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Buying sly and sexy for self-esteem

October 4th, 2004 · 3 Comments

Why do women buy clothes? And how do they buy them?

I’m not a woman who can afford to spend hours on fashion yet I’ve been consumed by clothing the past few weeks while organizing my daughters’ winter wardrobes and seeking something to wear to Palo Alto in November.

Some of my purchases are passionate. And some are practical. I am a utilitarian shopper and only make the effort if I have a need. But eyes do wander… I have a few pieces that I loved at first sight so I brought them home with me. However they have a occasional quirks such as fabric care requirements, hard-to-match colors or a fit that is slightly imperfect. Yet there’s nothing to me like wearing something I like, something creative and colorful, something that says this is me!.

Occasionally I will buy practical. I’ll go to the mall for a pair of jeans or black boots and that’s what I’ll buy. I’ve discovered though that flexibility is a better asset. Sometimes even if I try to be organized and focussed on what I want, or if I try to build a specific look or outfit, I can’t find it. It’s better to be open to options. (Next time I go jean shopping, I’ll learn from Jacqueline Massey Paisley Passey…)

Then I come home with the clothes. Sometimes I have fun parading them before my husband. And sometimes I feel I need to make a little explanation about the price tag before I show him what I did with our money at the mall.

I don’t think I’ve ever hidden receipts from my husband. But apparently some wives try to keep their clothing expenditures secret…that is, when they allow themselves to buy clothes…

Women who buy on the sly: Guilty feelings persist even when it’s their own money [Seattle Times] (excerpt)

Despite women’s growing economic power and independence, the cost of their wardrobes remains one of the best-kept secrets in many homes. Even wives who earn money and need to dress well for work and social events often don’t want their husbands to see the bills. As a result, this “Shh-h-h, don’t tell” accounting is surprisingly common at all economic levels, according to fashion retailers and wardrobe consultants.

The secrecy stems in part from women’s guilt about spending money on themselves. But it can also reflect deeper issues in a couple’s relationship.


By the 1970s, as legions of women embarked on careers, domestic roles and expectations shifted. Now, von Sperling says, even though women have more power, their sense of self-worth and entitlement sometimes appears to have diminished. “They’ll spend money on themselves, but they’ll still feel guilty.”

Motherhood can pose another obstacle. “Many women who are home with kids don’t think they deserve to spend money on themselves,” says Mary Lou Andre, author of “Ready to Wear” and a wardrobe consultant. “They’re not working, not bringing money into the house. But taking care of children is tremendously taxing, and you need to feel good about yourself.”

Another guilt-producer is the bathroom scale. “A lot of women don’t feel good about spending money on clothes when they’re not at the perfect weight,” Andre says.

I use many of the same excuses as reasons why I don’t have an updated wardrobe. I don’t work outside the home. I hardly appear anywhere where nicer clothes are needed. With little kids fancy clothes are impractical. I usually wear jeans since we are often outside walking a trail, kicking a ball or climbing a ladder. Also I want to exercise more before I invest more in clothes.

And I do feel guilty when I spend money on myself. I have finally accepted the fact that the kind of shoes I need to buy to support my flat pronating feet cost more than $100. I need these shoes. It’s okay if I buy one pair a year.

I do feel good if I have something nice to wear. I feel it is silly to say it – clothes don’t make the woman – or do they?! but I feel it is true. Although I believe that the source of self-esteem shouldn’t be one’s closet, I think it can help to feel pretty.

My favorite new item at the moment is a pink patchwork skirt. I saw it hanging on a rack outside an island boutique and I knew I had to bring it home with me. I like the colors and the fit. At the end of the day, as I’m dusting the bedrooms or folding laundry, sometimes I’ll slip into this skirt. I’ll spin and twirl and feel the fabric fold around me. It’s a little escape, something pretty, something that says this is me.

I’m not sure that spending lots of money on clothing is necessary or perhaps appropriate or even wise for at-home moms (living on one income) but I liked this quote of justification: But taking care of children is tremendously taxing, and you need to feel good about yourself. I’ll have to try that one the next time I go clothes shopping…

This piece that Glenn Reynolds linked takes the opposite tact, arguing that the declining birthrate in Europe could be improved if women would heed his advice…

…So ladies, if you could just round up your Jimmy Choos, Manolo Blahniks and other fancy footwear and place them over there on the bonfire please? You won’t be needing them any more as I am about to show you with impeccable liberal logic.


…as for the good of the Continent you are going to have to go back to being barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. This might also cure us of the current plague of celebrity chefs as feeding your extensive brood on one income will require intimate knowledge of macaroni cheese, not foie gras.

The irony in this ironic article is that the author, Tim Worstall, cites the United State’s fertility statistics, as if these philoprogenitive Americans should be imitated. He also urges women to give up their fancy footwear for fertility. However, the Seattle Times piece praises the power of fashion in a mother’s life.

I don’t own any Jimmy Choos. I’ve been barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen on more occasions than I can recount. But contrary to Worstall’s opinion, I think those European women should be allowed to keep their sexy shoes…and buy more of them…for a number of reasons…

“It’s important for women to invest in themselves, whether it’s a foreign-language class, a cooking class, or a new suit. Anything that enhances you in a positive way is worth it. Then you have more power to go out and invest in other people around you.”[Seattle Times]

When a woman has power to invest in other people around her, her husband (and children) will be appreciative! And this joy will only increase as the family grows 🙂 Not to say that purchasing a pair of shoes or a suit will make a marriage magical or motivate motherhood…but it might help…and it’s better than hiding receipts or high heels from your husband…

Ah, the kind of day yesterday was, I could have used a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes. Or a spin in a silky skirt. Maybe I am a woman after all. I’ll have to settle for the Binary Circumstance Women’s T shirt I received in the mail this weekend from CafePress…;-)

Or a browse through Ariel Meadow Stallings’ fashion forecast.

Tags: women

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Christopher Kendalls // Oct 5, 2004 at 7:32 pm

    Perhaps you’ve slowly and surely becoming a serious shopper. Personally, the most I’ve spent on an item was about $50, I believe, one of Polo’s sportshirts. I may spend twice as much on a coat. I can usually get shoes for less than that. I’ll wear most designers and am willing to try out new ones.

    I’ve never been a practical shopper, if I see a good sale, I’ll buy items I may not need at that time, out of season. Like trousers, jeans, or a nice sweater. I’m a sucker for expensive pants and fine sweaters. Thin, comfortable, quality sweaters are hard to find for cheap. The one time I did find some shoes worth stretching out for, Bally’s for like $60, I couldn’t find them in my size. I wear a 13 mens, for me a good deal usually means Timberland or Rockports.

    Keep shopping though, it’s a bit easier for men to find a deal, I think, because the clothes don’t have to fit quite as well. I still wear my clothing sort or loose or baggy, whatever. I like shopping for purses though, not for myself, but it’s an easy purchase for a woman because everyone can use one and they’re always fun to look at. You can never go wrong buying one for someone, if you have some sense of what they may like.

  • 2 Phil // Oct 9, 2004 at 5:22 am

    > I hardly appear anywhere where nicer clothes are needed.
    Just a question from a guy, have you asked Ted recently if he agrees with that thought? 🙂

    And, yes, I realise it runs both ways so I *really* need to get around to buying that new pair of trousers–but short legs are such a pain to buy for…


  • 3 Julie // Oct 12, 2004 at 12:58 am

    Hmmm…thanks for the hint, Phil! 🙂