A bearded older gentleman walks into a luxury fashion boutique on Madison Avenue. His hair is thinning and the bit he has left could use a trim. He is simply dressed.
Shop Girl: “Good morning!”
Gentleman: “Hello. I need something from you. I live around the corner. Sorry to bother you, but I need a piece of paper, please.”
Shop Girl: “No problem!” Walking away, she turns back around, “Do you need a pen as well?”
Gentleman: “Yes, please.”
Shop Girl goes to the cash register in back and fetches an official printed store card, the kind reserved for customers’ buying gifts, and a ball-point pen. Her co-worker says, “Just give him a scrap of receipt paper.” Shop Girl thinks better of it and deadpans, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Shop Girl walks back out to the front and hands The Gentleman the card and pen.
Gentleman: “Thank you so much. Sorry to bother you, it’s just that I need to leave someone in the neighborhood a quick note.”
Shop Girl: “Oh, no bother! It’s fine.”
As the Gentleman writes his note, he stops and looks up to chat every now and then. There is no rush.
Gentleman: (Pausing and looking up at the Shop Girl) “This is a nice store. They have good products.” (Shop Girl smiles and shakes her head yes.) “I used to own a shop very near here, right down this block.”
Shop Girl: “Oh wow! Tough business—such a high risk.”
Gentleman: “Oh, I know, the rents are so high, it makes more sense to own the building. But I opened a store on this block back when none of these high fashion stores were around. It was a lot less expensive back then.”
Shop Girl: (Crinkling her eyebrows), “When was this?”
Gentleman: “Oh. I’m old.”
Shop Girl: “I was wondering!” Then she quickly adds, “You look young.”
Gentleman: (Unfazed by the Shop Girl’s faux pas) “This area had only a bunch of Mom & Pop-type shops. I opened my store in 1974. Later on a few fancier stores started opening up, you know, like Cartier, that kind of thing.”
The Gentleman looks down and continues writing his note.
Shop Girl: “Interesting.”
The Gentleman pauses and nonchalantly looks up at the Shop Girl again.
Gentleman: “One day an older lady came into my store. She bought a few things. I ran down to the basement and grabbed some new suits that I had just bought for the store. Good suits. Nothing really expensive, but really nice, you know?”
Shop Girl: (nods) “Right!”
Gentleman: “The lady buys the suits. She writes me a check but she forgot her I.D. I look at the signature. It’s Mrs. Rockefeller.* I say, no problem, I don’t need I.D., that’s fine. I asked her what she thought of the fact that Cartier and all these high fashion stores were opening up on the block. You know what she said?’
The Shop Girl shook her head.
Gentleman: “Those stores are for poor people.”
*This name has been changed. (Really!)
What she meant was that the flashy stores make a good living selling a lot of stuff to the newly rich, and that those who have held onto their wealth for a long time behave differently. Affordable is relative. Affordable has to do with not only your cash flow, but also what you value. Do you value surface or substance?
Fashion is never truly affordable, but thankfully style always is. Shift your focus and you can be stylish no matter what your bank account may reflect. If you don’t believe me, then take a look into your closet and start counting. How many pieces of clothing do you own? How many tops? How many bottoms? Shoes? Count them. Most of us own way more clothing than we really need. What percentage of all of this stuff do you wear on a regular basis? 50%? Less? Can you afford to keep a closet that is 50% full of clothes that you don't particularly like? Less clothing worn more often because you love the way you look and feel in them is so much more valuable than a bunch of stuff that sits there because it doesn't make you feel beautiful. The first rule when determining what is glamorously affordable is to ask, “Is this valuable to me?”, and not, “Is this cheap?”
Life gets better when we raise our personal standards. Focus on what you really love, and what will last you for years. Shop much less often, but don’t deprive yourself either. Edit your closet every 6 months to keep on track with what you love about your wardrobe, and also develop a core wardrobe to give yourself some style direction. Be secure in the knowledge that you already own a lot of nice things. Hold onto nice things that you love, even if you can't make them work with the rest of your wardrobe quite yet. Let your wardrobe evolve slowly and take your time. There is no rush.
Now if at this point your heart is racing and you are turning red in the face because you love quality, and you really get the quality over quantity philosophy, and you really do hear me, but you feel an urgent need to scream at your computer screen, “BUT I STILL CAN’T AFFORD A BURBERRY TRENCH, YOU WENCH!”, relax instead. When I say raise your standards, I mean raise your expectations about what you are shopping for.
I recently bought a bathrobe at Target, but not because it was cheap and I needed a bathrobe. I got it because it is really very pretty and flattering, the cotton is very comfortable, it’s easy to wash, and I know that I will happily don it for many years. The cotton is good. I wasn’t looking for a bathrobe that day. I did know for a very long time that I would enjoy owning a bathrobe, but I dropped the idea and went on with my life, because I can survive without one. Then one fine day, out of the blue, the pretty bathrobe appeared at Target and to buy it really didn’t hurt one bit. It is glamorously affordable in relation to my budget. I secretly gave myself an invisible high five for that one. Because I have made mistakes as well.
I bought a Burberry runway collection trench coat once. It was on triple mark down. It was on super-duper sale. It was cheap and it was a Burberry!! It was really beautiful and of the best quality!! But....every time I wore it, I felt like a little girl playing dress-up in Mommy’s closet full of fancy clothes and pearl necklaces. The saleslady said it looked good but she was wrong. The proportions were off, but in the heat of the moment I didn't listen to that small voice in my head that said, wait a minute, something's not right. I realized later that the details of the coat were slightly out of proportion to my petite frame. The tailor sent me away. There was nothing he could do. Expensive mistake.
I hope you follow your heart, and remember what you value. Keep your expectations high while staying open, relaxed, and happy with who and where you are right now, this very moment. You never know. Like love, your dream trench coat may simply appear when you stop looking. And it will be easy to buy. It will be glamorously affordable.