Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fashion-lifestyle disequilibrium

David Brooks has written about something he calls, if I remember right, status-income disequilibrium, the result of over-educated humanities types noticing that boorish bankers live in comfort while they themselves know how to pronounce foie gras but can't afford it. I know I should be experiencing this, but dishwasher dreams aside, I can afford all the cheese I care to consume, so this is not my main concern. I'm far more preoccupied with another discrepancy: that between the clothing I wish to wear and my day-to-day life.

The world of fashion blogs, at least the ones I prefer, is one of DIY studded clothes that end up looking more space-age than punk, of pale-pink bike shorts styled in such a way they actually look good, of goth-inspired gauzy materials draped in ways I'd have never come up with, paired with shoes and a haircut specific to this one out-of-the-way corner of Copenhagen I'd never even find if I were to visit Copenhagen. My world is one of either a tee or a tank in either gray, black, or white, paired with either jeans or black pants and either ballet flats or silver Pumas. In winter, black leather boots, a sweater, and an overcoat enter the mix, but that's about it.

It goes beyond clothes. The best fashion bloggers all seem to DJ at parties that start well after whatever mix of teaching, reading, grocery shopping, and cooking has caused me to pass out on the couch in front of "Two and a Half Men" while my boyfriend does the dishes. The less edgy sites, meanwhile, focus on relatively well-known models, stylists, editors, models, and the like as they congregate outside fashion shows in eight-inch heels for luncheons of cigarettes with a side order of cigarettes. To be Fashion is to be not merely thin but indifferent to food - see for instance this blogger relating having chosen a fur hat from Ebay over dinner. Whereas if I don't get that bowl of pasta come 8 pm, I'm in no shape to even get through the first 15 minutes of a sitcom, let alone make it however many subway rides it takes to go to wherever the young people are going these days.

The fashion-lifestyle disequilibrium affects me, it seems, on a purchase-by-purchase basis. I became obsessed with a pair of 40-euro lilac-colored patent leather jazz-shoe-type oxfords (?) with terribly thin soles... until I accepted that these were too strange and not durable enough to become my new everyday shoes, and that I'm not willing to forgo the Eiskaffes a frivolous 40-euro purchase would require. (Had they been, say, Yves Klein blue, it would have been a different story.) I didn't even adore the shoes, just the idea of being the sort of person who'd wear such shoes, perhaps paired with some gauzy-goth scarf and hand-studded bracelet.

It's this mentality that prevents me from purchasing accessories, period, with the notable exception of a bright-pink jersey-material Uniqlo scarf. Last year in Cologne (why am I always in Germany? A question for another time), I decided against a beautiful jersey-fabric scarf in Yves Klein blue because it didn't fulfill any practical role in my wardrobe. The Uniqlo purchase was my much-belated consolation. I need to be more like this woman, clearly.

I feel, for a mix of practical and nonsensical reasons, that to dress the way I want to dress involves not so much more money than I have as leading a different life entirely. That's the dilemma. Thoughts?


kei said...

I think that if you and I went shopping together, you'd get your accessories and Euro Oxfords (or I'd find you Yves Klein blue ones to trade for these lilac ones), and I might become the enemy of the Cheapness Studies Blog!

Jokes aside, I get this dilemma also, but with respect to heels more than anything else. I always feel overdressed and impractical if I think about wearing heels when there's no particular occasion. Ultimately, wearing high heels doesn't feel very "me" if there's no party or event, if that makes sense.

I think habits and lifestyle changes come in gradual doses though, so I don't think this is the end of the road. This would require actually finding the right sized heels or accessories or whatever, but I think it's possible to gradually change one's lifestyle to some minimal extent such that heels/accessories/etc. will feel more natural. Accessories are especially good for changes in small bits. Shoes can probably slowly infiltrate a closet, too, but it'd likely be a more expensive invasion.

In the end, I think it comes down to how much one wants to dress a certain way that is different from how one dresses now. As long as the changes don't go overboard and you don't change your personality (I'm sure we've all had plenty of "always be yourself" lessons from "Full House" and "Saved By The Bell" and "The Baby-Sitters Club" series to avoid this complication), I think it's fine to stick with one's instincts and adored themes and change things up a bit. You might have to bite the bullet as a result, whether it's the wallet or feet that suffers, but the courage level might go up a notch or two. I think it's also OK to ignore other people's advice at times, especially male significant other advice, no offense to Jo! It's just that other people's advice sometimes is irrelevant, because a lot of fashion is about self-knowledge--what you know you like, what you're inspired by, and what you want to wear--and not about fitting a mold, pleasing people, etc. And often times, that's just the end of the story and it doesn't get much deeper than that.

I don't know if any of this is right or helpful or anything, but those are my initial thoughts on the matter!

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


And when exactly will you be in NY? That had better be after the first grad-student pay of the year...

Agreed, though, re: the principle of male significant others as shopping inhibitors, particularly when it comes to shoes. ('Do you really need another pair of black boots?') This does something to explain why the eternally-single women of Sex and the City accumulate more shoes than they know what to do with. Although Ricky's presence didn't really stop Lucy from buying all those hats...

As for changing to a new style of dress, sometimes it's so clearly just a matter of wearing what you already own, but arranging it differently or changing the heels-days to sneakers-days ratio. Perhaps you're still being 'you' as long as it's a matter of rearranging. I'd feel more 'me' if, inspired by a fashion blog, I took some item from high school (say, a studded belt) out of the back of the closet and wore it in a new way than I would if I started from scratch at the elusive Copenhagen minimalist boutique where fashion bloggers get their clothes, but this could be more about cheapness than authenticity.

Britta said...

My advice is: move to China! Whatever you want (literally) clothing wise, you can probably buy on the street for less than 5 dollars, and the quality is around H&M, and sometimes even higher. If you want higher quality, you can pay H&M prices for really nice stuff here--lined skirts, real cashmere sweaters, etc. There's even a Uniqlo across the street from where I live, but usually stuff in foreign stores is sold at a premium, and you can get similar or nicer stuff from a Chinese store for less money. I have to restrain my self from buying about 50 wardrobes worth of stuff, because everything is such a good deal compared to America.

Petey said...

There are reasonably simple solutions to your various dilemmas:

- Rather than acquiring a dishwasher, just buy new dishes when your old dishes become dirty. Then you can repurpose the money you are currently spending on dishwashing liquid to shoe purchases.

- Rather than spending 15 minutes a day watching the first half of an unwatchable sitcom, simply bank those 15 minutes. At the end of every month, you will then have eight extra hours to spend. These eight extra hours can be used to DJ at late night parties without being tired the next day.

- If the above two suggestions don't work for you, consider methamphetamine usage. It will allow you to wash dishes, watch sitcoms, DJ at late night parties, make your own clothes, and attend to your university requirements, all for a reasonable budget.

kei said...

Yes, rearranging what you already have seems to be a big key thing. Mordecai has been nagging me to clean out my closet only to remember and appreciate what I already own. I do this occasionally, and I get pleasant surprises here and there. Also, re: the Sex and the City reference, let me just say, shoes are bad, but hats are the work of the devil. Nice ones are so expensive!

Also, I hope to make a triumphant return to NYC in the winter! I will be around your campus, because that is where Uniqlo is :D

Anonymous said...

Do male significant others frequently make it a habit to comment on their female partner's fashion habits/sense/choices?

That seems exceedingly perilous to this observer. I like the way my wife dresses; I care little for fashion on myself, but that certainly does not lead me to conclude she should feel the same. If she wants to shop and buy items that make her feel comfortable in her own space (or attractive or whatever positive affection one wishes to use here), I think that is fantastic and I like to encourage it.

I would not spend money on clothes that way, but so the heck what? There are plenty of things I might buy she would not spend money on either.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Two-and-a half men is very watchable.


Then by all means let me know if you're in the area. Although I do fear we'd be reaching for all the same things at Uniqlo, and what if there's only one left!

Daniel Goldberg,

I don't think this is about men being so hypercritical, or making women wear rags and feel ugly. It's about a woman seeing the 'need' for far more shoes than a man would, and about a man thus exerting a healthy (as in, the woman appreciates it) influence in preventing some shoe-purchases. Some, not all - for the most part my own frugality gets in the way, but when I really want a pair (as with a certain pair of 47-euro beige-suede-with-beige-patent-toe pumps) and they're reasonably priced, I overlook the skepticism. In terms of this particular non-purchase, I wasn't sure about the lilac shoes, so I took my boyfriend to the store for a second opinion, and was sort of relieved when his response was as predicted.

I think a lot of women play the equivalent role, either in preventing X-box-type purchases or in pushing salads on a man who wouldn't otherwise go near them. And then, of course, there are the stereotype-defying couples, but they're too complex for a blog comment to reckon with.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

And, Britta,

A friend of mine has spent a lot of time in China, which is where she got all her very glamorous clothing that all looks like it would have cost a ton in NY. The problem, then, is getting to China. Hmm.

kei said...

"Do male significant others frequently make it a habit to comment on their female partner's fashion habits/sense/choices?"

It's not about a habit, but giving opinions and advice when asked. As long as I don't go overboard, I don't get criticized for shopping and buying things I want/like. But inevitably, I will come across some particular item where I seek a second opinion, and it is usually "That's ridiculous" (in price and/or look) or ends in "You don't need it." But the question wasn't "Do I need it?" but rather, "Should I get this?" Which is a complicated question, and I admit may even fall into the category of trick questions.

Anonymous said...


I understand, and actually, I trend to far to the other pole, that of noticing perhaps less than I should when my wife buys a new item. But consumer purchasing is, IMO, only very rarely about what one needs, such that I would take issue with a man who confuses the two questions in terms of a significant other's fashion choices.

PG said...


Once you are sharing closet space with a woman, and that closet space is limited to a single closet, I think it is reasonable to ask that any new purchases be accompanied by some cleaning out of said closet.

The only really fatal thing is when you see a woman buying a pair of pants that look EXACTLY like a pair she already owns and hasn't been wearing lately, and you say, "You already have those pants, wear the ones you have." Because if she's buying the exact same thing, after not having worn the one she owns for some time, it's probably because she doesn't fit in the old ones anymore, has given up on fitting into them again, and is buying in a bigger size. For most women, that remark, in such a situation, will lead to a long uncomfortable silence, if not actual tears.

Anonymous said...

Hi PG,

Who says we share closet space . . .

In any case, my wife's cultural background features a lot of seasonal changes, so purging is kind of built-in with her. Not that I would really care much if she didn't. Why would it bother me if she has three outfits that look similar? Or three pairs of shoes? Or four purses?

She likes them. They make her feel good. Seems fine to me. Budgets are relevant of course, but budgets are relevant to all consumer purchases, fashion or otherwise. The vast majority of those purchases have little to do with need, so who am I to say she should refrain from making a purchase that will make her feel good simply because I do not derive much meaning from owning three similar items of clothing?

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Not to speak for PG, but I assumed what she meant was sharing a sum total of closet space in an apt/house, not necessarily each individual closet.