Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Today's cheapness accomplishments

-A lovely neighbor (with a charming Bichon!) giving away her sofabed ended up leading to a new piece of furniture in my apartment. The bureaucratic procedure involved in moving a couch from one apartment to another in a non-shack-like apartment building such as this one made me almost lose hope, but the $60 (including a tip) moving fee meant a $60 couch that, like, unfolds and everything. If we had cable, Jo and I could, in theory, each spread out on our own couch to watch it. Whee!

-Lunch at home (because of couch-related confusion) involved a too-long-frozen bagel, testing the limits of the toaster's 'bagel' and 'defrost' capacities, but keeping the total meal in the $1-ish range.

-A stamp-card meant we'd 'earned' a free half-pound of Oren's Viennese Roast. Huzzah!

-After learning that the stylist who gave me the infamous $85 haircut switched salons, losing me one free bang trim (I think? does this carry over from salon to salon? would it be worth going to Williamsburg to find out?), I took matters into my own scissors and, while technically it's not even or anything, I much prefer the style of the self-inflicted cut to the ones I've had done professionally.

-I walked right by the coffee place with the iced coffee I like so much that used to cost $2.25 but is now $2.49 (?) and resisted temptation. The freezing weather may have helped in this regard.

And now for today's cheapness failures.

-Sure, the couch was only $60 in moving fees. But we already had a couch. This was kind of gratuitous, in that it's a studio apartment. A studio apartment we may never leave, now that we each have a couch.

-Breakfast out at a certain Tribeca bakery-market thing, which I've finally come around to having croissants and coffee at (but no more!) despite the startlingly severe and repeated Health Dept. warnings against said establishment, cost more than oatmeal at home would have.

-This evening, tempted by a $22/lb cheese, I asked for a quarter pound of it, only to find myself with more like 0.38, and post-couch-situation, not up for making a fuss. So, I spent too much on cheese.

-Did I mention the dangers of dining in Chelsea Market? The Thai food itself is a bargain, but the place happens to be surrounded by ever more delicious and pricey options. The $2 piece of Sarabeth's lemon pound cake that will be breakfast was among the cheaper baked goods in the whole of Chelsea Market, but was nevertheless an impulse buy.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Getting it for less

Nothing shocking here, but still something to address in the cheapness and clothing discussion. (Via.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

A limited defense of slow fashion

This is really Phoebe's topic on which I am basically unqualified to opine since I've never even read anything that used the term "slow fashion" that wasn't written by Phoebe, and my main guide to fashion at the moment is what the undergrads wear to the library. (I've been noticing a lot of sweatpants sloppily tucked into Uggs--this may be worse even than mom jeans.) HOWEVER. Last week, I had an eye-opening conversion experience to (what I think, based on Phoebe's descriptions is) slow fashion.

What happened was that I tried to consign my old clothes. This involved schlepping two huge shopping bags of stuff on the subway. Not only did I look like a homeless person en route, I was subsequently subjected to a 20-minute scrutiny of all my garments which felt distinctly like an intense personal scrutiny of my taste and judgment. Probably two-thirds of my stuff got rejected, but I did learn a very important lesson, and it is this: buying expensive clothes pays, at least when it comes time to consign them. Every single item with a J.Crew or Banana Republic label was accepted, and almost everything from H&M and Old Navy was denied (and that was, sadly, the majority of my offering). (Additional question: Who actually buys H&M from consignment stores?)

Moreover, even the deformed pricey clothes made the cut, including a J.Crew sweater I tragically ruined through machine washing (back before I discovered thrifty home dry-cleaning), rendering it at least two sizes smaller than the original and not quite proportional. And while this did give the saleswoman momentary pause, it did not ultimately lead to item rejection, whereas several mint-condition (on account of my having immediately reconsidered the error of my choice) H&M items did not get a second look.

The obvious conclusion of the day's adventure was that, if I want my clothes to have any resale value, I should henceforth shop exclusively at J.Crew, a view to which, like the many women who use "slow fashion" as a post-facto justification of their preference for expensive clothes, I can be quite amenable. Now, I understand that this logic is subject to some exceptions. For one thing, not every garment can have resale value. Underwear, exercise clothes, tights and leggings--basically anything that goes unnoticed or unseen by the general public will continue to be purchased at purveyors of fast fashion. Another problem is that the math doesn't strictly support the theory of recouping initial outlay on expensive clothes by consigning them. If I buy a $70 sweater at J.Crew and consign it two years later, I'll only get about $15 for it. It requires quite a bit of cost-per-wear imagination to believe that I wore the heck out of the remaining $55 in the intervening two years, though it's quite possible that, being a vain person, I would enjoy it more than a $25 sweater. But again, what would it mean to say my pleasure is worth exactly $55? And it's not as though J.Crew is the cost ceiling for slow fashion--the gulf between purchase price and resale value only widens from there. Finally, I suppose frequent consignment undermines the purpose of slow fashion, which seems to consist in wearing every $200 blouse for the at least 30 years.

Still, I think there is something to be said for this plan. Usually, expensive stuff is nicer--it fits better and looks better. (How long it lasts is rarely relevant given that I don't wear anything for 20 years, and so don't work as hard as I could on making my clothes last.) Since I have a monthly shopping budget to which I mostly adhere, it is quite likely that I would buy less stuff if I bought more expensive things less often. Plus, I would really like an excuse to shop only at J.Crew at this point in my life while I am trying to fight the sweatpants-in-Uggs powers and hang on to what I can of my hard-won and now receding pre-grad school adulthood.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Spanx of denim

The writer who brought us surrogacy chic, who famously posed flat-bellied and high-heeled alongside the barefoot woman carrying her child, then again with the child, as an of-color, uniformed servant looked on, has seen the error in her ways, and is now addressing a more serious topic: after having another baby, this time the traditional way, her midsection isn't what it once was. Crisis! The woman needs a new pair of jeans.

Afraid that the mere fact of biological motherhood will cause her to suddenly appear in one of Kmart's less inspired creations, Alex Kuczynski decides the time has come to do as any other wayward 15-year-old would in her situation: make a cutesy remark about how the father of her children will totes leave her now that she's gotten huge; watch "Tyra"; and look for designer jeans.

And designer jeans she finds. Starting at a mere $178, you too can experience what Kuczynski charmingly describes as "trompe l’oeil-anorexia," otherwise known as jeans that fade to lighter down the middle of each leg, otherwise known as... jeans. They're all dyed like this. OK, not all, but it's harder to find jeans that don't share this feature than ones that do. (A glance down at my own legs reveals the same technique on a $30 pair.) This, along with the subtle addition of a certain percent stretchy material, has more or less defined jeans since forever.

It doesn't offend me that Kuczynski's all about the $200 denim, so much as that she's purporting to be an expert on Fashion, yet is on this bandwagon several years too late. The 'premium' look is the default, to be acquired inexpensively either new wherever jeans are sold or used in their brand-name form. Meanwhile, the jeans featured in the SNL "Mom Jeans" sketch she links to - high-waisted, pleated, and almost aggressively unflattering - are in fact so-very-now among not only moms but hipsters and fashion types. Oh, the trend is being mocked, but that just means that everyone is now out secretly buying a pair (see: leggings).

However, as this is Cheapness Studies, I'll attempt a more general point along those lines, which is that whatever anyone says, no, jeans are not an 'investment.' Buy whichever you like, at a price you're comfortable with, but by all means don't announce - to yourself or anyone else - your intentions of wearing them 'for years.' Other garments, if you must, but not jeans. Their capacity to stop fitting/look out-of-style within minutes has to exceed that of any other garment, perhaps making the very concept of jeans something a true advocate of cheapness would urge against.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Local grad student brings down H&M

Here at Cheapness Studies, I've defended 'fast fashion,' or chains like H&M (and my own house of worship, Uniqlo), which are often accused of being inherently wasteful, encouraging us to buy according to 15-minute trends, thus creating landfills entirely made up of harem pants and jeggings. My argument: cheapness means buying cheap clothes, but pretending they cost a fortune. Do this - that is, buy fewer clothes from the chains, and take better care of them - and you will find that the clothes They told you would fall apart instantly keep just fine, year after year.

But! H&M is apparently the devil after all, but not for the reason usually given, i.e. the low quality of their goods. A CUNY grad student discovered that the store on 34th Street destroys unworn clothes so that if they're not bought by H&M customers, no one can have them. And, as the NYT sums up: "It is winter. A third of the city is poor. And unworn clothing is being destroyed nightly."

Of course, if 'slow-fashion' stores are to blame for the same practice, blaming H&M for not charging more for its clothes (see passage in this post and accompanying comments, along with prior comments at Racked) seems a bit beside the point. It's quite possible to condemn H&M's behavior without attributing it to their clothes being cheap, if even expensive goods get this treatment.

Where does all the waste come from? No doubt landfills see more H&M than Prada. But per shopper, who buys more, the woman with a shopping cart at Old Navy or the one with a personal shopper at Bergdorfs? Fast fashion means more waste overall, but more options for those with less. Are fast-fashion stores really purveyors of disposable goods any more than places slightly more upscale? In total, no doubt, because there are so many more of them, but per person? The near-infinite presence of new-looking H&M at both vintage and thrift stores suggests such chains are, in fact, used by some well-off (or non-frugal) women as a source of so-very-now get-ups, but, because this is not how I myself shop at such stores, and I'm neither impoverished nor a cheapness saint, I question whether this is the normal approach to them.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Cheapness resolutions

2009 was a good year on the cheapness front. I rarely get breakfast out, and I managed to move into a new, much nicer apartment with the same rent as the old hovel. I've discovered bulk foods (OK, not quite discovered, but found sources that are not as inconvenient as Sahadi's) and a new way of making canned tomatoes into amazing pasta sauce (hint: lots of red pepper flakes and garlic). I've found one shade of nail polish I like, thus eliminating Duane Reade impulse purchases.

But there's always room for improvement, and on that note, in order of most to least realistic:

-Less Uniqlo. Not no Uniqlo, which would be futile, but when the new +J line comes out later this month, I will look, but not feel the compulsion to buy, particularly because I'm not in the market for a pastel-colored puffy vest.

-One cheese at a time, two at most. More simply does not get finished. (The cheddar, Parmesan, and Stilton currently in the fridge are, believe it or not, an improvement. Sometimes I'll count and realize I've reached seven.)

-No more monthly Metrocards once the snowy season ends - an hour-long walk to school is still quite doable, and through the less-obnoxious streets of Tribeca and SoHo, preferably combined with an NPR or Slate podcast, a painless form of exercise.

-No coffee beverages purchased outside. (Why do I even pretend? However much coffee I have at home, I'll want more later, and there are currently at least four good coffee options near campus. A thermos... makes sense, but between library books and teaching materials would go where exactly? And I'm not getting the $3-plus drinks anyway, so guilting myself out of this would be a tough one.)

-Make my own pastries. (Here, the time-is-money issue arises, as does my recent rediscovery of a patisserie oh so conveniently located between a subway I can take and my office. Since I will be taking the subway.)