Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Uniqlo-clad poorhouse

Isn't it sad when a new mother has to pay her nanny (wild how nannies expect payment), and the nanny budget dips into the designer-clothing one, and she's forced to wear Uniqlo and J.Crew? Except... is that even the takeaway of this hard-to-interpret Vogue essay?

In one sense, it's a straightforward tiny-violins plight, complete with the requisite gesture acknowledging the far greater "sacrifices made by less well-advantaged moms in New York City, and across the country." In other countries as well, even, but I guess this was U.S. Vogue, so. As someone whose baseline apparently tragic existence involves a more restrained approach to shopping than the author's crisis-budget one, I should roll my eyes, right? But, in another sense... I don't work in fashion! No one expects me to go beyond circa-2009 Uniqlo! (But oh, I do go beyond it. There's some 2018 Uniqlo in there as well.) The author is in a different situation:

It’s not like I had a wardrobe allowance before the baby, and I wasn’t an influencer receiving bags of free stuff. ... The nanny budget made me feel shabby, especially during Fashion Week, when the unspoken dress code is in-season only and other women in my sphere show up in new outfits that easily tally up in the high four figures. Daily. 
So... maybe the issue isn't so much that she, Woman Clothes-Shopper, simply couldn't resist the latest thing, but that hunting down and purchasing the latest thing - sans reimbursement - is a requirement in that industry? Maybe the problem is an industry where a designer wardrobe is expected, but some entity other than one's employer (i.e., independent wealth, or credit-card debt) is expected to pay for it? A problem both for socioeconomic-representation-type reasons, and for industry workers themselves, who are maybe sort of taught to believe that the thing they have to do for work is actually just a frivolous craving they ought to suppress. It's an extreme version of the gendered thing where a woman can feel guilty for spending that she'd also feel guilty not doing. (We have seen this before.)

Which gets, tangentially, at the second question the essay left me with, inspired by this sentence: "We were about 1 percent shy of the 1 percent and we were broke." If that's indeed the case, and this "we" involves a husband as well, and the wife's job is fashion editorial which probably pays OK but probably not 2%-income-level OK, then... what was the husband spending? Was this genuinely that the wife's clothes-shopping — again, a requirement of sorts for her job — got out of hand? (Was she buying Manafort coats?) The clothes, that is, plus some car payments she mentions, which, again, for people that rich, would be negligible? Or is it possible, given the scale of all this, that he was maybe also overspending, and maybe... by quite a bit?

Or! Was this one of those cases where a childcare budget is viewed as coming from the woman's income? That sort of seems to have been the case, because the sentence, "My husband and I pooled our funds and paid her for that week," comes only after she has insufficient funds of her own money to pay (cash, which is another story...) her nanny's wages. 

Sure, I want to praise the author for resisting overshare, and for not spilling what could be potentially quite dirty familial laundry. But in restricting the story to one her own clothes-shopping habits, the author winds up telling a story that both reinforces clichéd notions of what overspending looks like, and that somehow feels as if it's missing key pieces.

No comments: