(and thrift, and Loft, and H&M, and Old Navy…)
Since we were talking about capsule wardrobes the other day, it occurred to me that some who remember Mommy Wears Prada might wonder what’s become of the designer pieces I brought home in 2008 after Good Housekeeping magazine decided to let a regular mid-American mom like me put “essential” wardrobe lists to the reality test. One whirlwind shopping trip to New York later, I was the owner of nine designer classics, with a stack of receipts in the neighborhood of $5000–several months worth of mortgage payments.
For those who don’t remember, I had something of a conversion experience. I had pitched the idea out of skepticism, but came around to deciding, on the whole, a $5,000 investment in feeling fabulous might be worth it.
Easy to say when it’s not your own $5,000, right? True enough. Before then, I had never spent more than $50 on an article of clothing I wasn’t getting married in. Since then, I very rarely spend more, as I rarely have more to spend. We’ve got three growing boys to keep in denim and sneakers, and the orthodontist’s lifestyle to maintain. But I do shop differently. I think about the value of well-made garments and accessories differently. And if I had $5000 to splurge all on myself today, beautiful, well-made clothes would be high on my list of ways to spend it.
So, have the so-called essentials held up to seven years of living life out here in the suburbs? Have they still got the power to make me feel fabulous? Well, some have and some haven’t. Let’s go down the list (prices are approximate, from memory).
Black pencil skirt, Prada, about $350:
I loved it the moment I put it on, and I love it now. This is one of the pieces that has absolutely proved practical for real life. The fabric is some kind of high-tech miracle blend that gets me through four seasons, size fluctuations, and every kind of occasion from hanging out to dressing up. I’ve rarely had to clean it beyond a wipe with a damp cloth, and I wear it at least once a month. We have many more happy years ahead of us.
Worth it? Definitely! I’m wearing it right now.
Black crepe trousers, Prada, about $350:
Those lightweight wool crepe pants made a big impression on me when I tried them on. They looked like a million bucks. But I haven’t worn them as much as I’d have thought. My lifestyle usually calls either for dressing up (church, social occasions) or dressing down (housework, errands, writing), and not much in between. The Prada trousers are perfect for wearing to the office I don’t work at.
Worth it? I don’t know. Probably not for my needs, but it comforts me to know I have a beautiful pair of dressy black trousers in my closet. Just in case.
Black Burberry trenchcoat, about $1200:
I’ll just cut to the chase on this one, and tell you yes, absolutely worth it. I can still throw it over pajamas in the morning, bedhead and raccoon eyes, and hold my head high in car pool. It goes everywhere with everything, and it will when it gets passed down the line to a daughter-in-law or granddaughter some day, along with the whole fantastic story.
Alas, I lost the belt while traveling a few years ago. I stopped into a Burberry shop in Toronto to inquire about replacing it, and am still waiting for the day I have $300 I have no other use for. Until then, I’m keeping my eyes open for a thrifted one, or even a close match.
Worth it? Hell, yes. But use those belt loops.
White cashmere sweater, Loro Piana, about $750:
This was the one item I really choked on signing the receipt for. As I wrote in the article, it was a step or two up from my Ann Taylor cashmere, but I had a hard time fathoming that it was seven times better. On a cost-per-wear basis, it’s been a total bust. I’ve worn it about half a dozen times in seven years. Because you know who thinks luxury cashmere is a hundred times better and tastier than Ann Taylor cashmere?
Moths do. Look it up. Moths are almost impossible to keep out of the really good cashmere. Even people with walk-in, cedar-lined vaults can’t keep them away. I’ve paid twice to have a professional weaver mend the moth holes in that damn sweater. Right now, it’s in a ziptop bag inside my freezer while I decide whether I even want to save it a third time.
Worth it? Only to the moths.
Gucci sunglasses, about $375:
Another item that was hard to swallow. If there was a difference between Gucci sunglasses and a nice pair of department store sunnies–besides a logo–I can’t tell you what it is.
Worth it? Not to me. I’m hell on sunglasses anyway, so I gave them to my sister. She can be the one to lose them, or maybe she already has. I don’t ask.
Red, white, and gold Hermes scarf, about $400:
This is another piece that I fell in love with immediately, but rarely wear. I’m afraid of getting it wet or stained or lost. I haven’t really figured out how to wear it in a way that doesn’t feel like I’m screaming LOOK AT MAH HERMEZ. It’s like a beloved set of china I use twice a year.
Worth it? Maybe as a very special gift for someone. I gave a soft grey one to my mom, and that felt wonderful.
Black Manalo pumps, about $600:
Slipping into my first pair of designer shoes was big conversion moment for me. On a cost-per-use basis, the Manalos are a bargain. Like the Burberry, they have magical bibbity-bobbity-boo properties. The patent leather is getting pretty scuffed on the heels, though. I need to take them to the cobbler before it’s too far gone. Did I mention I’m not very good about taking care of nice things? And did I also mention that nice things can be expensive to take care of?
Nevertheless, I’ll never judge another woman for what she pays for an exquisite pair of shoes. I hope I can bring home a pair of Laboutins someday.
Worth it? Yeah, baby.
Louis Vuitton bag, about $1500:
I still get a little woozy when I think about that price tag. Louie and I have come a long way, though. He’s scuffed up and a little worn around the edges. Been rode hard, and put up wet. He’s a thoroughbred sentenced to life as a pack mule. And frankly, he’s better for it. Life with me has given him character.
I was adverse to the idea of a major statement bag when I met Louie, and he still makes a pretty loud statement. I’ve gotten a lot less self-conscious about it, but there are times he just has to stay home. I think we’ll stay together for many more years, but I’d like to get another luxury leather bag that has less to advertise.
Worth it? The quality of the bag is outstanding. Cost-per-wear over decades, it’s arguably worth fifteen hundred bucks.
No, I take it back. Who are we kidding? It’s a purse, not a trip to Paris.
I’d drop up to $500 on a classic leather bag without regret. Maybe there’s one out there that I’d prefer to a week in Paris, or a Greek cruise, but I haven’t met it yet.
J. Brand skinny jeans, about $175?:
Like the Manalos, my first ever pair of premium jeans turned my head 180 degrees around. I wore those jeans for years until they were distressed in all the wrong places, and then I went out and bought my second-ever pair (Earnest Sewns) right away. If there’s one wardrobe item I consider essential, it’s a great pair of jeans.
Worth it? Definitely. Premium denim has miracle properties. I didn’t believe it until I wore it. And you don’t have to spend $200. For the same $40 you’d spend on a new pair of Old Navy jeans, you can find a thrifted pair of J’s on a consignment site like Twice.
That’s the whole haul. Of the nine items, five are still wardrobe staples, seven years later. Two are under-worn, but still loved. The sunglasses were fun for a while. The cashmere is my only real regret (unless you count my everlasting regret over the dress I left behind–the Ralph Lauren sheath in the photo above, which didn’t make the final editorial cut).
The real keeper, as I wrote seven years ago, was the experience. It’s worn very well.