On fast fashion and good buys

My Aunt Linda likes to tell a cute story of the time that she babysat my sister and me and brought us with her to a department store. We were each between 3 and 5 years old, obviously too young to really evaluate prices-- but we spent the whole trip toddling around the racks, looking at price tag after price tag disapprovingly, clicking our tongues and saying: "Too much. Too much." We were parroting the behavior we'd witnessed in our mom-- a very savvy shopper, never fazed by marketing and never accepting less than a "good buy."

Cut to the present day: I've just become a wage-earning adult in the media-saturated, post-Sex and the City world, where womanhood and femininity are ostensibly defined by buying $150 designer jeans, "investing" in a $12,000 Hermes handbag, and wearing ridiculously overpriced Victoria's Secret "lingerie." Thanks to my mom, for the most part, I'm just not buying it.

And I'm not alone: Last week, England's House of Lords published a report criticizing the environmental and societal effects of the present "culture of 'fast fashion" in which consumers "dispose of clothes which have only been worn a few times in favour of new, cheap garments which themselves will also go out of fashion and be discarded within a matter of months."

It's terrific that the Lords are confronting this issue-- but I'd disagree with the interpretation that patronizing stores like H&M and Forever 21 should as a rule be eschewed in favor of buying from more "quality" fashion houses. The reality is that today, fast fashion happens equally at the highest and lowest ends of the market.

The majority of stuff sold in mainstream stores is fleetingly trendy rubbish, at all price ranges. Frankly, if I'm going to buy a cheaply-made imported garment, I'd rather spend $20 at H&M instead of $400 at Barney's.  I know the workers are treated poorly and paid very low wages, so I'd prefer to line the pockets of the executives overseeing it all as little as possible, you know?

But that is only a lesser-of-two-evils approach. More and more, I'm trying to get away from buying new clothes at all, just because it's such a flawed system and the products are such crap. I like the concept of always shopping, but rarely buying-- continuously being on the lookout for nice pieces so that I don't have to buy fast fashion out of desperation.  This idea seems very French to me-- in the aforementioned Elegance book, Madame Dariaux cautions the reader to "never be seduced by anything that isn't first-rate."

It's not easy, but Jezebel.com writer Sadie Stein is now "three weeks clean" from fast fashion, and I like her logic: "The small after-work of pleasure of a cheap top... is something we've become accustomed to very quickly -—such a thing would have been unheard-of a few generations ago -—and I'm guessing that, together, we can weather the withdrawal."  Anyone else in?

Keeping up with the Ephrons

So, I have mixed feelings about writing a totally consumer-oriented blog post in an economy like the current one, but at least I have someone to blame for it: Mindy Ephron (aka Mindy Kaling aka Vera Chokalingam). 

For whatever reason, she has not updated her amazing, addictive blog in over 2 months-- and I am going through serious withdrawals!  In its absence, here is my own starter list of Things I've Bought That I Love.

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock, SPF 70

In the words of Ms. Kaling herself: Oh my God, you guys.  This stuff has completely changed my life since I first discovered it in Walgreens last year.  For, like, 10 bucks a bottle (which lasts for months) I can hang out in the sun all day without doubling the freckles on my nose!  What a concept.

Seriously: even though I vowed three years ago at the age of 21 (while on vacation in the Greek Isles, of all places) that I had officially gotten my last tan, ever, I am still always worried about the wrinkles, sunspots, melanoma, and worse that could result from my youthful sun-related indiscretions.  Wearing this stuff every day makes me feel like I'm atoning for those foolish years my Anglo self was trying to keep up with the "golden tan in time for prom" standard set by all those beautiful, olive-skinned Italian girls that populated my high school back in Western PA. 

Maybelline Express Finish nail polish in Blushing Bride

I was turned off the first time I tried Maybelline Express Finish nail polish in the late 90's-- I thought the 60 second drying time didn't make up for its dullness and terrible staying power. Oh my God, you guys.  If you doubted this stuff at first, you must RE-CON-SI-DER.  I bought a bottle of Express Finish earlier this year in a manic rush en route to a meeting when my nails were just a plain-looking mess. I'm happy to say I finally discovered the key to Express Finish love: buying the right, neutral, sheer color. 

In the months since I made this re-discovery, I'll be damned if I'm ever *not* sporting Express Finish on my finger nails (for toenails, I defer to professional help.)  It lives up to the claims of taking just 60 seconds to dry, and even if it does chip a bit after day 2 or 3, the color is so neutral that imperfections aren't all that noticeable.  If you'd like to have shiny, pretty nails all the time, but think you are too busy for anything but the dreaded "bony, unpolished" fingers of Selma Blair's character in Legally Blonde, this stuff is so for you.

Clif Builder's Bar Protein Bar

Numbers are worth a thousand words:

270 calories
20 grams of protein

And DELICIOUS.  Like, light-years beyond any protein-heavy bar made thus far by the likes of Pro-Max.  I have probably eaten an average of 5 Builder's Bars per week since they hit shelves earlier this year, and have not gotten sick of them yet.  My personal faves: peanut butter and vanilla almond. Yummmm, protein.

Wine, pricing, and perception

The NYT's wine critic Eric Asimov today wrote a piece about whether or not the pleasures of super-pricey wines are "all in your head."  Honestly, most everything that could be said about it has really already been said  (231 comments and counting on the story at the NYT message board!)

Since I'm not an expert oenophile by any means, I've just got two things:

1. A couple of weekends ago I had my first real "wine country" tasting experience at the Husch Winery in Mendocino County. There I sampled about 12 wines, and only felt I *needed* to buy one based on its total deliciousness: a 2007 Chenin Blanc that turned out to be the winery's cheapest offering by far at $11 per bottle.  The woman pouring that day also politely informed me that Chenin Blancs are kind of thought of as the wine world's version of, like, fondue sets.  I guess they were super popular in the 70's and have since seriously fallen out of vogue-- can anyone verify this? Cheap, and apparently kind of tacky-- but it was the tastiest to me.

2. The whole debate reminds me of this pretty fascinating Calvin Klein interview Vanity Fair published last month.  My favorite part was this, which I found to be surprisingly honest, particularly for a fashion magazine profile:

His father, Leo—who’d arrived in the States from Budapest at age five—was often absent, because of the long hours he put in at the family grocery store, on Lenox Avenue in Harlem.    Calvin, a mini merchant-in-training, would visit the store and remembers lots of conversations about the cost of things, a subject which interested him even then. “I would see grapefruits in the fruit-and-vegetable department, and some of them were 29 cents a pound and others were 49 cents,” he recalls. “I’d ask, ‘What’s the difference between the two?’ My father said, ‘Some people like to pay 29 cents and some like to pay 49 cents.’ I thought, Hmmm.

I learned later that that’s the fashion business to a great deal. You pick the spot where you want to be, where you want your products to be. Many people think just because it’s more expensive it’s better. That isn’t always the truth.”