When it comes to shopping, I am a woman of extremes. I derive as much smug, stingy pleasure from a pretty pair of £6 Sainsbury’s pyjamas as I do from my small, treasured collection of designer handbags. When surveying the chaos that is my wardrobe one day, I started pondering the concepts of ‘value’ and ‘expense’ and all sorts of abstract questions popped into my brain.
Of course ‘expense’ is a relative term (well, relatively relative – even a millionaire would concede that a £20k handbag is definitely ‘expensive’, surely?) – everyone has different budgets and priorities, so this is a highly subjective, personal area.
But I suspect (and please correct me if I’m wrong!) that when it comes to spending money on clothes, many people feel guilty in a way that they wouldn’t if they were buying something like a fridge, or a car, or a holiday. Is that because clothes aren’t ‘essential’ items (apart from the fact that they keep you warm and stop you being naked in public)?
It could be a gendered issue too - a £5k handbag and a £5k football season ticket are both equal ‘wastes’ of money, or give equal amounts of pleasure, depending on how you look at it – but I wonder if women feel more guilt about spending money on something non-essential for themselves than men do?
But you want specifics, don’t you? Ok, FINE. So the most expensive fashion thing I’ve ever bought was my Mulberry Alexa handbag (wanna know how much exactly? Google it, I can't bring myself to type it). Believe me, I did not make this purchase lightly. It was very expensive and required a fair bit of effort to acquire (waiting lists, making friends with the staff at various Mulberry stores) but it was a one-off, really special piece.
I even dreamed about it for crying out loud (tragic, I know, you don’t need to tell me.) And (I can’t believe I’m admitting this) at a fashion party when I saw a couple of Alexas sitting on the floor in the cloakroom, I did for one brief moment consider pretending one of them was mine and doing a runner with it. Yeah.
Actually that reminds me of the time when I was 12 and on holiday with my family in France and spotted a miniature Naf Naf backpack in a shop window in the village of Castelnaudary. I will ALWAYS regret not buying it, and still think of it fondly.
Anyway! So for my 30th birthday I asked for contributions towards it from friends and family and one bright spring morning I went to the Knightsbridge store to pick it up and it was totally worth it. Every time I carry it, it makes me so happy and reminds me of that milestone birthday and the generosity of my loved ones. I will treasure it for the rest of my life. But would I buy one every season, or even every few years? Hell no! I’m done now. That was my one big splurge and I don’t need to repeat it.
Do you place greater value on something you know was expensive? Or, conversely, do you take greater pleasure in something that was inexpensive? I know I do – I love a bargain (I found a Bottega Veneta handbag on eBay once for £20 and I would SO save that in a fire before Mitford. Kidding! Sort of.)
If you pay more for something, that should in theory mean it’s of excellent quality, but that isn’t always necessarily the case – there’s nothing more galling than shelling out on a pricey cashmere sweater or fancy pair of shoes, only for them to turn out to be really crappy quality.
But many designer items have a long history of craftsmanship behind them and are made using the best materials – butter-soft leather and the like, so they are worthwhile investments if you can afford the initial outlay because they’ll last for years and actually improve with use and age. My mum’s given me a lot of her old clothes and accessories and they look as good today as when she first acquired them 30 years ago partly because they were great quality, but also because she looked after them well. I am trying very hard to do this with my stuff too.
Times are tight – pay freezes, redundancy and the rising costs of food and fuel mean disposable incomes are shrinking for a lot of people, including me. It’s hard to justify splurging on something as superficial as new clothes when you have a wardrobe full of perfectly wearable stuff. But people still do, don’t they?
Buying way less often and spending as much as I can manage is my approach - I feel more guilt about buying a £30 top that I don’t ‘need’ than investing in a £250 coat that will last me for years (a result of growing older and wiser perhaps, or simply not being able to pull off cheapo high street fast fashion anymore? Who knows...)
What’s your take on it all? And on a related note, when it comes to the fashion we cover on the site, should we only feature high street stuff or throw in the occasional designer item? Tell me what you’d like to see!