Sunday, November 16, 2008

We Can Come Out Now

Good news for the thrifty--the New York Times Fashion Section says we're in.

One of the hardest things about moving to New York has been dealing with the constant obsession with fashion. There's not a single manicured, blown-dry, well-heeled, label-wearing maven who won't deny it, but that's only because it's so endemic here.

I made a decision before I moved here to live below my means. I left a job, a home, and a community that I loved to come to New York. But I wanted to live in a place where I could make a salary that was commensurate with my skills, and a place where I might eventually meet someone who wanted to date me.* Because I wanted to make the loss of a good job and community count, I resolved to max out my 401k and save for a home and a car, should I need to relocate.

I worked with some women who were real keeping-up-with-the-Joneses types. But there were a few budget-conscious people around, too. And thank goodness for my building, where women were careful with their money, and where I never had to worry about anyone looking down on my handbag or my shoes.

If anything good is going to come out of the bad economy, I hope it's a long hard look at conspicuous consumption. It encourages everyone to buy things their income doesn't support (so-and-so can afford it, and she doesn't make more than I do--I must deserve it, too), and I have a big problem with that. I had a problem with it before it was cool. I've lost friends over it in the past, and I'm sure that'll still happen. But the fact is that I'm happier living below my means than above them, and as the nation suffers the consequences of millions of people doing the opposite, it's hard for me to believe we wouldn't all have been a little happier if conspicuous consumption had been outed as stupid and reckless ten years ago.

What will probably happen is that the conspicuous consumption will go underground--there'll probably be a surge in purchases of $500 underwear. And as soon as stock goes up, people will be back to buying massive houses and filling them with crap they can't afford. For now I'm just happy that for the next month or two I'm not going to get as many haughty looks for my Sears jeans or my 2001 Chuck Taylors.

*This does occasionally happen in New York. Sometimes, the feeling is even mutual.