Outfit Equation

blouse, DVF (thrifted); pants, Banana Republic (thrifted); shoes, Sam Edelman (thrifted); bag, Gucci (via consignment)
blouse, DVF (thrifted); pants, Banana Republic (thrifted); shoes, Sam Edelman (thrifted); bag, Gucci (via consignment)

Ever wonder how my outfits come together? Probably not, but today you’re going to hear about it anyway. I had planned to wear this blouse on this particular day (a Friday) in my Stylebook app, but the other details were not set in stone; lately, I find that I’m tweaking outfits at the last minute much more than before. Anyway, here was my thought process, in all of its dubious glory:

Hm, it’s Friday which means jeans. Except, shoot, I have a hearing. Better go with pants and a blazer. But hang on, the hearing is via teleconference. Nobody is going to see me. Non-matching separates? Black pants are a must, so definitely not a black blazer. Too much black is blegh. What blazer goes with everything? Ah yes, the greige one.

And so an outfit was born. In retrospect, I should have just gone back to jeans, but I liked how the black pants worked with the blouse, so I just plunged ahead. Being “over-dressed” on a Friday is not the worst thing. I did take off my blazer almost immediately though, so the over-dressing was of a very minor degree. And for the eagle eyed, yes that is a new (to me) pair of BR Sloan pants. Finding a black one in my size at the thrift store is always a small miracle and, in this case, consolation for not being able to find a back-up pair of my fave Aritzia trousers. I do think this particular version of the Sloans is different than my old (now retired) pair; the cut is more straight than skinny, which I find that I actually prefer these days as it looks a bit more polished. With that said, I do generally wish that brands would stop messing with the cuts of their staple clothing pieces because it rarely seems to result in an improvement over the original (this case excepted, assuming this version is the new Sloan not the old, old Sloan). Anyone else with me on this?

blazer, Theory (thrifted)
blazer, Theory (thrifted)
pattern detail
pattern detail

If you look closely, you will see the pin I used to make the blouse office-appropriate. It wasn’t super noticeable in real life, but little details like that bug me when I see them in photos. I think I am going to solve this particular problem by adding a stitch to the neckline using black thread; I expect it will be unnoticeable given the print and colour of the blouse, and it’s a minor enough alteration to attempt on my own. Fingers crossed.

Lastly, I thought it might be fun to try a little outfit “Price Is Right” exercise. Do you think you can guess how much this outfit (minus bag & jewelry) cost? I’ll make it easy, with multiple choice answers: (a) $31; (b) $57; (c) $96; (d) $124. I don’t have any prize to offer you except the satisfaction of being right.

not-so-casual Friday
not-so-casual Friday

State of the Wardrobe: Lifestyle Inflation & Clothes Spending

Let me start by admitting this: I am a bit of a nosy parker. I am fascinated by how other people live – the way they decorate their houses, the clothes they buy, their finances. The latter in particular is something of a taboo subject outside of Personal Finance blogs, so my nosiness on that score is infrequently satisfied. For that reason, I love online discussions like this Reddit sub-thread on income level and clothes spending. The wide range of responses is very interesting, as are the related comments that come up – such as, for example, on the topic of lifestyle inflation. They got me thinking about my own life … and so this blog post was born.

I have absolutely no doubt that lifestyle inflation is a real thing; I’ve got all the proof I need when I compare my life a decade ago to my current situation. Take my recent trip to Mexico as an example. Back in 2007, I went on an all-inclusive vacation to Cancun – and stayed at a 3 star hotel. Last month, the four of us stayed at a 5 star resort on the Mayan Riviera. Same general location, a not insignificant difference in amenities … and cost. I’ve been trying to decide whether lifestyle inflation has crept into my clothes spending as well. If I use the same time period for comparison purposes, I think the answer is unavoidably “yes”. But if I look at the last 3 years or so, the answer is less clear.

For perspective, here are some relevant stats. Since 2013, my personal income has increased by about 50%. During that time, my clothes spending (in absolute dollars) has remained surprisingly steady, varying by no more than 10-15% from year to year. (I did not track or keep a consistent record of my clothes spending before 2013.) The average cost of the clothes I have purchased has steadily declined – from $40/item in 2013, to $16/item in 2016. Meanwhile, the average retail value of the clothes has increased – from $113/item in 2013 to $218/item in 2016. Those numbers represent, in a nutshell, the trend in my clothes spending: buying better (or at least more expensive) brands predominantly secondhand.

But what about lifestyle inflation?

In some ways, it hasn’t affected my clothes spending. After all, on average, I spend less per item now than 2-3 years ago even as my income has increased a fair bit. But that is not the full story. Averages are tricky things … especially when you buy a lot of things, like I do. Masked among my many thrift scores are some “big ticket” purchases that, not that long ago, would have seemed pretty scary. The biggest upward creep in my spending comfort level definitely happened with bags. Spending $500 on a bag doesn’t faze me like it used; I don’t do it regularly, but it’s an easily conceivable notion. My “knuckle biting” threshold for bags is now probably north of $700. Shoes are another category where my thresholds have changed quite significantly. I used to baulk at spending more than $50 on a pair of shoes; now, while I routinely spend less, I am nevertheless mentally prepared to spend up to $200 on a brand I love (like Manolo Blahnik, Frye, etc.). Same thing with outerwear, thanks to my beloved MaxMara camel coat.

At the same time, thrifting has had its own impact on the progression of lifestyle inflation in my clothes spending. The best way I can describe that impact is this: thrifting has made it easier AND harder for me to spend $50 (or more) on a piece of clothing. On one hand, I find it harder now to justify spending more than $20 on anything, because that’s usually the upper limit of thrift prices regardless of the label. On the other hand, if I do find something truly special, spending $100 or even $200 on a single item seems, well, not unreasonable given how little money my thrifting costs me (and considering that it accounts for 90%+ of my shopping). I think that, on balance, the influence of thrifting on my spending mentality is largely a positive thing. I constantly question the value of the things I’m tempted to buy, and am far less likely to be swayed by sale prices and promotions. It has made me more aware of things that are worth the (retail) splurge — boots, outerwear, and good sweaters for example (things that people tend to hold on to, rather than donate before they wear out). Thrifting has also made me more comfortable with the idea that, sometimes, you just have to get the thing that sparks joy, price be damned.

Within reason, of course.

Now, tell me: have you noticed lifestyle inflation in your own life? How do you deal with it?

What I Read (and Watched): Cute Vicar Edition

We will get to the cute vicar in a minute, I promise, but let’s start with what I read because … I did read, folks. I gobbled up We Too, which is an in-depth (non-fiction) account of Victoria and Albert’s marriage. The book was recommended to me by several BCRL readers, and I can heartily endorse the recommendation. You might query the need for such a narrowly-focused biography, but if you are interested in the Victorian era, this is the best psychological portrait of its two figureheads. I’m not sure that V&A’s relationship qualifies as a “romance of the century”, but it was certainly a very successful partnership that brought satisfaction to both parties (which, based on my informal study of history, is no mean feat for a royal marriage). The book does an excellent job of showing how unlikely a result this was, given the strong personalities of both parties and the unconventional circumstances they faced. I liked that the author remained largely impartial, making neither spouse a “good guy” or a “bad guy”. My overall impression was that Albert probably had more admirable qualities, but Victoria was the more likable of the two. I will say that the more I read about her, the more fascinating a character she appears to me.

I also read One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiori, who also wrote the (non-fiction) biography of the Romanovs I wrote about a while back. This was an excellent book, but a difficult read for me. Having grown up in an ultra repressive communist regime, books about life during the Stalin years should probably be off my reading list because they simply hit too close to home. Montefiori nailed the sense of oppressive dread that permeates every facet of daily life in a communist regime where your every word could mean life and death for someone (including your own children or parents). The book is loosely based on a real story, the death of two children of high ranking Communist party members in 1945. In a way, I would call this the Soviet version of The Secret Game by Donna Tartt, except in this case the protagonists are largely not culpable for the terrible things that happen to them. I found some of the scenes in the book hard to read, especially as a mother of young children, so keep that in mind (not so much graphic violence as terrible cruelty).

Alright, alright. I teased you with a hot vicar, and here he is:

'ello, vicar!
‘ello, vicar!

So, Grantchester. There are many things I liked about season 1, not least of them Mr. Norton, and a few things that bugged me. Let me start by saying that I totally buy Norton’s jazz-loving, gin-guzzling, weed whacking (not a euphemism), tortured gentle soul. 100%, no questions. (I have not seen Happy Valley yet, but would be interested to see how he plays a psycho.) What I did not buy, however, was the chemistry between Sidney and Amanda, or the reasons that kept them apart. For me, that was a big problem, because the show devotes a lot of time to that plot line. It bored me, much as I appreciated watching James Norton look adorably forlorn. The rest of the show and characters were very enjoyable, however. I loved Sidney’s camaraderie with Geordie, and his relationships with his housekeeper and curate. The mysteries are pretty straightforward, but I liked watching S&G piece together the answers. Overall, I liked the series a lot, but didn’t find it as compulsively watchable as Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries; indeed, I found myself more than once wishing that someone like Phryne would cross the vicar’s path. Alas, did not happen.

I would like to watch seasons 2 and 3, without having to pay extra for the pleasure, so I really hope that Netflix adds them to their line-up soon. Ditto for the Miss Marple mysteries. Come on, Netflix!

As always, let’s wrap up with some interesting articles. This article about a manufacturer switching the brand labels on clothing sent to a particular retailer was somewhat amusing at first, but mostly enraging on second thought. I would have expected something like this to be against the law, but apparently not. The fact that every facet of the entire clothing production-retail cycle is so obscure to consumers is beginning to bother me more and more. How can consumers make informed choices when they are being kept in the dark, or worse yet, deliberately hoodwinked? Gah.

There was an interesting discussion on Corporette this week, sparked by this article which questions the trope that motherhood is the most important job a woman can have. It got me thinking. Motherhood is not a job. It’s not even a volunteer position, because you are essentially creating the people who will later need your help. It’s a hobby. Hear me out. A job means a position where you create value (through a product or service) to someone external to yourself and get remunerated for it. Having kids does have, at a macro level, a societal value. We need new people to keep our social systems going. But at the individual level, your particular kids or mine represent a relatively small value to society. (I mean, yes, they could turn out to be the next Gandhi or Einstein, but there are no guarantees. They could just be the same as millions or billions of other people out there.) The societal value of your motherhood is compensated through things like tax benefits, tax breaks, etc. Beyond that, the primary value of motherhood is to yourself. People have kids to please themselves. It sounds almost wrong to put it like that, but it’s true. Some people value having kids, some don’t — just like some people value running or crocheting, and some don’t. Is it the most important hobby? Ideally, if it’s a hobby you’ve decided to take on, then yes. It should be the most important because it involves the well-being of small humans who are utterly dependent on you. Should it be the most important hobby to every woman in the world? Of course not. It’s not biologically necessary for every woman on earth to have kids, and at the personal level, importance is completely subjective. I understand why some women might want to stress its importance — it’s something that falls predominantly on female shoulders and women are encouraged by society to sacrifice other opportunities to take it on. They want recognition for that, and that’s fair. But I think that treating motherhood like a job just perpetuates the patriarchal status quo. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Lastly, not an article, but I recently discovered Justine Leconte’s YouTube channel, and she is delightful.