[Ed: We take a detour from our normal posts about cognition and management to talk about pants. Feel free to skip this post. Really. Just go on your way. It's a waste of your time anyway. I'm just working out some clothing issues in public.]
I recently posted on Twitter, which then posted as my Facebook status message, about my attempt to convince myself that I should spent ~$200 on these bike/dress pants. Something like 10 people commented on these pants, which is kind of bizarre in and of itself, and most of the comments were something like “Duh, of course you should get the pants – they’re nice, you can afford them, what’s the problem?” So this got me thinking about my reticent attitude towards clothing.
Part of it is that, yes, I’m an adult, and I could buy the pants, but at the same time, as an adult, I have to balance my wants with other longer-term wants and run an implicit cost-benefit analysis between dropping $200 on pants today and saving up for a down payment on a house. Admittedly, I think I weight myself too heavily towards the long-term, and almost never buy anything for myself (except books) (and I’m trying to cut back there by using this remarkable place called the library that brings me books for FREE!). So it’s hard to say.
I also have a hard time convincing myself to spend money on clothes in general. I’ve never been particularly interested in looking good, although I make abortive attempts occasionally. Mostly I make one trip a year to Macy’s, or in the last couple years, make one order on L.L. Bean, buy a couple pairs of slacks and shirts, and I’m good. So the idea of spending $200 on a single pair of pants is kind of horrifying to me as that’s typically what I spend on clothes in a year.
Interestingly, I’m willing to spend that kind of money on shoes. I wear shoes every day, and finding comfortable, durable shoes is worth it to me. I love my Ecco boots – I bought them two years ago and they’re holding up just fine despite daily wear and tear (my previous pair of boots lasted four years). I bought a new pair of Ecco dress shoes this summer that I expect to last me ten years.
But clothes aren’t the same way. Part of the reason is that clothes wear out. I at least have finally gotten in the habit of throwing out clothes with holes in them – I had a conversation a few years ago with a friend who asked me whether I owned any t-shirts without holes in them, so this is a bigger step than you might think. I actually paid for new t-shirts (*gasp*) which horrified the thrifty anti-appearance troll within me.
Part of the reason is I’m just bad at buying clothes. I’ve occasionally bought myself shirts and slacks that just don’t work on me for one reason or another, and that money just went to waste. Those just sit on my hangers making me feel stupid – moving back from New York was my excuse to give a bunch of those to Goodwill.
The couple times I’ve gone shopping with friends definitely helped, as they forced me to try on lots of outfits to find out what worked for me. That helped me realize that a significant portion of getting clothes that look good is finding clothes that actually fit. It wasn’t a magical process, there was no secret – it was simply spending several hours trying on things, and seeing what looked good. I still don’t like the process, and am mostly standard sized enough that I can order things over the web, but I at least understand that I could look nicer if I put in the time.
Which raises another underlying tension – I’m uncomfortable with trying to improve my physical appearance. I’ve always identified myself as “smart”, and to some extent, it feels like trying to also look good would dilute my focus. In other words, I present it to myself as a bi-valued choice, and feel like I can only pick one – looking good is explicitly not part of my identity, so I choose not to pursue it. Which is stupid, I know, but there you go.
Anyway, it’s interesting to me that I started thinking about all these topics as the result of an innocent twitter about pants, so I thought I would share. I’m most of the way towards convincing myself these pants would be durable and look good and I could wear them regularly for years, which would be enough to get me to buy them next week some time. Of course, they’ve added more pants choices since I first looked, which is just making the choice harder as I can’t decide which color or which material to get. Damn you, paradox of choice!