July 21, 2009

The Irrational Season: On Fiscal Austerity In the Coming Months

This post is peppered (with my tongue at least slightly pressed into my cheek) with items from Net-A-Porter that I would buy for fall 09 if money was no object.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the ideology of consumerism as it relates with notions of class, individuality/rhetoric of choice/agency, and capitalism. I have also been mulling over the volume of stuff I accumulated in just the short time I've lived in the home I own. It has been almost one year since the closing date and somehow I acquired what amounts to an entire wardrobe of clothes, shoes, and bags. Granted many were bought at an 80% discount. Many were financed through selling the old to make way for the new. And all were arguably legitimate upgrades from a wardrobe full of business casual mall fare. But it is still so frivolous.

Coat and dress by Lover

While the rational part of me *knows* that my closet is already amply stocked with clothing and accessories for all seasons, the irrational part of me is preoccupied with the newness, the thrill of scoring a bargain, and that nagging drive for "progress" to occur in some capacity. Progressions can happen in a variety of ways. There are progressions as style evolutions or aesthetic shifts in the way one represents oneself. Such as the decision to select after a series of trials and errors, one particular silhouette that you plan to sport for every formal occasion in your future, or finalizing for the time being just how you will mix and accessorize a particular garment. There are progressions in terms of accumulation. For example, when shopping functions empirically, as one continues to amass quantities of new goods, each piece fills a perceived hole or lack, allowing you to cross from your checklist another "necessity," and each functioning to prove, almost positivistically, one's absolute prowess as a savvy shopper. And there are progressions in the procedural methods one uses to hunt new retail conquests. This reminds me of the first time I lost a dress on ebay to last-minute, sniping bidders. I quickly adjusted my strategies and employed bid sniping services, myself.

Giuseppe Zanotti Studded Flats (from 08)

For all the rational understanding I have about the history of consumer culture (I teach classes on the subject so I've studied it amply), I still cannot seem to distance myself from my own unabashed materialism. Style is intrinsic to one's public identity. And while I am not in a high profile profession, I am certain the way I dress informs the way I am treated by students, colleagues, and supervisors. I've used this as justification for a multitude of indulgences. Truth be told, when I am teaching I often only visit the office a few times a week. I mostly work and write from home. Occasionally I hole up in a coffee shop, but more often than not, the rubber of my closet has very little road surface to hit.

Marc by Marc Jacobs and Anna Sui dresses

Personally and historically, I am in a moment immediately following a social period that embraced materialism and encouraged people to live aspirationally. Many hoped that living aspirationally under capitalism (with all its narratives of self made men and exceptionalism, individuality, and market discipline) would become a self fulfilling prophecy. I am fortunate that Pittsburgh's cost of living is so reasonable, or else I would probably find myself under mountains of debt from my shopping endeavors. The wake of markets that took for granted the social conditions of mass gluttony are still evident in the current spate of sales. Hopeful retail buyers overbought in orders that were made before the economic bottom fell out (as they say). After months of disbelief, I still find myself remarking that "we might never see a sale like this again." At some point, epic sales came to be the norm. While WSJ and NYT articles continue to insist that we should buy as though it is the end of the world, and the fact that we might never see sales like this again might be true since we might never again see stocking patterns that require such epic clearances, that doesn't mean that a person in my financial circumstances (graduate student, home owner, and saving for the future) should buy as though the sky is falling. Just because I can sort of afford it doesn't mean I need it.

As such, this is why I'm not really buying much right now. Despite the sales. Despite that nagging desire for progress. I'm trying my best to enjoy what I have, sell a few handbags to replace my emergency car fund (since I just had an epic car repair), and build a new reserve for my future.

This post was inspired in part by a comment from the lovely Dream Sequins, and the IFB articles about the recession and fashion blogging.


Dream Sequins said...

Wow. What a wonderful, well-written and balanced post. "Just because I can afford it doesn't mean I need it." I'm happy to hear that more people are saving for important life events: home, wedding, babies, etc. These are the things in our lives that make having one less Gucci purse bearable (not that I was ever into Gucci anyway)...

S said...

Love this post. You've articulated the "must buy" compulsion so well! I've been trying to satiate my compulsions by getting better at honing in on things I will love and wear to death vs. things I just like right now. In other words: I online window shop just as much, but now I'm extremely selective about when to hit that "complete online checkout" button.

erin said...

jess, i totally feel what you are saying. i don't really need *anything* yet i keep buying. in the past few months, though, i've sold 30 items on ebay and used the money to buy "investment" pieces (okay, peppered in with some cheap shit, too). i've made a conscious effort to not spend any NEW money and have funded my spending through returns and ebay sales...so i feel good about that.

Haute World said...

A terrific post and I can relate to knowing exactly where this consumerism comes from, but not really being able to stop myself either. My entire job revolves around creating an aspirational reality for people in order for them to buy stuff they don't need, so you'd think I'd know better. I've found it harder to justify purchases, mainly because like you I have so much stuff already and the irony is that most of it is still stacked away in boxes from my last move. I am quite honestly appalled by how obsessed people are with material items (and yes, I'm guilty of that as well). I think what triggers this the most is that Paris is full of homeless people... they're everywhere, but so are the rich folk lugging around their Hermes bags (I see an average of 5-10 a day) and consumers with their new purchases. The majority of people out there spend enough on unnecessary stuff to feed an African village for a year. It's just out of control. They've just released sales figures in France and actually say that consumer spending reached an all-time high this year.

I have cut out high-street shopping and my last designer purchases during the sale were ones that were planned half a year in advance (I've found planning purchases to be a great way to control what you spend). I think my next move is to shop more in charity shops if I do get that urge. Unfortunately I do have a very public job with a lot of client contact, parties and events, but I definitely have enough stuff in my wardrobe to last me a while.

Allie said...

Jess, thank you for this well written, articulate post. And for the link to the article.

Sheena said...

Great post! I agree about the blatant consumerism that we all tend to feed of of and buying just to buy when we don't need it. I'm currently not shopping right now and planning on saving my money for a few fall purchases. The clothing that I have already, half of that is going to be sold back to the resell shops or given away to charity.


Related Posts with Thumbnails