A question of finances

(via jak&jil)

In case you didn't already know, there is a fiasco involving an Anthropologie clothing specific blogger who apparently ran a 'personal shopping scam'. It is a really sad story, both for the blogger in question and the victims, and while I don't really know all the details (and I want to steer clear of any speculation), the whole thing has made me reassess my priorities and abilities as a blogger, a style enthusiast, and at the very core of it, a gullible consumer with limited monetary resources.

The sobering thing about the alleged scam is that it makes one question the motive of the blogger. One of the theories is that she was scamming in order to feed her shopping habit and that she was running into tremendous debt. Anthropologie is hardly the cheapest store to shop at (even though it is a tremendously crappy store), and this blogger who apparently works as an office administrator, had different outfit posts almost weekly. I've come to realize that a lot of style bloggers (especially the popular ones) must feel really pressured to constantly be on display. Let's face it, the reason most people go on style blogs anyway is for living vicariously through someone else.

A few weeks ago, someone left a comment asking me how I could afford to purchase expensive items with a grad school salary. I want to first point out that I have a pretty small wardrobe - I have enough clothes just to rotate through two weeks without washing. You know the whole 30 pieces for 30 outfits thing that is supposedly a minimalist approach to dressing? I would kill that challenge. If you took away lingerie, undershirts, socks, pajamas and gym clothes, thirty clothing items are all I have, bags and jackets included. I'd like to think that my minimalist approach to dressing is all it takes to afford nice, expensive items. Unfortunately, that isn't really the case.

The truth is that I'm blessed to have a spouse who earns a decent amount and I've always had a pretty strong financial support system ala mom. I'm a perpetual spoilt brat whose vapid indulgences annoy the heck out of even myself sometimes. We're not by any means rich, but I'd like to think we're pretty comfortable and fortunate. I went to college and grad school on scholarship (hence no school loans) and don't carry any credit card debts. Basically, my only real expenses are groceries, household items and dog care; the rest of my income goes into savings and the occasional splurge. The husband is thankfully, very frugal - he has two pairs of shoes, wears free t-shirts and spends most of his leisure time at used bookstores or gaming. He has absolutely zero interest in sartorial indulgences and thinks my blog a wee bit silly. We have a small car and live in a small rented house, sans kids and sans any kind of grandiose home improvement bit.  And thankfully, we're both antisocial creatures who enjoy each others' company enough that our favorite source of entertainment is either watching movies and drinking at home, or having a pint at the local taphouse and talking about politics (note that drinking is a common theme).

I try to save as much as I can on things that don't really matter to me, like skincare and hair care and makeup. I make my own oil cleanser at home and use the bare minimum of natural skin products (witch hazel, argan oil, moisturizer, eye cream and sun block). I get a haircut about once every three months in Chinatown for $17 including tips. I guess I'm pretty lucky to have mostly problem free skin (apart from a severe case of eczema in the winter) and my hair always looks the same no matter where I get it cut. I have one set of Laura Mercier eye shadow kit that has probably gone rancid and my mascara is just one big goopy thing that has sat on the bathroom counter for eons. I also pack my own lunch to work every day, make dinner most nights and hardly go for coffee runs, even though I need tri-hourly caffeine fixes. I know that doesn't sound like much, but when you put it all together, it remarkably adds up to a lot.

I think I've been spending more just this past 12 months because I have a blog. I've bought more shoes than I have over the last five years and I've indulged in really expensive things that would have given me a heart attack just a few years ago. I know I've beaten this into the ground, but this constant visual stimulation of pretty things causes indiscipline and downright stupidity sometimes. I wanted to share with you this very personal side of my lifestyle mostly because I want my readers to understand that while a lot of bloggers would have you believe that their lives are filled with expensive purchases and idyllic circumstances that spring out of thin air, it's most often not the case. Most bloggers probably have some sort of really good financial support system, be it in the form of a trust fund or a sugar daddy. Others probably work in high salaried jobs, so more power to them. And unfortunately, there are also a good handful that are probably living on debt. It would be wise to read style blogs with a more discerning attitude and a pinch of salt, because bloggers are really just people after all.

It's troubling times

via Seattleite

Following the last post about the price that La Garconne charges for a sweater, I wanted to share some excerpts from an interview with Jill Wenger, the owner of the high-end boutique, Totokaelo:

How do you deal with the cost of raw materials increasing?
If my prices increase, they increase. My customer isn't looking for the best deal, and I don't like working with that customer. If a customer notices the prices are going up, it goes back to educating your staff and your clients. It's important to explain that the cost of gold is rising therefore this gold necklace will be more expensive. The customer understands that.

Has the economy affected your customer base?
The clients that I lost when the economy fell apart were the younger crowd, like my hairstylist or the waiter down the street that relied on tips for that extra money. Our core customer remained the same, but I did hear more things like, 'I don't need another black dress.' Before all this happened, I didn't hear people talk about what they needed. People are buying less stuff and thinking more about their purchases. I can get behind that. I won't let people walk out of the door with a bunch of stuff they won't wear, and that's exactly why I don't pay my staff on commission. Our sales people can't have trust with their client if something is money-motivated. Our selling strategy and open return policy are the reasons why our return rate is so low.

I wanted to share that interview mostly because I wanted to point out that the luxury business isn't really concerned about the middle class. I mean if you think about it, (edited 01.25.2012) retailers can put out any kind of prices they want because there will always be someone buying it. The top income earners (if you make more than US$133, 000, you're in the top 20%) make more than enough to sustain the industry, which explains why Louis Vuitton has raised their prices by almost 50% over the last year even while people are losing their jobs. I think Wenger's statement that she doesn't want to work with people "looking for the best deal" says it all. I'm not sure exactly what she means by the 'best deal' but my over-analytical interpretation is that if you go in to Totokaelo and you're looking for something that is reasonably priced with all the perks, you're not going to get it. They're not a Hyundai dealership - they're catering to the Aston Martin crowd. So truth be told, high-end stores don't really want people who spend the bare minimum, they want people who can throw away $600 for a sweater without batting an eyelash. And that's exactly why La Garconne can afford to have a stupid return policy and bad customer service because someone is always going to shop there for the mere exclusivity.

The state of current affairs is depressing the heck out of me (see this article from The Atlantic), and I cannot, for the time being, allow myself to be sidetracked from reality by talking about shoes, bags and things that cost a three-month pay check. The unfortunate truth is that it's getting harder for the masses to have any form of upward mobility and that America is descending into a banana republic. It also explains why I've been missing from the blogosphere over the last month - I've been sitting and contemplating about my own finances and I've realized that sooner than later, I may no longer be able to afford imported prosecco or small batch raw cheese and I'll be that hairdresser or waiter who is no longer welcomed at Totokaelo.

P/S: Feel free to correct me if you think I misrepresented the interview. I'm probably the most pessimistic person I know and tend to over analyze and rant. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Correction: This article was last edited on January 25, 2011.