I spent the morning at the mall. There is no place quite so effective at bringing out my internal war over frugality (and the economy of my home) and responsibility (and the economy of the world). This is the site where these two things come into conflict. My usual solution to this conflict is to avoid it: dress in used clothing, repair, and make do. This only gets me so far, though, and sometimes I have to confront reality. Sometimes I need, as Amber Strocel put it, pants I love, not just the ones that will make do and not alarm me too much. I did this through consignment and thrift stores for 15 years when we lived in a major urban centre, but it doesn’t really work in a community of 30,000. There isn’t much high quality stuff flowing down through the pipes, because it doesn’t get here to purchase in the first place. The stuff at the thrift store is the same as the stuff at the mall, only older.
Today, I was on a dual quest, for both a winter coat AND a pair of boots. I was exceedingly successful with the coat, finding one that had long enough sleeves, and even made me look smaller after I put it on. This is a very strange feature in a piece of padded clothing. What is more, it was on the clearance rack, bringing it to just under $60. This is where things started to get strange. (Only in my head, mind you. The mall was exactly as it had been before I arrived and started imposing my absurdist worldview on it.) $60. For a designer wool knee-length coat? Are clothes getting cheaper? I don’t buy new very often, but I had been noticing an awful lot of $10 price signs, or 2 for $40 pants, or final clearance pieces in the single digits. So I put the coat on hold and wandered the other stores, keeping an eye out for boots, but also taking a good look at what it was that this mall thing contained. And the set fell away (as it often does) leaving me looking at the racks of costumes. This is what you wear to be a proper older woman in our culture. This is the store you go to for Young not-quite-professional but office-worker costumes. This coat is appropriate for me, but not for my friend’s daughter. Too old. Too young. Too cheap. And that was what I noticed most. The fabrics are thinner. All the fabrics are thinner, even on these functional coats for a windy northern market. The look of the thing has become so important that it’s function has been stripped away to the bare minimum. (You can see that it might not be much fun to go shopping with me, eh?) But when you get too close, the fabrics feel cheap. They look cheap. I don’t know how I can tell, I just can. We seem to have passed some point where we are so focused on the costume that we are no longer even pretending that it is otherwise.
Standing there in that mall, I found myself holding ostensible boots in my hand. They are too thin. They feel like they are made of paper. I was pretty sure that they will be neither warm, nor waterproof, and they will only look good for a couple of months. But they were the only ones that didn’t hurt my feet, so I bought them. Even as I did so, I knew I was purchasing a costume. This is the ‘woman goes to the theatre in her new coat’ costume. Accessories: $65. [I will note that even while I was standing there, I realized that this is exactly the scenario that the author uses to introduce the problem in Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture.]
|When I got them home, I took them out and looked at them. “But,” I thought, “I don’t need a costume. I won’t be wearing these in a fashion shoot [like the woman to the left], or on a runway, or even at the mall. What I need is boots that will actually do the job of boots… that is, keep the feet warm and dry.” So the costume boots will be going back to be replaced by something with a little more heft, even if it doesn’t look right with a skirt. I’ve proven I can costume myself to my own satisfaction. Now Sensible Seonaid gets to run the show for a few more days.|
… Actually, her boots look like they might do the job…