Sunday, January 11, 2009

Expensive Taste

I am a woman of expensive tastes.

On one hand, this seems a bit counterintuitive. After all, I in high school, I was the girl who wore sweatpants and T-shirts to school every day. I have never been interested in owning designer handbags—I still carry the same yellow L. L. Bean backpack I had in junior high school—and I don’t tend to like fine dining, particularly because the menu is always too small, and I like my food plain. (No creamy sauces or artichoke stuffing or crumbled Gorgonzola, and the fewer utensils, the better. I spent most of my college dining hall meals in college forging the bacon cheeseburger special, strawberry sponge cake, and metal silverware in favor chickpeas, Lucky Charms, and chopsticks.) I don’t own a car, and I have so little furniture that I don’t even sleep on a real bed. (It’s a very short, very hard futon that happened to be in my bedroom when I arrived.)

However, when it comes to some things, I am actually forced to buy high-end products. Shoes, for example. Size 11 shoes are generally not sold in the $9.99-19.99 price range, and especially not narrow shoes. (For whatever reason, manufacturers seem to believe the bigger the foot is, the wider it will be.) Therefore, whenever I buy a new pair of sneakers, I return to the tried-and-true Nike collection, because I know that they will be narrow enough for my foot and probably come in a large enough size, even at second-hand retailers. Still though, the cost is nothing to sniff at. My last pair of sneakers were almost $70, and I bought those at Kohl’s.

The same dilemma applies to pants. Recently—or, more accurately, for the last several months--I have been trying to find a pair of khaki slacks to wear to work. Unfortunately, khaki pants seem to be on the low end of the fashion spectrum right now, which means the style selection is extremely limited. This becomes an especially pressing problem when average sizes are too short, because only the higher end stores carry longs, and even they tend to refer you to their online site for those sizes. Still, even if I am lucky enough to see the cuffs of a “size 10 average” pair of pants reach the ground, they are usually horribly baggy in all the wrong places (as if a woman with a size 10 waist should have a butt the size of two cantaloupes), and I am painfully picky about the material (it has to be the loose, flapping kind that falls around your legs and looks professional, not the stiff must-iron kind that food industry workers wear).

Needless to say, my long-lived quest for pants recently led me to the 5th Avenue Banana Republic store. I had recently tried on pants in a Banana Republic store in the East Side, but when those didn’t fit, the dressing room attendant told me that they only carried long sizes online and at their 5th Avenue store. It is impossible to try on clothing online, so I headed over to 5th Avenue one day after work.

Alas, none of the pants I tried on fit. However, because I had made such a long trek and was browsing the sale rack, I picked up a dress and a sweater to try on, as well. I wasn’t looking for either of these clothing items, of course, but I needed a decent top to try on with the pants, and the dress was just pretty. Plus, I had tried on crew-neck sweaters in other stores (Target, Marshalls, Old Navy) and thought they all looked dumpy. I wanted to see if the quality of the store made a difference.

Short answer? It does. The sweater looked great. Unfortunately, even at 50% off, it was still more than I was willing to pay ($40 instead of $80), and I really didn’t need another sweater. The dress, of course, also looked fabulous. And the price? Originally $150. Marked down to $45.99. It was a beautiful shade of purple and 92% silk. When else would I ever buy a silk dress? So I bought it. My justification was that I can wear it for weddings. All my friends are getting to that marriageable age, right?

Now, I was quite happy with my purchase, but I also knew that to complete it, it would need shoes and earrings. I knew the shoes would be the more difficult item to find, so I decided to start there. I went online and began browsing. Let me tell you, purple shoes may as well not exist. Consequently, I got distracted and began looking at black sandals that I need in order to wear with my dress to my cousin’s wedding in February. When I found something I liked, I would click to get a better look at the “closer image” (because they must have a buckle; otherwise they will fall off my foot—note the aforementioned “larger feet are wider” assumption), and only after I had deemed the shoe acceptable would I note its price. The first pair I looked at? $700. A fluke I told myself. 99% of the other shoes on that site posted prices of $70 or less. So I kept browsing. The next pair that met with my approval? $500. At least the price had come down by $200, right? After looking at 36 of 48 pages of shoes, the cheapest shoe that I had seriously considered had been $172.99.

Clearly I need to get a higher-paying job than what publishing is going to allot me. I remember my 7th grade History teacher telling me that she would vote for me “when I ran for president.” So long as I don’t show at Saks before the election….


Neen said...

It's nice to buy pretty things sometimes, isn't it? I never shop, but for Joe's company Christmas party I tried on that very same dress! It was between that one and the one I have on in my facebook picture (which I found at the Limited). Don't feel alone about the purple shoes, they don't seem to exist in a reasonable price range for my foot either. I actually ended up wearing the purple dress with gold jewelry, a gold wrap, and gold Bandolino shoes (I happened to own them from a wedding).

I too have been trying to find khakis but have a different problem. When I lost all the weight, my waist got really small in comparison to my hips. I can either have size 12 pants that fit in the hips but gape at the waist, or size 10 pants that fit the waist but look like cling-wrap around my hips. I'll take the 12s, thanks.

My advice? Save a bit of money for a decent sewing machine. At least then you can alter off-the-rack stuff so it looks better fitted. I took a few classes and its been a great thing.

The only thing I have left to master is finding blouses that fit (or ways to accommodate) my lingering man-shoulders from years of butterfly. Alas!

K said...

But crumbled Gorgonzola cheese is SOOOOOOOOOO GOOD!!!

Also, according to my (sorority) sister Jen, the Payless Shoes downtown sells size 11. Also, Shoe Carnival in Robinson had some. Not that this helps you now, but if you ever come back to Pittsburgh, it will be useful information.