Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The age of gild

The stock market has been behaving like a bullimic teenage girl: Binging, purging, volatile and unpredictable. Since in many ways, I have made no progress at all, I still act like a teenage girl when the weather turns cool. I drive around with the sunroof open and the windows down. I make plans to hang out with my girlfriends. I shop for new clothes.
Unfortunately, the world is falling apart and I shouldn't be going anywhere or buying anything except gas and groceries.

But it is hard to bite that bullet. Yesterday marked the official beginning of fall, and like clockwork, there was a nip in the air this morning. My younger son still wore his basketball shorts to school, but I persuaded him to put on his older brother's hoodie sweatshirt too. I looked at him with envy. He is tall, blue-eyed and adorable, and doesn't care what he looks like. As long as his sneakers are tied, he is good to go. I wish I were that easy to please---or dress. God knows, I have no business making purchases. And yet. I teach two classes a week and the black pants I love to teach in are getting worn. We have four bar mitzvahs coming up, as well as a fundraiser at our local, beloved arts center (NJCVA.org). I have three party dresses that I wore to death last year. I write for a magazine and occasionally, have to leave my house and do an interview in person. We have teacher conferences, back to school nights, etc. I need to look respectable. I make a tiny bit of money. I deserve some new things. Don't I?

Maybe. I write from home, which means my daily outfit consists of jeans, a loose shirt, lip gloss and a pair of dangly turquoise earrings that my husband bought me for Valentine's Day several years ago. I dress for comfort but occasionally, I dress to look good.

My neighbor recently gave me a pair of button-front Lucky jeans with fringed hems. (I gave her two Abercrombie shirts in return.) The jeans fit me well. As a bonus, every time I look down at my fly, it says, "Lucky you." And yes, I feel fortunate that my friend and I can swap clothes, but that fleeting feeling of gratitude isn't enough to stop me from craving some hardcore retail therapy.

I looked in my closet after I dropped my son off at school. I actually had some new clothes---at the beginning of September, before the poop hit the fan and we all started stepping in it, I bought a pair of black jeans; a low-cut, red, sleeveless tunic, and a blue, casual, wear-with-jeans shirt. The pants were too tight to teach in . I had bought them during a "thinute," a brief minute when I was two pounds thinner than usual. (Translation: Dehydrated.) The shirt was too sexy to do more than dance in. Besides, it was lightweight and sleeveless, which meant its wearable moment had passed.

There was only one thing to do: Return it all. Or maybe exchange it all, and get something new that way. I threw my clothes in a cloth shoulder bag and drove to Summit to one of my favorite stores of all time. Nothing in the store costs more than $400, and most of it costs between $100 and $200. The saleswomen are terrific---most of them are middle-aged Moms. Even the ones who are twentysomething and childless have been trained to relate to those of us who are fortysomething and still running around in jean jackets and flip-flops.

I pulled into a parking space half a block from the store. Another woman in a white sports car pulled up behind me. She was blonde, short and chic, and we approached our meters at exactly the same moment. There were nine minutes left on my meter; not enough time to walk down the block, return my clothes and get back in the car. I put a quarter in. That gave me 39 minutes to return and/or shop, but not enough time to do any real damage. The woman at the meter next to me saw the reusable, gray, cloth Willow Street (http://www.Willowst.com) shoulder bag in my hand.

She smiled at my bag and said, "Have fun shopping."
"I'm returning," I said. "That's not as much fun."

At the store, a saleswoman greeted me (she knows me too well). I handed my bag to her and said apologetically, "I'm returning." She smiled and took the bag. "I may look around," I added. She smiled again.

I did look around and actually took two shirts to try on. Then, at the register, I saw an attractive woman with a big red bag of stuff. "My husband works for Lehman," the woman said apologetically. She started to describe what his job had been and what he had been trying to do. Then she started taking a large pile of jeans and shirts out of the bag. She was returning a lot. "I left the belt in the car," she said, and ran out to get it.

I was rubber-necking. I couldn't help myself. Sweat started to accumulate on the back of my neck.

I thought about the shirts I was thinking of trying on. I didn't need them, and reminded myself that the only clothes I was allowed to buy was one outfit appropriate for religious occasions and a pair of new pants to teach in. What I didn't need were more casual clothes---which were exactly the things I was holding in my hands.

I don't know what I did with those shirts. I hope I didn't drop them on the floor. I know I arrived at the register empty-handed. I took my place behind the absent woman's bag of clothes, handed my receipts to the saleswoman and said, "I'm going to save this credit for when I really need something." The saleswoman showed me how much credit I had---close to $300. Then she pointed out that I still had a 10% discount towards my next purchase, but I had to use it by October 17. The future discount is the reward the store gives out if you use the reusable cloth bag, instead of a paper shopping bag. It's a clever idea---the store doesn't waste paper, and you have an incentive to come back fast and shop. Will I be back by October 17? Perhaps---on a wing and a prayer.


  1. How about the age of gilt as a title for the angst associated with your clothing returns to the "moderate" priced store...
    Summit's "Main street"(in this case Springfield Avenue) certainly isn't the Main Street that doesn't understand Wall Street right now.

    All those Botox appointments that will be cancelled now! The thought is shocking. At least it's Halloween season and wrinkles can be a holiday choice!

    Why not consider some real bargain hunting...China town for LV bags or TJMaxx for retail therapy...it is all a matter of perspective.

    Cheap chic should become the real thing! Why not lead the way and show your neighbors that this isn't the end of the world but is the end of the Wall Street bubble ...

    Let's see now, how to cut back? House membership at Baltusrol instead of full golf? Nix Beacon Hill ?

    Shop Rite rather than Kings?

    Can the children go to a summer camp that doesn't last 8 weeks? Probably unthinkable on that one

    Skiing at Great Gorge instead of Aspen?

    Downsizing the SUV lease from a Mercedes...

    And of course, continue to hold the line on those Scholastic book orders....

    Movies from the Millburn library?

    And the joy of all that virtuous economy!

    Main Street wants to know how the gilded suburbs will bail themselves out so keep us posted. In the short run, all these suburban tennis moms won't save the family finances becoming real estate agents altho surely some will try.
    Good luck ladies!

  2. Thanks for reading this blog. You're right, it is all a matter of perspective. I'm reporting mine.