Shopping. Are You Feeling Conflicted About Downgrading Your Wardrobe? Cathy Horyn Says It’s OK to Switch Out Your Balenciaga For Som. Second City Style Fashion Blog

February 26, 2007 • Shopping


I know, the tragedy. You just can’t afford the Yves Saint Laurent tunic so you have to buy the one at Scoop instead. Alas, Cathy Horyn knows how you feel and attempts to explain the odd sensibility that comes with knowing it’s virtually impossible to purchase every piece you see on the page, but nevertheless feeling guilty about not being able to have the real deal.

Dressing Down
It may be that I am too sensitive, but I cringe when I hear a luxury tycoon say, as he kisses his manicured fingertips, “Fay-shunn should make you dream.” Easy for him to say. Fashion is horribly expensive. And when did designer clothes get so far beyond ordinary reach that it became necessary to give them an air of sanctity and suffering, as though we were pilgrims not for Mecca but for Prada?

Before the fashion industry began dealing in abstractions like “aspiration dressing,” it had real names that you could girlfriend up to: Quant, Khanh, Courrèges, Estévez. The clothes, like the best of clothes, belonged to the times — they were cheap and fun. And even when a designer label was costly, you didn’t feel, or at any rate acknowledge, a barrier to entry. It’s one of the great civilizing distinctions, pointed out by Tom Wolfe and others, that in the 1960s and ’70s you didn’t need to be rich to dress well. You just needed money. As a college student in the late ’70s, I bought Yves Saint Laurent, not much, maybe, but certainly I never felt harassed by the idea that my income (actually, at the time, my allowance supplemented by odd jobs) was a serious impediment to owning good clothes. Where there was a will, there was a way. And this remained my view, however shortsighted, until not long ago.

Last fall, shortly after returning from the Paris collections, I was walking along Broadway, in SoHo, when I saw a navy-blue tunic in the window at Scoop. The tunic was a hot trend for fall, specifically the tunic that Stefano Pilati designed for Saint Laurent. In Milan, I had seen Emmanuelle Alt, the statuesque fashion director of Paris Vogue, wearing the Saint Laurent tunic with leggings and Fendi granny shoes. I thought she looked amazing. Now, outside Scoop, I did what women the world over do: I mentally Photoshopped Alt’s body onto mine.

A few days later I returned to the store, unfazed that the tunic was no longer in the window or, for that matter, anywhere in sight.

I found a saleswoman, a thickish woman (in many ways) with brunet hair, and began describing the tunic. “It was navy or maybe black, with little pockets . . .”

She cut me off with the desolating whish of an eighteen-wheeler overtaking a Ford Fiesta. “I wasn’t working that day,” she said. She went off to confer with an associate and returned a few minutes later.

“We don’t sell tunics,” she said.

Big Brunette was beginning to annoy me.

“But,” I said, sputtering, “you must have something that resembles a tunic. It was navy or maybe black, with little . . .”

She left me and went over to a table piled with sweaters. Lifting one off the top and unfolding it, she said, impatiently, “Is this what you saw?”

I yelped, “That’s it!”

Once again I was grateful to encounter someone who should definitely not be working around old people. Big Brunette glared at me. “This,” she said, “is a sweater dress.”

I grabbed the tunic — it’s a tunic, you lazy bitch! — and fled to the dressing room, where, thankfully, a nice saleswoman helped me,

and I went home, another satisfied, if bruised, customer.

The next morning, girded by my purchase, I strode into the office. I had put the tunic, by a company called Alice + Olivia, with black tights and a pair of flat-heeled Balenciaga boots.

“You look adorable,” my friend Andy said.

Just then it hit me, like nausea — the realization that there would be no more barriers to grandly ignore. This little $280 tunic was not Saint Laurent. That tunic was $2,600. And no matter how hard I scrimped and rationalized, I could not make that leap anymore. I was done. There was nothing to do but face the truth….

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–Joanne Molina for Second City Style

Graphics: NY Times

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