that post with all the question marks in it

by Charlotte

​I was totally planing on writing about books this evening (specifically Swamplandia! v. Rules of Civility), until I randomly ended up on the NYTimes website reading the now-defunct Go for Broke blog.  Basically, it’s a blog about fashion splurges.  I was poring over the inevitable Chanel jacket post, and made the mistake of reading the comments.  Woof.  “Whoever spends five-thousand dollars on a jacket deserves to be tarred and feathered.”  Not a direct quote, just a distillation.  Also, “I make xxx per year, and I would never spend that much money on a jacket.”  I’ve been getting all shifty-seated ever since.  

I would totally spend that amount of money on a jacket.  No, I wouldn’t rack up Carrie Bradshaw-sized credit card debt for it, but as someone who actually has an Oscar de la Renta fund (hush up, you), the comments were jarring.  First off, why do we always have to have nice things or give money to charity?  You can feed the children and clothe yourself at the same time.  Instead of buying racks of polyester sacks that’ll only last a season​, why not just buy one jacket?  Which one is worse for the environment?  For the arts?  For consumers themselves?  Not rhetorical questions, as I’d genuinely like know.

Buying a Chanel jacket is like participating in the slow food movement or buying horrendously priced heirloom tomatoes.  The only difference is, one choice is (generally) celebrated and the other is (again, generally) reviled.  Wouldn’t it be lovely if that much thought were put into everyday items?  The weighted hem, the quilted lining, the double-bound buttonholes?  Wouldn’t it be equally as lovely if all clothing were made by workers who were making a fair wage and who were celebrated as artists rather than treated as property?  Can you simultaneously advocate buying clothing of questionable origin and saving (invariably African) children?  Does one life, one system of inequalities matter more than another?  Again, not rhetorical questions.

One commenter said that their grandmother can whip up an identical jacket using the finest materials for about $75.  That commenter has obviously never set foot in a fabric store, or spent hours hunched over a cutting table matching patterns and aligning grains.  If you consider the materials, pray that the workers make a fair wage (say, 20USD an hour including benefits), and assume that the jacket takes the much-discussed eighty-plus hours to make, then the cost makes sense. With the manufacturer’s base cost, wholesale price (to places like Neiman’s), plus the standard 250% retail markup (which cushions for sales, theft, etc.), the price sounds just about right.  (Remember this article?)

Also, and perhaps irrelevantly, we should briefly discuss the “lining the pockets of the fat cats” argument.  I don’t mind paying for Karl Lagerfeld’s lifestyle if that means getting a stunning a jacket and preserving an artist’s legacy.  He’s an artist, a perfectionist, and someone who appreciates luxury.  He also loves his cat, which means that I shall give him all of my money.  I like to buy things once and buy them well.  Sometimes I feel that I’m totally alone on this.

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