Here's a closer view of the scarf, which I love so much that I bought it in blue as well -- both in Paris two years ago, this one in the red that somehow evokes that city for me.
Realizing the influence of this uniform's formula is partly in response to my foray through the spring offerings downtown Vancouver last weekend, especially at Holt Renfrew where I saw new dresses to love (by Vince and Graham & Spencer especially, but also a von Furstenberg wrap in a print I quite liked) and at Tristan where I might have found the skirt I've been waiting for. Somehow, though, I didn't end up trying anything on and I've been thinking about why ever since, and looking through my closet trying to figure out what I do and don't wear, what I might need, and why I shouldn't buy everything I want (!). I suspect my hesitation won't last long (I'll be back in the city next weekend), but I'd like to understand it while it does last, so please be patient while I think through some reasons.
Reason #1: Budget. While many of you will not yet be in a position to understand this, part of my problem is being uncomfortable with more disposable income than I had most of my life. Growing up as the oldest of twelve (yes, really), many, if not most, of my clothes came from rummage sales although I babysat and worked part-time during high school to supplement my wardrobe, and I sewed and knitted to stretch those dollars further. For a few years after university, I exercised the working girl's option to shop during lunch hours, but married young and had my first child at 23 with three more over the next nine years. Paul's always left family finances up to me and rarely questioned any of my purchases, but that only made me more careful about a clothing budget based on one full-time salary. I learned to keep us all well dressed and stylish out of the monthly envelope (we actually used an envelope system for a few years). Now, though, the kids are long gone and I've got full-time, relatively-well-paid work, with a mortgage almost paid (after thirty-plus years of home-owning), so my conscience is the main constraint on my shopping. Unfortunately, my conscience works overtime, yet has few clear parameters when it comes to clothes. (It tends to simply repeat, "Do you really need that?"!) Given my background, I'm not inclined to be considering garments (excepting coats) beyond the $4-500 range (and even that would be a big stretch), so except in ridiculously large quantities, what I'm choosing isn't going to break the bank at this stage. I tend to buy when I find something I love if it seems reasonably priced, decent quantity, with a good chance of fitting my lifestyle, even if I don't necessarily "need" it.
Which brings me to potential reason #2: Ethics. And of course, this is where it gets tricky. First, there are the environmental ethics of buying more when so many serviceable and, frankly, still relatively stylish and attractive, garments already hang in my closet. My environmental profile is, overall, quite decent, I think. Used cloth diapers for all my kids, have always cold-water-washed and used non-phosphate detergents, kept thermostats low, low-consuming cars (which I hardly even drive any more), very moderate consumers of home furnishings, appliances, etc., non-pesticide, xeric gardening since way back. But I buy more clothes than I need. Way more. Unless I completely change the meaning of "need." Which I have to admit I sometimes try to do.
And that's only the environmental ethics. There's also the ethics of me having so much when so many are homeless. We've been fortunate to be able to contribute to friends who travel annually to Cambodia and neighbouring countries, helping build and repair homes, schools, orphanages, and hospitals and, this year, to a neighbour who traveled to Sierra Leone with a gift of computers for work at the university there. And we give to other good causes locally. Still, when you know that the cost of the new dress you long to try on could buy a cow or a couple of goats to provide a family's milk for a year . . .
Finally, there's something that's not exactly ethics, but more like a sensitivity to those colleagues (especially the support staff), friends, and neighbours who aren't able to afford as much for clothes and in front of whom I feel uncomfortable about my own fortunate position (while knowing I've worked hard for it and done without for decades). At the same time, I suspect most of them couldn't care less what I wear, and I also know that my lifestyle, city-straddling as it is, demands a different dress than my Goretex and birkenstock fellow islanders. (See? I told you I tried to re-define "need.")
So reason #1, budget, isn't really enough to stop me shopping. Reason(s) #2, on the contrary, should perhaps stop me completely. Somewhere in between is reason #3, which is the state-of-adequacy, if not plenty, of my closet right now. Finding new dresses I loved last weekend, I paused to remember that I have, within the last few months, purchased several dresses I also loved yet have only worn several times. In fairness to me, I'd say that the occasions that require dresses also often require that the dress be a different one (especially in a small-ish town -- she's wearing THAT again?). But I've also just put in the give-away bag another Banana Republic dress that I loved at the time, tried last week to wear again and ended up admitting that it's a mistake.
Part of the over-purchasing or purchasing errors can be blamed on the insecurities associated with the aging process. Trying to find something that works for a slightly-different body and that will look neither dowdy nor foolish, change room after change room, perky young salesgirl after perky young salesgirl, can often make a dress (or top or skirt) seem just perfect when the home mirror reveals it to be somewhat short of that. As well, the vagaries of fashion often mean that several seasons will pass with scarcely any offerings that suit so that when a season with shapes and colours I love comes along, I tend to grab and hoard in case of future droughts.
Oh dear, I see this has turned into an ever-so-long post, and I'll have lost most of you by now, but if you're still here, I'd love to hear how, or whether, you discipline your own shopping, what parameters you set for yourself and why. I will admit that I did pick up a few things last week (a navy shirtdress on sale at The Gap for $49!) and I will probably try at least one dress and skirt this weekend. But I am going to try to work a bit more with what I already have -- remembering my New Year's resolution to Want What I Have -- and am also going to return more consistently to a practice I used to have of putting some time, at least going out for a coffee, between trying on and buying.