Last night, Jacob and I were talking about the difference between enjoying the finer things in life, versus having them define your social status and identity. There are those who enjoy nice things, but ultimately there is more to their life than Just Stuff, and they can make do with anything and still enjoy themselves. Then there are those who define themselves in large part by the brands of clothes they wear, the expensive places they eat, and the fancy beverages they drink. Afficionados can be fun to go out with, but they are ultimately boring. All they can talk about are the things they are interested in, which can sometimes make it hard for them to relate to others, and for others to relate to them. Their things make them feel good; without their things, I suspect their life would feel empty. I am sounding severe and kind of mean and presumptive. I don’t mean to say that I’m not materialistic; I like stuff too, don’t get me wrong. But I’m proud to be a person who doesn’t buy into the whole “anything expensive=high quality, anything inexpensive=low quality” mentality. Nor am I a person who believes that just because it’s so-and-so brand means that everything from that brand is perfect and not subject to inspection. I compare things before buying.
Good quality is something I was taught to look for. I remember going to the Ross with my mom for back to school clothes. She would let my siblings and me pick out the stuff we liked, but they would always be subject to my mom’s inspection. Even though the clothes were inexpensively priced, she still had to make sure the money was well-spent. She still looked for thick materials that wouldn’t wear out quickly, stitching that felt sturdy, and as classic as it could get so our clothes could still be worn for years to come. Definitely a challenge in a place like Ross. But it’s possible. I still look for these qualities in my clothes, whether they are from a nice place, or a discount place.
I’m not as financially stable as I’d like to be. My wallet is often full of moths. While I’m lucky enough to be able to treat myself from time to time, I generally can’t afford to eat at all the cool places. I can’t afford expensive drinks at fancy bars and lounges. I can’t afford to buy the clothes I want, and my online shopping carts for Need Supply, A.P.C., Reformation, Uniqlo, and Everlane have been full of items that I’ve wanted, in some cases, for years. It would be too easy to just buy what I want and wear it. But it has always given me a feeling of pride to put together a nice outfit out of nothing, old stuff just worn a different way, and still look put-together.
Every year since 2009 I’ve followed fashion week from NY to Paris; I’ve been following fashion blogs for just as long. I see a lot of weird stuff, and I also see items that are inspiring, with their beauty and simplicity and ingenious mix of materials, colors, patterns, shapes… But they’re completely out of reach, so I use the images and ideas that I like, plus the stuff I already have, to put together my own style while living within my means. In the process, I’ve created something special to me. It’s cool how an inability to afford the finer things in life can yet somehow inform good taste. And it’s odd how an ability to afford the finer things in life can sometimes result is tackiness and unoriginality.
There’s a unifying theme here: Expensive is easy, but can be boring. Cultivating taste and seeking quality where you least expect it can take some work, and a lot of dreaming and living without… but it is much more rewarding. Now someone get me a $12 cocktail. 😉