightens up the whole day in this cold and now, grey, winter. As I said before, that bracelet is so you, it is perfect.

Repeat wearings are interesting. I find I do that a lot, sometimes a particular pair of pants or a scarf just works so well. And next season it will be something else so I don't worry about it...every dog will have its day:-)

Thanks to your example, I will now add making an annual list to my calendar...that way it might actually happen.
Duchesse said…
Veanasque: Had found her web site, and thanks for providing url for readers. Was hoping to find name of a boutique so those living in or visiting Toronto could check it out. She seems to do a number of art shows, which are another route, but limited to specific times.
Duchesse said…
LauraH: Someone wrote that Pareto's Law applies to clothing, with us wearing only 20% of what we own. The flowy thing did the job but the quality is a little off.

I have been thinking for awhile about repeat wearings, because a neighbour whom I meet for coffee always comments on whether she's seen what I am wearing before and it is very important for her to not be seen in "that again". I'm the opposite.
Bonne année à la Duchesse, au Duc et à toute la famille ducale...

I'm sure you will be wearing your extra-fine cashmere very soon, if you haven't today. Even in the lethal cold, which extended much farther south this winter, they could be layering pieces, though. The colourblock cardigan seems more fair-weater though. The time will come

I have no cashmere left; the gastronomic moths rendered all of it holey (didn't ever have much) but I've bought superfine merino - a magnificent layering fibre.

I found quite a nice black cotton blouse for my mother's funeral - she lived to 98 - on seasonal sale, but have never worn it again. Our relationship was fraught - she was 42 when I was born, and my dad older still. That was actually not unusual after the war and the great depression, though of course cute young couples separated by military service were in the spotlight. But it didn't make her death any less tragic.

Perhaps I should take that to le Chaînon...

I don't think I bought anything silly this year.
Beth said…
I always love these annual scorecards of yours! All three pieces of jewelry are stunning, and perfectly suit you, as do the new glasses. I think those outweigh any possible regrets about other purchases! I don't spend a lot on clothes, and do make some of my own. The highlight purchases of my year were a striped black and white overblouse/jacket, made in India but bought in Mexico City, that I've worn a great deal and love, and new black moto-style ankle boots bought in Sicily. Much lower grades to two Zara tops, also from Mexico City -- loved the styles, but the fabrics weren't nice enough. Two new pairs of skinny jeans from Urban Behavior that we're cheap, and I've worn constantly. I'm also pleased with a winter white mohair/wool triangular scarf I knitted from wool grown and spun in the Charlevoix, brought to me by a friend. But I too am feeling like taking a shopping "fast" -- I often do this for Lent anyway, but may extend it. Too much suffering in the world, too many women who must go without the basics, let alone pretty luxuries. Travel shows us this, and it makes me think twice.
LauraH said…
Meant to add...If you haven't worn your new glasses in warm weather, they might work better than you anticipate, the sun may bring out the warmth and lightness in the material.
Nelson Bartley said…
Hands down my best purchase this year was my divorce, and then the subsequent moving of furniture from Texas to the Cabin in Colorado that I got in place of the husband. Clothing wise it would be the cashmere wrap I bought myself for my 62nd birthday...something I had wanted for years for travel, etc. And even better, I gifted the same wrap to two of my traveling friends...maybe the best purchases are the ones you give away?!
LOVE your earrings. They are stunning. Great purchase. And happy to see you in my inbox again. Your blog is one of my faves.
Nelson, that comment brightened my day!

Duchesse said…
Nelson Bartley :Good to hear that you're relieved and lightened at the end of that particular tunnel. A cashmere wrap is such a treat, and you are a wondrous friend to your travelling companions. May you thrive in your new locale and life.
Welcome back and Happy New Year. I intend keeping a detailed record this year of what I bought - but I don't expect it to be much beyond the very practical, undies, bras & shoes. Since retiring I've found certain things that I love to wear over and over - guess I've finally found that uniform look that I love and feel most comfortable wearing.
I have a friend who loves to shop - and then she laments her overflowing closets and gives a ton away to charity shops - but she swears she's not a shopper. I just chuckle because I know she finds it odd that I don't feel the need to keep adding items. My main purchases for this Fall/Winter was 1 cashmere sweater (my personal weakness), 1 pear of dressy sweatpants/leggings and 1 Fall jacket, waterproof & with a hood, (the one I'd been wearing from LL Bean for the past 8 years finally gave up the ghost) - all in navy blue. Just before Christmas I found 2 more sweaters at 60% off - they are both the same style, one in red and one in purple - and so far I have had a lot of wear out of both! Aside from those items I bought 2 white blouses at end of summer sales for 70% off - Yeah - and some new socks. I have worn everything repeatedly and expect to do so for the next few years.
Since retiring I find that I wear my jewelry less and less - I'll have to make more of an effort to incorporate it more whenever I'm out of the apt. But I do still switch out my serves as much as possible!

Oh and Nelson - good for you! For moving on with your life, for buying something you've always wanted, and for being such a thoughtful friend!
That would have been scarves - NOT "serves" - damn auto correct! I swear I proof comments and then find that it's decided to make changes after I hit publish!
Duchesse said…
Margie: When out with a shopper, it's sometimes hard to not say anything about already-stuffed closets, but shopping fills other needs, and some shoppers are fully aware of that. If you have sales under control, buying what you need, not just because on sale, you have achieved five-star smart shopping.
Duchesse said…
Beth: You are being characteristically modest; what you make is so perfect on you, both in terms of style and fit!

Thank you for your point about how much we consume, in light of the world's resources. In a related area of conscience, I will not buy fast fashion. But aside from the noble motives, I also find those brands do not give good wear.

While I have my halo on: I also prefer buying sustainable gems (pearls) that are much kinder to the environment than mined stones, and whenever possible, recycled metals.

Jane said…
Welcome back! You survived! What terrible weather we have been having.

My worst purchases were two mid-weight cardigans. Yea! something fits (I'm petite) and they are pretty colors (but don't go with anything I already own). I was in denial about how cold winter gets in Wisconsin. I need WARM sweaters.

My most complimented on purchase was a linen sweater in all the colors of a Florida beach at sunset. $4.99 at Goodwill!
Duchesse said…
Jane: I love that your most-successful buy was from Goodwill. IMO the big impediment to thrifting is time (about 85% of time I fid nothing for me, but always something for a child or grandson.) But also, you have to like the hunt- and we have been programmed into the instant gratification of retail.

Oh, hear you about the midweightsweaters. Perhaps they will have their day in spring and early fall. Or, could you wear with a an underlayer, even a cami like this:

That extra layer can make them considerably warmer. There are also heavier base layers like merino sold by MEC. But in subzero, yes, we need heavier sweaters (which I still wear with an underlayer, and often with a fine merino shawl wrapped p close to the neck.)
Beth said…
Thanks, Duchesse. And I forgot: two knit dresses from Peruvian Connection. One, bought for a wedding, is pretty damn skinny and required shapewear underneath but I like it and have worn it since. The other, longish and black, will be a go-to travel garment. I was shocked at the amount of duty I had to pay on these shipments to Canada! A mail order gift purchase from Aritzia, in B.C., made more sense.
Duchesse said…
Beth: I routinely check sites where I shop for basics for free shipping specials but am super annoyed that FedEx add a $10 "handling fee" ( to collect those duties) even if the vendor charges nothing for shipping. The best situation is when the vendor is has a system that adds to add duties and import taxes at checkout Land's End, J Crew, a few others), and also sometimes offers free shipping. Then the freight vendor can't add that "handling fee".
VeraL said…
We also have CETA (Canada-European Trade Agreement) now with Europe so no duties on Made in Europe items. You can get all your duty back, if overcharged, to Canada. I bought two cashmere sweaters from Johnstons of Elgin. As soon as the first one came, I bought a second one the same day. Never again will I buy cheap cashmere. The fit is more to my body than Bompard. I also bought several pairs of "lady" shoes from Caroline Macaron in France, made for bunion feet. The third item was a Canada Goose Parka. Incredibly well made and very warm. I should have got one sooner. Too many manufacturers ignore the senior demographic, so don't want their products associated with "old" losing out on a huge market of disposable income.
Duchesse said…
VeraL: CETA eliminates customs duties and tariffs, for goods made in the EU (so, not Bompard) but not applicable Canadian goods and services tax, as far as I can tell reading the summary. So it helps when you buy from vendors producing goods within the EU, but sometimes import duties still end up on the customs form, and if you use a charge card, there will be a differential between the refund and what you paid because of the exchange (buy/sell) currency rates. I guess the UK is still under the EU listing for this, but do you think that will last given Brexit? So order away while the benefit is there ;)

Duchesse said…
VeraL: Fascinating... did a bit of research and found the following on (
"So… CETA changes nothing for clothes?
Not quite! a quota system (similar to the TPL under NAFTA) will allow a specific amount of clothing each year that is only cut and sewn in Europe to be imported duty-free.
The key to the quota system is that it is typically only open for the first half of the year (it is also specific to the HS code)."

(So timing is important!)
Eleanorjane said…
I'm in awe of your disciplined shopping!

I should be on a budget as I'm on maternity leave but I mostly seem to have moved to cheaper shops instead of drastically reducing the amount I'm buying. I'm a new (bigger) size and have a much different lifestyle (very casual, breastfeeding) so I am pretty much having to buy a whole new wardrobe. I'm trying to keep it minimal as hopefully I'm going to slim down a bit and I'll be back to work later this year, but it's also important for my morale that I feel reasonably well dressed.

Anyway, Happy New Year and nice to have you back. :)
Duchesse said…
Eleanorjane: Oh, what memories. When my twins were born, I bought like a maniac: clothes for larger body, clothes for when I lost weight, clothes because I thought I looked too mumsy, clothes I needed because I WAS a mum.

The moment of truth came when we got invited to a formal dinner party and dressed up, I was in a red wool Kenzo dress and the first heels I'd worn in 18 months. Leaving the car I said, "Look at us, don't we look great?" and then heard a rasp on the sidewalk. The lid to a baby bottle was impaled on my high heel.
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