The orange bag: When clothes are too beautiful

While emptying the storage locker, I encountered an orange garment bag filled with Hermès' iconic scarf-print shirts and sweaters, in practically unworn condition after a good two decades.

Why had they spent their plush lives in exile?

The short answer is the title of a 1990 French movie, Trop belle pour toi. Bernard, played by Gérard Depardieu (above, centre), has married an acclaimed beauty, Florence (Carole Bouquet, left) but loses his heart to a rather plain woman, Colette (Josiane Balasco, right) whose nature he finds essential; she's right for him. Beauty attracts, but personality bonds.

One of them...
I had "married Florence", sartorially speaking. The clothes were Too Beautiful for Me.

How did the daughter of a frugal woman buy such finery and then ignore it? I had fallen under the spell of the exuberant prints and haut de gamme quality. "Put one on", my French girlfriend Vicky said, "and you are dressed".

The problem was what I actually dressed for. They were too posh for work, and just one would have been enough for dress-up. But over several years, I bought, uh, more than one.

I have long enjoyed Hermès scarves, a traditional gift from my sons. Nearly every time I put on one of the shirts, I swapped it for a scarf. In the meantime, Vicky would throw hers over her swimsuit.

And another
When I talk to friends about the orange bag, I receive rueful smiles.

Each has a "special thing" tucked away; Diane spoke of a Marni brocade coat she found on sale at Simons, and thought, Here's my chance, Marni!—but it was too sumptuous to wear to work, and specialty drycleaning cost more than grooming for her Westie.

She described the Marni as "intimidating". Diane sold it to a friend and used the money for a handsome but less spectacular coat that she can wear anywhere.

Your trop belle treasure may be clothing, jewellery, a bag. Whatever it is, it was killer when you bought it; no one spends a harrowing amount on something average. Somehow, that beauty overrode reason, experience, and your bank balance.

Perilous pumps
Shoes are made for the phenomenon. Miriam bought YSL platform evening shoes that her boyfriend swooned over—and wore them twice before they split. (She and Rob, the shoes were more solid.)

She stored them in their logo'd box for a decade, then consigned them, with the fervent wish that the next owner did not break her neck.

I have donated my museum of extravagance to a charity sale of designer vintage wear, and will receive a donation receipt.

As the authors of "Simple Isn't Easy", the late Olivia Goldsmith, and Amy Fine Collins wrote, "Forget what you paid for them, and pass them on."

The orange bag stays, to flash a caution light should my head be turned by a trop belle temptation.


I'm sure every one of us has done that, if not on clothes, on some other item that seems transformative. At least now they are benefiting someone. The shoes are aesthetically beautiful, but a bit terrifying.
LauraH said…
Guilty:-) Not at the dollar level of your amazing Hermes pieces but the principle is the same. Allied to the buying-clothes-for-my-imaginary-life phenomenon. Still get tempted and have to put the brakes on.
Gretchen said…
Often I’ve found myself with a corollary problem, having bought something lesser instead of what I really wanted, and this wasting money on something inferior. Similarly, when my marriage ended, I bought clothes I thought would be good for dating, but which didn’t feel like “me” even though I wore them and looked good (so I heard). Now, I buy what I know I will wear, in the best quality I can, and if it is more Katherine Hepburn, grey/navy/black/oatmeal, instead of feminine or fancy, so be it. Meanwhile... The pearls will always be worth the splurge!
Leslie M said…
My orange bag contained shoes from Harrod’s in London. I was on a business trip and fell under the spell of the shoe department. I justified the purchase by telling myself, “When will I ever have this chance again?” My luggage on the return flight contained 2 pairs of Bally’s, 1 Ferragamo and 1 Yves Saint Laurent. All beauties, but so impractical. After storing them for ten years, with limited wear, I donated them to charity. Very expensive, but also a valuable lesson.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: “Transformative” is related but different mistake, and I have done that, too! ( Beware of shopping with someone with a makeover for you in mind!)

My pitfall was about beauty, when the thing is (to the buyer, anyway) an aesthetic triumph. As I boxed up the pieces, they were still beautiful to me.

LauraH: Like lagatta’s comment, you describe a related mistake but not quite mine. I did not buy the six pieces ( so now the world knows) another life or to transform myself, I bought them because they made my breath catch, especially the Belles Amures ( second photo)= shirt, and several not shown. But I could not welcome their gorgeousness without feeling intimidated, as Diane said about her coat. When I stood before the mirror in the boutique, I saw myself out to dinner, or other social occasions, and could have worn them then but something always seemed to hold me back. They were... trop belle pour moi.

But give me one of the scarves, oh yeah!

Gretchen: Yes, another phenomenon. When I was single I had a handful of what I called “ Uncle Outfits”. That is because my cat, Mr. C., was told the occasional overnight guest was an uncle. Live and learn, about both clothes and “ uncles”.
Duchesse said…
Leslie M: Oh that’s it! You get an initial thrill and then the beauty does not get its life outside the closet. Not true, though, for one single pearl... just the opposite!
royleen said…
"The problem was what I actually dressed for." Yes, that is it exactly! Mine were shoes. I wore them once to work and felt so conspicuous! My dating life was never that fancy. There were others, one a full-length suede vest. Have no idea where I thought I was going in that get-up!
I really like Josiane Balasko. Not a classic beauty, but a warm, engaging face. And - double standard again, a bit plump. Nothing in comparison to the great hulk of a man Depardieu has become.

Scarves really can be wearable art, whether Hermès or another storied brand, good examples of ethnic or cultural weaving, or modern artisan creations. And vintage (for better or worse). Without "wearing" their owner.

Nowadays, far more interested in cats than uncles, but who knows where the future lies. Even at 22 I would never have given up my cat for a man.
Jane in London said…
For many years, an elderly aunt of mine was in charge of the fine furs department of a very posh shop. These were not boring old minks - they were Elizabeth Taylor type coats made from rare and expensive skins (please don't judge: different world, different time). Then a schoolgirl, I was invited by my aunt to try on the new season's stock and I paraded happily in front of the mirrors in the first coat.

My aunt brought me a second one to try and I asked her whether there was some sort of hanger or stand that I should place the first coat on. She gestured to a small sofa at one end of the fitting room and said "throw it onto that".

I told my aunt that I was horrified at the idea of just throwing such a beautiful and valuable coat. She said "Then you should never buy a coat like this, because you will never feel comfortable wearing it".

Her comment stuck in my mind and has probably saved me from many an unwise 'trop belle' purchase over the decades that followed. Unless I'm mentally prepared to use and (slightly) abuse it, it's just not going to get worn!

Jane in london
Melissa said…
I have the odd item like this, but the worse thing is to buy something fabulous to celebrate a new figure, wear it and feel like a Diva, and find that next time you go to wear it, it is pulling across that tummy that has slowly formed during the months between wears and no longer looks so fabulous or feels so comfortable. That is the beauty of Hermes scarves. They don't care how much your weight fluctuates!
I am very lucky in that we do dress up for operas, concerts, special location/occasion dinners, and the odd black tie function.
My biggest splurge that I regret is buying Roger Vivier shoes. They were on sale at half price but still eye wateringly expensive, and I do love them, and they do go with several outfits, and I do wear them, in fact, I have worn them twice this week, but regardless, they are very badly made with rough bits at the heel that always rubs and has never softened, and has no arch support. Because they were so expensive, and do look divine, I keep on wearing them in agony, swathed in compeeds to try and get my money's worth!!!
Duchesse said…
royleen: The Grand Old Opry for the vest? "Conspicuous" is the word, because those clothes did stand out, except for one bitter-chocolate wool blouse by Margiela when he designed for Hermès. That flew under the radar, but the otherrs are clearly identifiable.

Jane in London: You had an Auntie Mame! And she had the key. I wore some of those blouses with jeans, but still could not inhabit them with the required nonchalance. Aunt reminds me of a Parisienne friend whose husband bought her a Kelly bag, in black calf. She exchanged it for one in emerald green. She said, "If you are carrying a Kelly and it is a bread-and-butter colour like black or tanr, it is clear it is the only good bag you own."

Melissa: Past life flashing before my eyes! And of course weight loss programs tell you to get rif of all the bigger things so "you are not tempted to regain".

Scarves and jewellery are so much more forgiving, even loving, of a bit of up and down. Vivier shoes should not be badly made. (It's another thing when you buy them and they did not really fit, as I did with similar shoes.) BTW a sales person of expensive handbags told me that many luxury brand bags are not necessarily made to last as the clientele do not want to carry an older model anyway, so do not concern themselves with durability.
w1chw1z said…
I have a wardrobe full of "special things" that have never or hardly ever been worn so at last am listing on Ebay. How to price - high to indicate their original value (offers acceptable) or low to get rid of them? Here in UK items in good condition donated to charity usually end up on Ebay anyway. I take consolation in knowing that I am not the first, and won't be the last, to buy horrendously expensive and totally unsuitable clothing and shoes.
Duchesse said…
w1 ( if I may be familiar): Do not price high to "indicate original value", but mention original price in listing. Despite the crazy prices you see on eBay and First Dibs, there are only a few pieces that can command high prices and they are more often sold in boutiques and sites like What Goes Around Comes Around, where they are gorgeously staged.

There is a ton of designer vintage out there, so the question to ask is, do you want to sell (or donate) or continue to maintain your museum?

The Hermès silk blouses like mine are on eBay for between $400-$600. Many have been on there for a year or more. At lower prices, some have sold. But I would rather donate to a charity I respect (and receive a tax-deductible charitable donation receipt) than sit waiting for a sale while they take up space. Yes, some charities use eBay to sell donations, which broadens their market, and you might list some things and see what happens. (What happened when I listed a test blouse: nothing.)

Just as with jewellery, the designer name alone will not sell the piece; as vintage dealers say, some pieces by a house are desirable while others are not. Vintage dealers have the warehouse space and patience to sit on the stuff, sometimes for a decade or more. I do not.

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