Earlier this year, I spent $400 on dresses from a womenswear company called Soma. The magnitude of this purchase hit my husband hard.
“You spent how much? And on what?”
He could hardly believe it when I told him that, yes, I spent $400 on six dresses.
We share our finances for sure, but each of us has a “slush fund” that we’re free to spend on whatever we want. And this year, I chose to spend part of that on cotton and polyester dresses with pockets. Dresses that feel like pajamas when you’re wearing them. Dresses that, according to a friend of mine who owns several, last many, many years without ever becoming drab or losing their form. Dresses that, in my eyes, were a solid bargain. And yes, I did have a 20%-off coupon.
My husband’s surprise was mostly due to the fact that I’ve never even spent $400 on clothing in an entire year during our 11-year marriage, much less all at once. Actually, I would guess that $400 has easily lasted me several years in terms of clothes shopping – partly because I hate shopping, but also because I mostly shop second-hand.
Still, I’m happy with my purchase. And yes, my new dresses are currently in my standard rotation of daily wear. If I’m not wearing pajamas or workout clothes, you can probably find me in a new Soma dress. I may not be stylish, but hey, at least I’m comfortable. And I’m certainly not going broke trying to keep up with the newest fashion trends, either.
The Hilarity of High Fashion
Of course, it wasn’t always this way. I was a young, 20-something once, after all, and I cared a great deal about fashion-forward trends at the time. Even when I had no money, I still bought expensive makeup and hair care products, clothes with designer labels, and fancy purses that cost so much I was almost too scared to carry them around.
And if I didn’t have the cash on-hand, I just charged it. Because, as we all know, it’s far too easy to buy now and worry about the bill somewhere down the line. Sadly, this strategy cost me dearly in my early 20s, leading not just to credit card debt, but a huge loan on a Mitsubishi that was also beyond my pay grade.
It’s so easy to see how this happens to today’s young people. Everywhere you look, you see ads for expensive clothing and accessories. Ads telling you, plain as day, that the awesome lavender sweater you bought last year is so out of season, and that a different hue of purple is now on point.
Everywhere you look, the story is the same. And while high fashion may be fun distraction from reality, it exists only to extract dollars from our wallets. Ever wonder why fashions and colors go in and out of style in a constant merry-go-round of excess? In my opinion, it’s because the people who want to sell us more clothing make it so.
And when you really think about it – when you really look – the fashion ideas they try to rope us into are downright crazy.
Take a look at this guide on 2016 winter fashion from Elle Magazine to see for yourself. According to Elle, this year’s hottest winter trends are underwear that look like pants, stark black lipstick, and giant raincoats that cost thousands of dollars.
Balenciaga outerwear starts at just a few grand per piece, yet you can totally style your coat with heels or slacks at the office, notes Elle.
Back to those underwear that look like pants, though. According to Elle, that outfit is actually more about the extra-long sleeves that hide your hands by a foot or two. You didn’t need to type or answer the phone today, did you? “Rihanna-approved extra-long sleeves are the perfect alternative to gloves,” says Elle. “No more fumbling when you receive an incoming call – all you have to do is wiggle out your hand!”
Five minutes ago, those crazy-looking pirate pants were also the “it” fashion. How do I know? I saw it in one of those awful magazines at the grocery checkout. But now, they’re out of style (I think?) and high-waist mom jeans are back in again. Also, you can buy a baggy sweater with holes in it from Kanye West’s fashion line, Yeezy, for $1,633.
You know there’s a problem when a sweater full of holes costs more than a thousand bucks and nobody bats an eye. “Distressed holes scatter this oversized piece, while shoulder and elbow patches add a contrasting, authoritative vibe,” says the marketing pitch. “Throw yours over a white T-Shirt to emphasize the disheveled patches.”
Obviously, I’m choosing some really dumb and overly expensive fashion to poke fun at here, but the basic idea is the same – even for the stuff you see at your local mall.
While splurging for better and sturdier clothing brands can be financially savvy, you’ll reach a point of diminishing returns. A $50 off-brand purse will likely last just as long as that $900 Louis Vuitton bag stays in style. And you don’t need to spend $695 on a pair of jeans from Dolce & Gabbana when you can get a high-quality pair from any number of brands for under a hundred bucks.
Yet, advertisers and the media are out in droves to convince you otherwise. But, have you ever stopped to think about who really benefits from the newest and best fashion trends changing every season and every year? From the gazillion-dollar coats that are only “in” for one season? From the hole-ridden sweaters that cost as much as a semester at community college?
Let me give you a hint: It’s not you.
Money in the Bank Is Always in Fashion
Perhaps I’m just getting old, but I would much rather have money than be broke and fashionable. In my eyes, the real fashion trend – the one we should all strive for – is to get our financial houses in order first.
I mean, you can’t retire in a $1,600 sweater, can you? And will anyone care what you were wearing back in 2016 when you’re 70 years old and living in your daughter’s basement because you’re broke?
Plus, most high-end clothing depreciates the second you buy it. And if you buy expensive, designer clothing often and insist on having each new season’s “hottest styles,” you might as well be dicing up dollars in a paper shredder every year.
Those pirate pants that were “hot” a few years ago? The Juicy Couture sweatsuits? Dresses with cut-outs?
Yep, all of those have gone the way of Hypercolor, acid-washed denim, and Members Only jackets. In other words, they will be worth almost nothing – that is, until they become vintage antiques.
So, here’s what I say. To heck with it – all of it. To heck with spending our money on overpriced clothes that will go out of style next year or next season. To heck with forking over two weeks’ pay to buy a sweater that looks like it was eaten by moths. To heck with buying stuff we’re not even sure we like, just because someone else says it’s in, cool, or the latest style.
Let’s wear comfortable, durable clothes. Heck, let’s wear pajamas. Let’s choose our clothing based on what is comfortable and what makes us feel good. Let’s buy the colors, the styles, and the fashions we like regardless of what the media and the fashion magazines tell us. Let’s quit spending our money in the pursuit of the unattainable goal of being fashionable by everyone’s standards, 100% of the time.
Let’s spend our money where it counts, and save it for ourselves and our families. And instead of shopping just to look like everyone else, let’s all dare to be different – to be ourselves. We might not end up on a runway because of it, but at the very least, we’ll have money in the bank instead of a closet full of next year’s out-of-style clothes.
Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. She blogs at ClubThrifty.com and teaches others how to write online at EarnMoreWriting.com.
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Do you buy into high fashion? Why or why not? How much do you spend on clothing each year?