Tuesday, June 9, 2020

May 2020 Shopping Reflections

I originally planned to publish this post on May 29, but it was clear to me that, due to the protests occurring nationwide to rightfully seek justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others, it was not an appropriate time to talk about shopping. Instead, I posted about concrete actions I took in order to stand against anti-Black racism and police violence. I have now made the remaining $50 in monetary donations to these causes I promised, bringing my total donations to $354.30. To round out the total, I made a donation to the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, in recognition of the racial disparities in maternal mortality rates in the US, as well as an additional donation to the GoFundMe in support of Breonna Taylor's family.

My words and actions in support of the fight against anti-Black racism will not be meaningful if I do not commit to making it an ongoing, long-term priority. Monetary donations to anti-racist causes and making a conscious effort to support Black-owned businesses and creators will be part of what I write about here, as I've discussed. I'll check in periodically about those efforts.

As public discussions emerge about certain companies that have engaged in particularly egregious employment discrimination against Black employees and other non-white employees, I will try to do what I can as a consumer to promote better practices. Most recently, I will not be watching any more Bon Appetit YouTube videos until they (1) give backpay to many of the non-white employees appearing in their past videos and (2) compensate those employees for their appearances in new videos going forward (see discussions here and here, among many other places). I will be writing to Conde Nast to inform them of this. I should note upfront that my efforts in this area will necessarily be imperfect and incomplete, as employment discrimination is rampant.

Another part of my anti-racism work is continuing to do what I can to promote diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, but how best to do that is... a difficult and complicated question because large swaths of the industry are still an extremely conservative old boys' club. I ultimately lasted less than a full year in biglaw because I could not endure the obvious disparity between the opportunities given to the white male associates in my class year and practice group and the scraps left to the women and nonwhite associates in our class.

* * * * * 

Last month, my brain was still a bit kooky from continued social distancing. My sleep schedule continued to be all over the place and I remained unable to consistently read for fun. I had an occasional day here and there where I could manage a chapter or two, but those days were rare.

For significant portions of May, I wasn't that busy at work, which, for a private sector attorney, can be some cause for concern. Given my background, I tend to always be more paranoid than strictly necessary when it comes to things like potential layoffs, salary cuts, and the like, so I may be starting to worry more about eventual disruptions to my job security and income. Leadership at my workplace was likely not fully anticipating that we wouldn't be back to "business as usual" anytime this summer. (Here in NYC, I also wouldn't personally expect to resume complete "business as usual" by fall.) Furthermore, some additional non COVID-19 related events occurred that would significantly reduce our business for the foreseeable future. It's not the most stable time for me, professionally speaking.

I'm nervous, but also deeply grateful that our household has yet to see any disruptions to our job security and income. If anything should happen, it'll be quite some time before we actually need to worry: K and I are both extremely conservative when it comes to cash savings, and had each independently accumulated emergency funds far exceeding mainstream recommendations of three to six months' living expenses. (My emergency fund takes into account ~$1,600/month in minimum payments for my refinanced student loans. If I made only that minimum payment each month, it would take me four more years to pay off my remaining student loan balance.)

Looking back, I don't think there's anything significant we'd have done differently with our finances in recent years* if we'd known this was coming, except that we've always splurged a bit overmuch on rent. But we're also really appreciating our in-unit laundry now that we try to avoid communal spaces in our building as much as possible. That's a perk we pay maybe ~$100-$150/month extra for, based on my highly nonscientific comparison of prices for comparable units in our neighborhood, with and without in-unit laundry. 

In the past four weeks or so, I seem to have turned a bit of a corner when it comes to my online shopping habits. This time in April, online window-shopping (which then turned into actual shopping) was the only thing I had the mental energy for in the late evenings. It was still bringing me some entertainment and small sparks of joy, however briefly and superficially. Nowadays, online window-shopping is no longer soothing and no longer makes me feel better about the state of the world, however temporarily.

Anyway, I can't guarantee I'll stay away from shopping for the rest of NYC's continuing COVID-19 shutdowns. (Phase one of NYC's reopening began on June 8, but it's very limited.) I'd be satisfied if, in the next few months, I bought an average of, say, one item a month instead of three. And I'd prefer to spend my dollars on items from small businesses as much as possible. I've done okay with that last part, my biggest recent purchases have been from Elizabeth Suzann and Babaa, both small companies. Going forward, I'd also like to make it a priority to support Black-owned small businesses, though I've not yet done so when it comes to fashion purchases. (So far, I've purchased loose leaf tea from Blk & Bold Specialty Beverages and books from The Lit Bar's Bookshop page.)

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My social distancing experience has been characterized by wild mood swings about all kinds of things, so it's generally difficult to predict how I'll feel and how I'll do things going forward. But since the second half of May, I've been good about staying away from online window-shopping in a way that suggests I might not be buying quite as much clothes and accessories in the foreseeable future as I have in the months since March. Though before I got to that point, I was still doing a lot of shopping in May, as one can see from this month's tally.

Fashion - (TOTAL: $524.74)
  • Elizabeth Suzann Bel skirt, silk crepe, black - $245.00 - This purchase was technically made in late April, the day Elizabeth Suzann ("ES") announced this iteration of the company would close. But I'd already finished writing last month's shopping post, so I'm reporting this as a May purchase. That day, ES took orders for a last set of items they would make - along with March purchases, including mine - once their state government allows them to resume work at their warehouse. ES reached capacity quickly. This was the final item from their current product line that I was still interested in, it'd been pinned to my wish list a long time. It's difficult to predict how this purchase will ultimately turn out, as long and somewhat voluminous skirts don't always suit me because I'm short. (I ordered the size M, short length.) If the Bel skirt ends up not working on me, I understand there's still a robust secondary market for ES, so I'd likely be able to recoup a large percentage of what I spent without too much trouble. 
  • Babaa No. 15 jumper, oak - $208.14 - Between this and April's Babaa purchase (both with the 15% discount code offered through early May), it's probably clear that I'm extremely influenced by the super-stylish Erica. Last time, I ordered an item she'd recently posted, but in a different color. This time, I ordered an exact copy of something she's posted frequently. I swear I'm not being creepy! I just really like her fashion sense... As with the lounge set, the craving for this came out of left field. The combination of intentionally and dramatically oversized design plus super-chunky knit wasn't something I'd ever considered before. But all the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 made me want to wrap myself in a giant sweater at home. The No. 15 is good for that purpose. But I'm not sure how I'll incorporate it into outfits once we're allowed to move about freely outside again: This sweater is so oversized and thick that it doesn't layer well under my coats. I can get the coat on, but then I feel distinctly squished in and like the Michelin Man; there's no extra room under the coat because it's all taken up by the sweater! A few other quirks: With the rustic-feeling yarn, there are little bits of straw one needs to pick out; the itch factor is substantial at first, but gets better within a few wears; and the sweater had a strong lanolin smell when new, which subsided a lot - but not completely - after the first hand-washing (the smell also gets stronger when the sweater is damp). 
  • Lou & Grey Triple Cloth Midi Dress, dark ginger - $71.60 - (sold out) - This dress was another impulsive purchase. I normally don't shop at Lou & Grey - their styles are too casual - but I was browsing their loungewear and was really taken by the color and texture of the fabric, which looked nice in the official photos. As it turns out, the store photography is somewhat misleading as to color, the shade is less bright in real life. The 100% cotton fabric is also thinner than I envisioned. The dress is substantial enough that - under normal circumstances - I'd still wear it out of the house during the summer, as it gets hot and humid enough in NYC that one often reaches for flimsy, thin fabrics. Overall, if these were normal times, I'd probably return this dress. I like it okay, but I don't love it. But while COVID-19 shutdowns are still going strong, I'm treating all items as effectively final sale, I won't trouble anyone with returns. (For anything that truly doesn't work on me, I'd resell later, once things have calmed down.) Because the fabric is so light, this dress is comfortable for lounging at home now that the weather's getting warm, so I can see it getting plenty of use that way. While this dress is sold out, a matching set in the same fabric with a long-sleeved henley top and ankle-length joggers is available in a few colors. These could make for nice summertime loungewear because the fabric is so light. 

And that's it for May's shopping! It's quite a formidable list, all of it accumulated by early May. Time will tell if I'm correct that I'm actually over the "online window-shopping as distraction and comfort" phase of social distancing, for real this time. (I had a false alarm on this in March.)

My lockdown experience has generally been filled with wild mood swings and changes of habit: Just when I think I've settled into a routine at last, things change. First, I can't sleep in because of too much nervous energy - which is sad, because I normally love to sleep in whenever I get half the chance! - but then, all of a sudden, I'm drowsy and completely useless before noon, and then back again. Sometimes I get mild stress-induced tightness in the chest, and then it disappears, rinse and repeat. At first, I'm really optimistic that things can start safely reopening in NYC soon, and then I'm not. In any case, the question of when I'll personally feel safe doing "normal life" things again is a completely separate one.

* Well, if we wanted to look really far back, I probably shouldn't have clerked and set my financial progress back by nearly two years. But that's a complicated topic that implicates questions of long-term career development; the dramatic socioeconomic and "prestige" or school-rank-driven hierarchies in this profession; the inability of law school faculty and staff to give career advice that takes into account financial realities, etc. etc. 

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