Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018: My Year of Somewhat Excessive "Joy" in Shopping

2018 has been quite a shopping year for me, to say the least! Although I track my fashion-related purchases and spending monthly, I'm not always good at keeping an eye on the big picture as I go along. It's only now, since November, that I've started looking back and feeling a bit sheepish, like I've probably shopped too much.

In total, I spent $4016.51 this year on 45 items (3 secondhand, all others new) for my wardrobe, as broken down further below. As a reminder, my total shopping expenditures for the past several years, since I started tracking, are roughly $2729 (2015), $1945.99 (2016), and $2883.13 (2017). I generally exclude activewear, sleepwear, underthings, and socks from this count, partially because I find them terribly boring, and mostly because I don't have a particular problem with overbuying them. Those are all negligible expenses most years.

Clothes (20 pieces)
·      10 cardigans
·      5 dresses
·      2 pairs jeans
·      1 jacket
·      1 shirt/blouse
·      1 sweater
Shoes (5 pairs)

Jewelry (9 pieces)
·      4 necklaces
·      4 pairs earrings
·      1 bracelet

Accessories (11 pieces)
·      4 pairs tights
·      3 handbags
·      2 scarves
·      1 wallet
·      1 pair gloves

I probably should have anticipated that I could easily overindulge when I set myself up with so few rules and guidelines this year, especially when one of the three guidelines was the extremely open-ended suggestion that I rediscover "joy" in my shopping. The other two directives sounded strict on the surface, the first was a general budget of $250/month, or $3000/year (which I've sailed right past), and the other was the goal of buying fewer total items overall (which may have been a silly thing to set when that's not a metric I actually keep track of directly, though it's easy enough to go back through my records and calculate the number). Unfortunately, I've never been great about sticking to more quantifiable, concrete limits to my shopping if I feel that my finances are otherwise well-managed.*

Incidentally, and I'm fairly proud of this, I'm now up to making ~$3500/month in student loan payments (resulting in full repayment approximately 3.5 years from now if I maintain that rate). Sadly, I still owe ~$142,000 in student loans (refinanced for 2.6% interest), and have a net worth in the negative five figures, after approximately 15 months of repaying those loans in earnest while also adding to my savings and investments (after roughly two years where my efforts were a wash). Alas, law school is a heck of an expensive undertaking!

Seeking "Joy" in Shopping

It may sound absurd for someone with minimalist-ish aspirations to focus on getting "joy" from shopping as their main goal for an entire year, but that has always been the focus of my particular brand of wardrobe-related minimalism-ish. Ideally, I'd maintain a small and tightly-edited wardrobe of well-loved pieces that I'm thrilled to wear, and then I use them until they're so worn out that they're no longer presentable. Then I'd replace them with something I hopefully enjoy just as much, rinse and repeat. (Plus, when I buy things that aren't quite what I actually wanted or had in mind, I end up dissatisfied and wanting to shop again and again for something else that's closer to whatever ideal item I was thinking of in the first place, as I alluded to recently.)

Actually getting to that small and tightly edited wardrobe is much easier said than done, of course. All these years, I've felt that my work wardrobe needs are a major obstacle. I have a much harder time editing my work wardrobe, there are lots of things I hate wearing (almost all blazers, for instance), but I still need them sometimes, particularly for court. I'm also much more fickle about items I buy solely for work, buying many iterations of things (like all those sweater blazers) to try and find a happy medium of items I think are comfortable, that I enjoy wearing, and that fit in well and are proper for the more conservative business-casual dress codes that govern the NYC-area white collar workplaces I've experienced in my career thus far. I used to joke that law firm business casual dress codes here are "casual business casual", because a lot of women associates are fashionable and push the style envelope a bit at the office, but the general NYC law firm business casual dress code is still quite conservative, relative to business casual dress codes in many other cities or industries. At the end of the day, we still have a lot of rules, some of them quite restrictive.

The main reason I set that "rediscover joy in my shopping" goal for 2018 was that I felt terrible about several mistake purchases in 2017 that I was never going to wear before I resold them. I'd thought I was completely over making such mistakes, given that I hadn't made any in 2016. Knowing myself and my habits, it seemed like the easiest way to solve the problem (given that I expected to have a solid handle on my finances otherwise) was to give myself more freedom to buy things I truly loved, and that brought me joy because they're beautiful and make me feel awesome when I wear them.

And I do hope that people won't think unkindly of me for taking great joy in beautiful clothes or accessories, that people won't think me excessively materialistic in a way that casts doubt on my overall character, or something. Longtime readers can probably guess that I have a few insecurities about this general thing. I'm always self-conscious about how lots of people out there could, from either the minimalism or frugality perspectives, be critical of someone who gets as attached to or excited about material goods as I sometimes am, and who spends accordingly.

Please follow the link below for some thoughts on my best and worst purchases of 2018, and my tentative plans for next year's approach to shopping, which will hopefully be more restrained. Also, best wishes for the new year to all, and thank you again for reading along here at Invincible Summer!

Best Buys of 2018

When identifying my "best buys" each year, I take a somewhat nontraditional approach. No cost-per-wear analysis here! The items I find worthy of the "best" designation generally aren't the ones I used the most, but are items that started out a bit outside my style comfort zone, but that I ended up loving nonetheless. I'm generally terrible at experimenting with new silhouettes or items (wide-leg pants and midi skirts are among the many things solidly outside my comfort zone), so anything that expands my fashion horizons even a little bit is usually a good thing, and much appreciated, at least when it's a successful experiment.

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Taobao "Cashmere" Turtleneck: This is the most potentially controversial of my "best buys", as I can't even guarantee it's actually cashmere, either in whole or in part. Taobao is generally the wild, wild west of shopping. Among other things, there's a lot of blatant copyright and trademark infringement all over the place (this item is completely unbranded, though). Plus, the shipping fees are often exorbitant. The seller I got this from, and the listing, have both long since disappeared.

This was an experiment because, before I got it, I hadn't worn a turtleneck in six years. I was convinced turtlenecks would make me look top-heavy in the shoulders and bust. Now, though, I know I quite like intentionally oversized turtlenecks like this. Regardless of the many pitfalls that ensure I could never, in good conscience, recommend shopping on Taobao to anyone else, I love this sweater (worn here), enough that I need no other for weekend wear during the coldest winter days in NYC. I also wear it to the office as much as I can. It is, for now, my "one true sweater", and makes me appreciate that I might like to get really spend-y on my next sweater (possibly next November or December unless something really good pops up in a sale soon), to get another heavy, more luxurious-feeling, and cozy sweater like this.

Coach Rogue, Dark Denim: What I originally wanted and planned on before I got this was the Mansur Gavriel large tote. But then I saw someone carrying this exact bag as a tote, with the top handles tucked inside, and I became obsessed. I'm so taken with Coach's dark denim shade (a little more interesting to me than navy, and practically a neutral because it works with all of my coats, including the bright red-orange one) that I've sort of impulse-bought a Lo & Sons Pearl in their similar pacific blue color.

There's no objective reason I should like this as much as I do, it's a bit heavy, and can cause slight twinges or aches in my shoulders if I carry even a few ounces too much. It's also not quite big enough to hold 8.5'' x 11'' papers or notebooks unfolded, which makes it an iffy work bag. Nonetheless, I love and adore it. It makes me smile every day I carry it, and I still find myself admiring it out of the corner of my eye whenever I pass by reflective shop windows on those days. That "pebbled glove-tanned leather" Coach uses for most of the Rogue bags is delightful, exactly the sort of soft, pliable pebbled leather I like most.

Sam Edelman Loraine Loafer, black: Can you believe I'd never owned a pair of loafers before I got these? They're much better for my fussy feet than ballet flats, which I can no longer wear all day without discomfort (with the exception of Rothy's which, unfortunately, present other problems of their own, as further discussed below). I suppose my feet need more support now than most ballet flats offer.

These Sam Edelman loafers are not a perfect shoe, the leather is extremely soft and a bit "smooshy" (my ankle sometimes slips out a bit at random points during the day, and it can make an odd, squishy noise). This does make me a bit concerned about long-term durability. One possible advantage of the super-soft leather is that, like with most other Sam Edelman shoes I've tried, these were almost perfectly comfortable on the first day I wore them, no breaking-in required.

Alighieri Jaja Necklace: Alighieri was the brand that first inspired my recent "completely obsessed with jewelry" phase, and this was my first purchase. This jewelry hobby of mine is definitely extravagant, and now that I have several pieces, any further acquisitions will become more and more potentially redundant. All these pieces bring me great joy, however, I still find myself admiring them on the days when I wear them. They're just so beautiful.

And I do feel like buying jewelry from small, women artist-owned brands is one of the better ways I can combine my interest in shopping with my interest in minimalism-ish and more conscious, ethical consumption. That still doesn't give me license to consume heedlessly and extravagantly, of course!

Worst Buys of 2018

As for the "worst buys" of 2018, none are quite as bad as the 2017 ones. They're all items I could still get some (possibly even a lot of) future use from. I also don't think it's likely I'll end up reselling anything from this list either.

Most of the "worst buys" are items that, in hindsight, involved an error in judgment on my part. I should have predicted that I wouldn't end up liking them that much, or putting them to that much use. First up is the Bloomingdales pop-top cashmere mittens, because the pop-top mitten lets the wind cut right through to my fingers, plus they're prone to pilling and a bit thin. Second, I shouldn't have gotten a Uniqlo cotton crew-neck cardigan in gray as well as blue, I didn't realize I'd end up loving that linen-blend long open cardigan from that month so much more. Third, I didn't need that Nordstrom tissue-weight wool and cashmere scarf in red, even if it was on sale. I'm generally satisfied with Nordstrom's store brand scarves, mainly the super-delicate silk and cashmere-blend wrap I have in two colors, despite how snag and damage-prone it is. That silk-cashmere scarf is a perfect weight and warmth for me, even in winter, which means that this slightly heavier wool and cashmere-blend scarf just doesn't have a niche for me. Fourth and last is that Old Navy ponte blazer I mentioned a few weeks ago: Although it serves a particular need that could arise any time, I simply haven't had any periods of consecutive court days or formal meetings happen to me yet.

I also have a few other candidates for possible "worst buys". These are items I like very much in some ways, and that I've sometimes praised enthusiastically. Unfortunately, they're also showing some defects already, after very little time, or signs of likely future defects. So each of these items could prove to be major disappointments to me in the long run.

My Rothy's points have been wonderful in some ways. They're the only ballet flats I've had in recent memory that I can wear all day long, including on my walking-heavy commute, and stay comfortable in. But they're also terrible in some ways too, that recycled water-bottle plastic gets so smelly so incredibly fast on me, in as little as two weeks of thrice-weekly wear. Though that leads to their other main advantage, how they're so easily machine-washable (cold water only, and don't put them in the dryer). The main reason I could never re-buy them is that, with my way of walking, I destroy these just as fast as I do most leather ballet flats (in as little as 3 months of frequent wear). At $145/pair, I just can't buy them again. Note that this might be an idiosyncratic problem of mine. I have a few colleagues who've worn their Rothy's frequently for a year or more, and they're generally not having this issue.

The other, arguably more unfortunate potential "worst buy" (and I'm still slightly be in denial about this) is that the 35% cotton, 35% polyester, 30% merino wool blend J.Crew uses for the current Sophie and Juliette sweater blazers (both worn here) may not be a particularly good or durable material. I've worn all three of them a handful of times, and am starting to see a lot of pilling all over the sides and sleeves, and at least one snagged and pulled out thread on the Sophie. I still enjoy wearing these, they really are a great look for both my work and casual wardrobes, but I'm very concerned about whether they'll get completely worn out very fast, and that they might no longer look presentable by this time next year.

2019: A Year of Relative (Shopping) Restraint? 

Now that I'm looking back and realizing I may have shopped too much in 2018, I'm trying to figure out how to change my approach next year. Although I'm typically a "shopping fast" or "shopping ban" skeptic, I feel like I should consider one for at least few months in 2019, though it wouldn't be realistic for me to try it for an entire year.

Admittedly, it may defeat the purpose if I plan to start a shopping ban for one or two months, stop, and then go back to it for another month or two. But if my body shape and proportions may change dramatically, hopefully early in 2019, I likely need to leave myself room for shopping once things settle down a bit, especially for my work wardrobe. It is, after all, imperative that my suits fit reasonably well, and that my work clothes are presentable and appropriate (though not necessarily fancy), and not too obviously ill-fitting. For now, because I hope to get things started in the next month or two, I certainly shouldn't be buying any clothing for which the fit, or how it looks on me, could be affected. (Separately, I also don't need any shoes because I have plenty, so I shouldn't be buying those either.) For the rest of the year, I'll take it a few months at a time, as circumstances change.

The other big change (and it may seem silly that I've never thought of this before) is that I will start keeping one consolidated "wish list" or "shopping list". Previously, I sort of half-heartedly tracked my wardrobe "wants" or "needs" in several different places: Some on paper in my bullet journal/planner, some on this blog, some in an Excel spreadsheet, and some on Pinterest, all in a very unstructured, informal, and rather disorganized way. Many a purchase I previously made had never really been on even a single one of my multiple lists. For now, it feels like Pinterest is the best place to keep that consolidated "wants" list. I'd like to set a rule that every specific item must spend at least a brief time sitting on that list before I'm allowed to buy it. In general, I should contemplate each item for at least a day or two, but hopefully much longer.

You'll notice that some items currently on the list are, based on how much their prices exceed what I typically spend, complete "fantasy" items. With those, I don't actually think there's any way they'll be discounted enough for me to even think about buying them anytime soon. It'll only be possible if I find the right one for a steal on the secondhand market. But, well, I've put those items on the list so I can daydream about them. Others are items that should be off-limits for the first few months of the year, until I know if certain things are happening or not.

And that's it for the guidelines I can think of right now! And yes, this does omit the obvious and important question of what my actual shopping budget is. At this point, I'm confident of my ability to manage my finances properly. So long as I'm hitting my other financial goals, I don't have a real problem with however much I end up shopping, though hopefully I end up not shopping much instead. Those larger financial goals are: (1) max out my tax-advantaged retirement accounts; (2) continue with aggressive student loan payment, and keep kicking up my average monthly payments by a few notches whenever I can; and (3) now that I have six-months' living expenses saved as an emergency fund, put some of the extra into investments in an after-tax brokerage account.

* I know that sounds terribly extravagant and irresponsible on its face, but I do keep a close eye on my finances overall, and depending on calculation method, I'm generally devoting more than half of my monthly take-home pay to "net-worth positive" activities including student loan repayment, maxing out my backdoor Roth IRA, and saving for longer-term goals. I also max out my 401(k) (no employer match though). With everything else, though, I generally don't have strict limits, as long as my larger financial goals are being met. If one category proves more expensive than expected, I cut another, more flexible category to make room, sort of like with the "roll with the punches" rule of the budgeting software I use, the old, non-subscription YNAB. 

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