Invest in a GIC, not your wardrobe

Craving some light reading, I picked up a paperback copy of Sophie Kinsella's Confessions of a Shopaholic and was pleasantly surprised. Because I'm an English lit major and my undergrad sometimes involved over-intellectualizing books I love on an emotional and aesthetic level, I like to pretend that I'm above chick-lit and try my best to resist pink bookcovers, but in reality I love fluffy paperbacks, and the trials and tribulations of Becky Bloomwood--an underpaid financial journalist living in London, a committed shopaholic, and in deep, scary we're-talking-up-to-her-eyeballs debt--are nothing if not fluffy. The ironic juxtaposition of her public face as a financial guru who seems to have her act together and her crazy spending habits is what really works and drives the novel's plot. Kinsella's character development of Becky's main love interest, entrepreneur Luke Brandon, seems peripheral and one-dimensional at best (although it seems to pick up in the Shopaholic sequels). Descriptions of him as tall, dark, handsome, rich, and inscrutable, and the plot arc whereby the romantic leads clash heads and fall in love once they realize how decent the other person is, seem to borrow a page from Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters. But there I go again, over-intellectualizing chick-lit like I did with The Hills!

One of the things that really amused me about Becky was how every time she bought an expensive item, she would justify it by desperately declaring something along the lines of, "I have to have it. I will use it all the time. It will be an investment." This attitude is something I see a lot of on a Facebook group I joined devoted to shopaholics. Among this group's members, there is a certain virulent elitism running through the discussion board's topic posts. Comments along these lines are common: "I wouldn't be caught dead in Payless or American Eagle because they sell cheap stuff," "I only wear brand names," and "I would spend $1,900 on a leather bag because if I take good care of it, it'll last forever."

Um, sure. Aside from the fact that I'm a pretty frugal shopper most of the time and am somewhat dismayed by the prices quoted, I don't even know where to begin deconstructing this sort of faulty logic. If you want to spend that much on an accessory or an item of clothing and you obtained your money through legal means, go for it. A good pair of jeans that can be worn over and over and survive many washings while still retaining their shape for years is worth spending a bit more on (especially since they seem to be the Holy Grail of shoppers everywhere these days).

At the same time, though, I think that people have to realize that even if the item they bought is intended to last forever, their personal taste and the fashion industry can be quite fickle. You might get sick of your handbag from two years ago and just let it sit in your closet gathering dust. Even purportedly classic items like coats, trousers, jeans, shorts, and skirts change in terms of silhouette or length or hemline from season to season. When everyone else is sporting a new trend, or a revamped version of something old, a lot of people tend to relegate their classic investment pieces to the back of the wardrobe, and go shopping for what's fresh.

Indeed, trends change so quickly that fast fashion has become the norm. Megachains like Zara, Aldo, Payless, and H&M have become experts at knocking off the latest runway designs and making more affordable versions, feeding an ever-growing consumer base demanding the latest (disposable) trends but not willing to spend top dollar on them. I remember reading a piece in the Globe and Mail style section once about the rise of fast fashion; the writer interviewed a fashionable Toronto woman in a tiny apartment who would own about 15-20 items of moderately priced super-trendy clothing at any one time and wear them to shreds, then buy a whole new wardobe the next season. This behaviour on the part of consumers and the fashion industry is antithetical to the invest-in-quality-and-designers approach.

Another puzzle regarding the irrationality of investment dressing (along the lines of the posters on this Facebook group) is that they don't factor in one glaring consideration: LIFE HAPPENS. Suede gets wet in unexpected rainshowers. Blue ink marks can appear on a beloved white sweater by accident. Purses get stolen in crowded bars and nightclubs. When you buy a pricey item, despite your best intentions to take good care of it, you're not clairvoyant, and you can't predict what might happen if your pencil-thin stiletto heel has a bad encounter with a sewer grate.

So, in the end, I guess what matters most is buying what you love and what flatters you, and buying for good design rather than the designer's name. If this approach to shopping ends up saving money, then by all means do something sensible with it (maybe something involving a bank and an interest rate?).

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