If you’re anything like me, you’ve wondered this as you flip through magazines and encounter the $500 “investment” pants and the $175 “bargain” belt: Who is buying this stuff, and why don’t I do what they do for a living?
The May issue of Vogue sheds some light on the matter, introducing us Target-shopping types to the suffering that occurs when women who've invested in trousers lose their source of income. In “On the Market,” fashion writer Lynn Yaeger details her financial troubles after being laid off from job at the Village Voice—“troubles,” of course, being a relative term. See, after numerous calculations, Yaeger decides that she requires a minimum of $92,000 a year to maintain her rent, utilities, and Wolford hosiery collection.
Okay, Yaeger has a mortgage in New York City, which could easily run several thousand dollars a month, but excuse me if I can’t quite empathize with someone for whom that kind of cash is a bare minimum. Vogue certainly knows its audience: Why bother with the stories of families struggling to eat when you can reveal how the
upper crust might have to cut back on the Bergdorf's shopping benders? The essay includes so little focus on expenses like housing and insurance and so much attention to items sold at Henri Bendel that only two conclusions can be gleaned: The Village Voice must have paid Yaeger in wheelbarrows full of cash, and maybe Comme des Garcons skirts really are essentials.
So, could you scrape by on 92K? I’ve devised this quiz to help you decide.
1. If dozens of employees at your company were being let go in the weeks before your layoff, what would you be likely to purchase?
A. Nothing unnecessary. I’m saving!
B. “A Victorian diamond-and-sapphire snake ring…just because I liked it, just because I wanted it.”
2. Oh no! The axe fell. Now that you’re unemployed, you need some quick cash. Check your closet—are there any garments with tags still attached that you can return?
A. Yeah, but…is it worth braving the crowds at H&M for a refund on a $24.90 cotton skirt?
B. “Back went the Lanvin bag…the tulle Comme des Garcons skirt that looked like a benign black mushroom cloud, recently acquired at Saks, had already been worn once, so that was a reluctant keeper.”
3. The biggest obstacle to getting by on just savings, severance, and unemployment benefits is:
A. Giving up Starbucks and lunches out
B. “I am the consummate compulsive shopper.”
4. You schedule a consultation with a financial planner. After considering your fixed expenses, the planner gives you a daily pocket-cash allowance of:
A. Enough to buy dinner off the Taco Bell value menu
5. On this strict budget, the item you’re most concerned about purchasing is:
A. Health insurance
B. Rene Furterer Okara shampoo, T. LeClerc face powder, Wolford tights, and tickets to South Pacific on Broadway
6. You decide to freelance to supplement your income, but you need a printer/copier. You find one for $99. That sum is:
A. A lot of money now that you’re out of work, but a worthwhile investment
B. “Far less than the cheapest Marc Jacobs T-shirt” (And anyway, you simply require it: “The prospect of having to wait in line with other unemployed people at the local copy shop…had filled me with horror.”)
7. After a few months of unemployment, your perspective on money changes. You realize this when:
A. You discover in the worst possible way that the least expensive bath tissue really isn’t the same as the national brand.
B. You meet with a friend and “neither of us could believe that only a few months ago we thought $900 was a typical price for a sweater.”
8. Good news! You’ve landed some freelance work. You treat yourself to:
A. Name-brand toothpaste and a pedicure at the neighborhood salon (skip the callus removal treatment!)
B. “I found myself looking at the Web site of…the dealer who sold me the snake ring, and gazing weakly at it. I was terrified that one day the ring would be marked SOLD and slip out of my life forever.”
9. Even though you’re now financially stable, you’ve had to work out a payment plan with:
A. Your student loan financier and the electric company
B. Your antique jewelry dealer
10. Now that you’re back on your feet, you decide it’s time to plan for the future. You:
A. Open a high-yield savings account and max out your retirement contributions
B. Admire your jewelry! “And if I’m wrong, well, a diamond-and-sapphire cobra will always be worth something—which is more than you can say for a 401(k).”
If you’ve chosen mostly Bs, then you’ve opted to invest mostly in your appearance. And isn’t that what matters? You’re wearing an antique ring shaped like a cobra! (As for the actual Yaeger, talk about cognitive dissonance. How can she write both this Vogue essay and an article noting that $49.90 dresses
are “not the cheapest things in the world”? Different readership, I guess.)
If you’ve selected mostly As, you’ve chosen money in the bank over money on
your back. Priorities, people! Invest in yourself! Does solvency really feel
better than the flawless fit of designer pants? It’s a choice every woman has
to make, but I think we all know where Vogue
stands on the matter.