Investing with No Return

Shopping, I love you, but you’re bringing me down.


I fell in love with Leonardo DiCaprio in 1997. Titanic had just come out and frankly, there was no reason why he and I shouldn’t have been together. But minor details like an age gap, my being in middle school and his being Leonardo DiCaprio, and geographic handicaps (I lived on earth, he lived in Hollywood) kept us apart. For months, I printed and reprinted images of Leo and plastered them to my walls. I’d kiss them before I went to bed and think long and hard about how beautiful it’d be once we met and my end of our love finally went requited.

“You’re the one,” he’d tell me.

“I know,” I’d agree.

And then we’d live happily ever after on land and never take a boat to get anywhere.

The thing is, I saw and met him two years after I’d initially fallen in love but it was nothing like it should have been. Sure, he smiled. Obviously I smiled back. But there were no butterflies or fireworks, and the magnified figment I’d conjured using my imagination was just that: a figment of my imagination.

When considering fashion, shopping, and trying to locate the perfect “Investment Piece,” I am almost always reminded of that very moment and the Romantic Dalliance That Never Could Have Been.

Who is the evil genius who beguilingly manipulated an entire legion of consumers to believe that they could actually “invest” in clothing and the accoutrements that come with them? I’m asking because I’d like to stab him with the $495 white patent leather boots I idiotically bought two years ago but have yet to wear once.

“These are forever,” the salesman told me. “The designer remakes them every season.”

“I think you’re right,” I complied.

He was right — they are remade every season but the fact still remains: I haven’t worn them once.

To be fair, it’s not entirely the manipulator’s fault. We are, after all, a mass of shoppers who have unwittingly tricked ourselves to believe that clothing is a reasonable investment. That we should want to buy things that will last forever because then we’ll want to wear them forever has become a curious, albeit deceitful norm among the denizens of department stores but we should know better by now.

Have you ever purchased something that you said you’d wear forever? Probably. How long does “forever” actually last, though? If I’m being really generous, I’d give the perpetually-wearable piece in question three years before it’s rendered absolutely futile.

We are humans, we crave change. So what gives with the allure of acquiring a sartorial stock? I guess before we can answer, we should break down the two types of investment pieces that most women look for.

First, there is the Tim Gunn-approved French rule of five that mandates you actually purchase “timeless” sartifacts (sartorial artifacts): a black purse, tonal pumps, a trench coat, etc. Then there are the items, like the mohair and printed in an almost-pastel, highly graphic, oversized plaid sweater that has elicited my writing this story, that we disguise as investments to help make appeasing our indulgences slightly more digestible. In the case of my sweater, no one will knock it off well enough to satiate the hankering. The thing is, when I learned that it retailed for a steep $1,200, I had to rethink how deeply I was willing to, you know, invest.

I tried to calculate cost-per-wear to justify spending upward of a baseline four-figures but that was a fruitless undertaking. I told myself that the designer knows what she’s doing and that I must be missing the big picture, but this didn’t make it any easier on my funds. I even tried to convince myself that I’d be able to wear the sweater forever and that’s when I got frustrated.

Why can’t I just want the damn sweater without having to feel like I must justify my propensity for it anyway? Wanting and getting are two fundamentally different things. I suppose I fear that my judgement regarding that which I think I should have versus that which should remain a want (like a celebrity crush), has become spectacularly clouded by a constant, nagging urgency to feel like everything I own, I should want to own forever.

There is, of course, an argument to be made that some pieces do get passed down and remain special forever, but in our generation of buy fast, have now, think later, how important are these items? Whether at H&M or Hermès or in the case of one pair of white patent leather boots, if we fall from the second camp of investors, there’s no way we’re not just masquerading indulgences to make them feel worth their splurge. The problem is, like my relationship with Mr. DiCaprio, sometimes these things really are best left loitering in the inflated trenches of our imaginations.

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