Thursday, March 19, 2009

Musing: How European Women Shop and The Recession

Another article I read in the latest Vogue (with Michelle on the cover) when I was in the hair salon talked about two European women shopping in the US during the recession. Of course, the lesson here was that they are better at being smart consumers than us Americans and that we really should think about how we shop rather than just consume. At least that's what I got out of it.

So taking the two women in the article, I want to look at what each of them did and put my own spin on it. Since I don't remember their names, we'll call them "London" and "Paris".

Shopping for Need
London shopped by only purchasing items when she needed them. That seems like a no-brainer, so why is it so hard for us American Consumers to do the same? Do we have different definitions of "need"? Do we even understand enough what a well-rounded wardrobe is to be able to determine what we need?

I'll be the first person to say that I don't know what I "need". All I do know is that when an occasion arises I never have what I "need". For me, the biggest crisis of need is always when I'm traveling for work. I never have the appropriate attire. I spend the night before my trip madly running through stores in the area looking for things that fit that might work - which has gotten MUCH harder as I have grown larger.

Whenever I feel that I don't have what I need (when I reach that critical mass of NEED) I try to go through all my clothing and do a purge. This happens once a year. The purge is always followed by a shopping expedition to fill in the blanks. When I purge I find it helpful to follow Tim Gunn's book, specifically his rules about 1) Does the item speak to your soul? and 2) if it doesn't fit, ditch it or get it tailored.

Admittedly, I have a hard time with #2. Getting rid of items that don't fit is very hard when you're thinking "but if I lose 20 lbs I'll fit into it again". In that case, try to answer the question "if you can fit into it again, will you want to wear it or will you want to get something new to celebrate?" Being honest, the latter is often the case.

Buy Only Items That Will Go With What You Already Have
London and Paris both emphasized the need to have items that fit within your wardrobe. If it doesn't have a place in your closet, match well with what you already own, you probably won't use it much.

I've heard this same idea from my boss's boss. She always has an incredibly well-matched wardrobe. To make it easy on herself, much like Tim Gunn, she chose to stick to the colors of Black and Grey. That way she never has to worry about if something will "go" or not.

I didn't get the feeling London or Paris worried about matching a color. I suspect if you spend enough time you can apply this philosophy to just about everything. The most important part is that you have a clear definition of what YOUR style actually IS.

Buy Primarily Items That Will Last
Paris made a huge point of this last rule. She said that it's ridiculous to spend a large amount of money on something that will eventually wear out. She prefers to shop designer when looking at things like jewelry, shoes, or other accessories. You get more for your money.

This is the real "recession" lesson, I think. The article should have spent more time with it. You will have the jewelry you purchase years from now. That gorgeous dress? It probably won't last nearly as long. Shoes, as long as you can get them resoled should last you as well (unless you're me and just have a habit of destroying gorgeous footwear).

This point is also a nice way to think about shopping if you're either gaining or losing weight (for whatever reason). You can wear that scarf or that pair of earrings whether you're a size 2 or a size 28. For those of you who are like me and down on yourself for your weight, this is a nice way to indulge in the nice sales and prices from different designers that are going on right now during the recession.