Fashion Statement

Richard Quinn

SOME PEOPLE ARE into fashion, changing what they wear depending on the season, their whims or what others say should adorn our bodies. In fact, I would go so far as to say some of us are addicted to clothes.

Don’t believe me? Check out sites like Poshmark, which—it says—is “a vibrant community powered by millions of Seller Stylists, who not only sell their personal style, but also curate looks for their shoppers, creating the most connected shopping experience in the world.” Got that?

My wife has a favorite phrase, “I have nothing to wear,” which is often followed by “Talbots is having a sale.” Nothing to wear? I’m not sure how she reaches that conclusion, given that it’s impossible to get into her closets to make a determination. I can’t imagine how much all that “nothing” has cost and I don’t intend to try. Next winter, we’re going on a month-long cruise. The “what to wear” conundrum is already popping up. Oh my.

Meanwhile, for most of my life, I’ve been told what to wear, except while off duty in the army and you don’t want to see those pictures. I have not purchased my own clothes in 50 years. That’s been left to my wife and daughter—and that’s fine with me. I’m as opposed to entering a shopping mall as I was to entering the catacombs in Rome. Trust me, I tried.

When I see the price of clothes, it brings on a cold sweat. Given they are mostly made in developing countries in Southeast Asia with tiny labor costs, why aren’t we as incensed with the markups on clothes as we are with the price of prescription drugs?

And by the way, what’s wrong with my 10-year-old sweater? It still works—and it doesn’t have moth holes, either. As I write this, I am interrupted, “You have on a black jacket with blue pants.” Yup, and the jacket is 15 years old and I got it free at a golf outing. What’s your point? I guess I forgot to ask what I should wear. Shame on me.

During our recent move, I discovered a dozen shirts and several pairs of shoes I didn’t know I had and had never worn. Since I didn’t buy them, I can’t imagine how they got in my closet. Just this morning, I was told I “needed” some new shirts. I pointed out the unused ones in my drawer and was told they were old. I’m old, too. Should I be worried?

I have three sets of underwear. In the name of organization, “someone” has taken to labeling them—”Cape” for our vacation home, “travel” for going places other than the Cape and a blank set for every day. In other words, three times more underwear than I need. My greatest fear is that a pair marked “Cape” is found in the hamper at home.

In case you think I’m engaging in hyperbole, consider that the average person spends around $161 per month on clothes. Women spend 76% more than men do—an average $150 to $400 per month. By some estimates, that’s $125,000 on clothes in a lifetime. Hmmm, that $125,000 would generate $5,000 a year in retirement income, assuming a 4% withdrawal rate, and I’m not even counting the investment gains the money could have earned. Sorry, have I gone too far?

I recall a story from a compatriot in the employee benefits business. He was giving a presentation on a new health benefits program. When he got to copays, an incensed employee stood up and shouted, “Have you any idea how much money it takes to keep two teenagers in Reeboks?” It seems $200 spent on health care is not the same as $200 spent on clothes.

The fall season 40% off coupons are starting to arrive. I guess that’s a good thing. We all know the math: If you buy something you don’t need but get 40% off, you’ve saved money, right? I’m looking forward to significant savings in advance of our next trip, especially when the perfectly good but old is replaced by what somebody thinks I need.

Left to my druthers, I’d be in an old flannel shirt and jeans from September to May. They’re comfortable and affordable, but it’s a fashion statement that elicits pitying looks. Ah, there’s the senior citizen who’s simply too frugal. Don’t believe me? Go high-end shopping sometime dressed in my uniform and see how you’re treated.

Richard Quinn blogs at Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. His previous articles include You’re on Your OwnWhat’s Your Plan and Staking Your Claim. Follow Dick on Twitter @QuinnsComments.

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