Friday, January 1, 2021

(Very Belated) 2019 Year-End Shopping Reflections

Now here's a post that's a year overdue! I'll admit, it feels silly to look back now on lessons learned from 2019 - particularly about something as light as my wardrobe and shopping - when we know, in hindsight, that it's soon to be followed by the postscript of the dramatic changes wrought by 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But in the end, this type of shopping reflection is the original focus of my blog. Also, I really do think I came into my own in 2019 with regards to knowing and understanding my fashion tastes and preferences. Even if, starting in March 2020, I then had to learn yet another set of tastes and preferences to accommodate my new - even if temporary - work-from-home lifestyle.

Before getting into the shopping-focused analysis, some words about the larger, mostly financial context: April 2019 was when I first hit "net worth zero" - my student loan balance was finally equal to my cash savings and investments - nearly four years after graduating law school. (If I hadn't delayed my repayment progress by nearly two years due to the pay cut I took while clerking, I would probably have finished paying off my loans by April 2019. But that's not the career path I've chosen.) Then, in late December 2019, my student loan balance dropped below six figures for the first time, which really made it feel like the end was in sight. Since then, I've continued to ratchet up my monthly student loan payments, I now pay $5,100/month. Assuming no significant disruptions to my income, I'm now on track to finish paying off my loans in August 2021.

My total spending on my closet in 2019 - as documented monthly here - was $4,409.33, a personal all-time high. Totals for previous years were $2,729 (2015), $1,945.99 (2016), $2,883.13 (2017), and $4,016.51 (2018), as listed in my 2018 year-end shopping reflections post. I could even argue that most of my rather jaw-dropping January 2020 shopping should more properly be attributed to December 2019, as these were almost all post-Christmas sale purchases I ordered before the end of the year, though they arrived after. This would drive my 2019 total up even further. 

For all that I've been facing the prospect of, and then slowly chipping away at, a massive - initially over $190,000 total - student loan balance the entire time I've kept this blog, I've never been too worried about how much I spend on my wardrobe. Sure, the year-end totals look - and, in fact, often are - extravagant, given that my net worth was negative until April 2019. But whenever I've had a private-sector income - for four years out of the past five - I've always devoted well over half my take-home pay to "net worth positive" activities, a.k.a. loan repayment or savings and investments. Furthermore, with the exception of 2015, each year's total spend on clothes, shoes, and accessories is generally less than just a single a month's worth of student loan payments I'm making at the time, or would soon be making. 

And, as you'll see once I get into the nitty-gritty analysis of my 2019 purchases, I knew my fashion tastes and preferences well. There were no significant mistake purchases or shopping regrets that, in hindsight, I should have seen coming. 

Then came 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, and everything changed. My extremely work-from-home averse workplace is now mostly remote for me, and will probably stay that way until the vaccine is widely available to the general public. I deeply appreciate just how extraordinary a privilege that is, that I've been working safely from home with no disruptions to my income as of yet. It isn't much, I know, but 2020 made charitable giving a regular part of my life, initially at $350/month from March through July and then $200/month since. 

2020 has also made me even more serious about how I approach my savings. Since the end of my first slightly less than one year stint in biglaw in 2016, I've generally had a reasonably robust cash emergency fund saved. But my math for how many months those savings would actually last me in case of job loss has always been... dubious at best. (For instance, I did a double-take at my claim in a May 2016 blog entry that $15,000 in cash savings was six month's living expenses. Having now done the math more carefully, that estimate is not correct. At a minimum, it fails to take into account health care-related costs.) This year, I actually sat down and did the calculations regarding my emergency fund more rigorously, factoring in the cost of COBRA and my health plan's out-of-pocket maximum. 

I also decided that - because the legal industry did not respond to COVID-driven market disruptions the way I thought it would; the industry as a whole is doing much better than expected, but my practice group isn't really - I was more comfortable with a one-year emergency fund, rather than the nine months or so that was my original target. This shift required setting aside a bit more in cash savings than usual this year. 

That was a heck of a long introduction before getting to the actual point of this entry, an analysis of my 2019 shopping! For this, I've brought back the red, yellow, and green dots from my December 2018 post discussing my shopping from January 2015 through then. (And good gosh, I wrote such an incredibly long, convoluted explanation about what each color dot meant back then! I guess I'm a very long-winded, rambling writer by nature. I try to edit myself to be more clear and concise - that's a particularly important skill for attorneys - but it can be difficult.) 

Please note that this portion of the post contains affiliate links that could result in my earning a small commission - at no extra cost to you - if you click and make a purchase. Thank you for your support!

This time around, the colored dots are a bit more simple: red means items that have since worn out or were a bad choice for some other reason; yellow means something that, in hindsight, wasn't as useful for my wardrobe needs as I thought, though I can still wear the item; and green means the item was one of my "best buys" of the year. 

Red was a relatively small category for 2019, which is good! The Falke no-show socks were a shocking disappointment, one I don't think I could have reasonably predicted, given that Falke hosiery - I own two pairs of Falke Pure Matte 50 tights - is pretty great, just about as good as similar Wolford 50 denier tights, which are also top of the line. There's nothing good or functional about the Falke no-show socks, they roll down off the ankle easily when one is walking. With the Mejuri Dome ring I had done my due diligence to identify my correct size, going to Mejuri's Soho showroom to try it on. Somehow, I still ended up with the completely wrong size, so large it would slip right off my fingers. Either I was having an odd swollen hands day when I went to the showroom, or maybe the sizes were mislabeled, or both. 

As for the Mejuri blue lace agate crystal necklace (discontinued) from August 2019, it wouldn't have a red dot if I'd done this post in a timely fashion a year ago. I liked the look of this necklace, and it was still in perfectly good shape back then. (Though I admittedly didn't wear it that often because I have so many other necklaces competing for my attention.) Sadly, even though this necklace has been kept safely away in a little velvet bag in a lidded jewelry box for basically all of 2020, it has now tarnished pretty badly. So as of now, I can't really wear it anymore. 

Yellow was also a very small category for 2019, only one item. This navy blue linen and rayon-blend short sleeve blouse (discontinued) from Uniqlo is nice and floaty and a good material for casual wear in hot weather. But in normal times, I always prefer to reach for dresses over putting together separates for weekend wear in summer - and I generally choose lighter-colored tops when I do reach for separates - so I almost never wear this. It pretty much only gets worn when I'm on vacation, like when I went to Hawaii with my mom and my sister in 2019. 

Green, for "best buys" of 2019, might take a little more explanation. I think I have a slightly idiosyncratic view of what constitutes a "best buy" for a particular year. Just being one of my favorite items or something I reached for most often isn't quite enough to qualify. Instead, in deciding what my "best buys" were for my wardrobe in a given year, I put particular weight on the item being a pleasant surprise, something I really loved even though it was initially a bit outside my comfort zone. 

That Uniqlo x JW Anderson cotton wrap skirt (limited edition, discontinued), which is midi-length on me, was a very pleasant surprise, given that my last Uniqlo skirt purchases - another attempt at buying midi skirts for casual-ish wear - before then were a resounding failure. I'm extraordinarily picky when it comes to selecting skirts, I think because the proportions can be really hard to get right when I have fairly short legs for my 5'3'' height. 

The Elizabeth Suzann Georgia Dress in black linen was a bit outside my comfort zone when I first bought it, as it was a bit more oversized all over than I was initially used to. And that green dot really represents the combination of the Asawa belt in the same black linen with the Georgia dress. I normally am very suspicious of self-tie belts because it's hard to get them to stay put on the exact right spot at my waist, but this belt is well-designed and easier to work with. 

Sadly, the Elizabeth Suzann company in its original form was forced to shut down this year, in large part due to COVID-related challenges. The founder, Liz Pape, has now reopened as Elizabeth Suzann Studio, a significantly more pared-down business, but this Georgia Dress and Asawa belt aren't currently available to buy. 

It's probably no surprise that this Vince boiled cashmere funnel neck sweater (in a 2019 color that's no longer available) made my "best buys" list for 2019, given that I've continued mentioning the sweater often. I suppose the sweater itself wasn't that much outside my comfort zone, it's a very neutral color and I already had many other high-necked sweaters I liked. But being willing to buy the sweater at full price was unusual for me. (I jumped on it very early because, from past years, I thought the neutral colors might sell out in my size before the Black Friday sales period rolled around.) As it turns out, Vince ran a site-wide 10% or 15% off promotion only a few weeks after I bought the sweater at full price, oops. 

The Naadam cashmere joggers (in a 2019 color that's no longer available) were a completely new and extravagant-feeling product category for me. Though I got an absurdly good price on them due to Naadam's very generous 2019 Cyber Monday sale, I don't think I've ever seen a price that good for these joggers again. 

I wore these basically all the time I spent at home from when I bought them through late February 2020. (This year, our apartment is generally a bit warmer because we run the heater more while  stuck at home, so I haven't been wearing them quite as often.) These joggers are still in great shape, but because pants encounter a lot more friction throughout the day than most tops do - e.g., from rubbing against chairs or sofas when the wearer is sitting down or lounging - they do pill quite aggressively, both inside and out. I generally don't consider pilling a huge problem with cashmere items, though - it's inherent in the nature of the material, including when I try more expensive brands - as it doesn't take too much time to pick off the pills by hand.

And that's it for my extremely late 2019 year-end shopping reflections! I'll hopefully turn to my 2020 year-end shopping reflections in the next few weeks, but I don't think that will be as interesting because 2020 was such a strange, difficult year and I shopped significantly less as a result. I hope that everyone was able to have a good and safe New Year's celebration, even if it may have needed to be quieter than usual.

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