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Friday, February 23, 2007

Keeping Warm in Winter

We've been mighty cold here lately. We've had some snow, some sleet, some ice and now its just plain cold. Walking the dog is pure discipline -- even our clueless pooch is none-too-eager to be outside for very long. His fur coat isn't enough to keep the howling winds at bay and he seems to prefer a spot beside the woodstove for most of the day. I can't say I blame him. I'm struggling to stay warm as well. My husband would tell you that my struggle is NOT staying warm, but, rather staying warm while looking fashionable. And I suppose he's right. I need to be warm. I want to look good while doing that. I cannot stand that frumpy, bundled up, blob of a person under all that clothing kind of a look.
Today, at the grocery store, I noticed a lovely looking woman. She was bundled up to be sure. We all are. She even had on the big, puffy black boots that I make fun of -- even though I wear them when its cold like this. Black puffy boots, black heavy tights, black skirt cut just above the knee, red turtleneck, black sweater over the turtleneck and a terrific black heavy coat. She had on an adorable knit hat -- not a ski hat -- a cute shaped knitted hat in black -- and a black and red scarf. She looked adorable --- cute --- chic. Most of all, she looked warm.
I've been noticing a lot of fur lately too. I have no idea how much of it is real fur and how much of it is faux. Really don't care either. I've been wearing my faux fur quite a bit. And its warm -- really warm. I often feel overdressed in it -- but I'm warm. The problem is: I can't figure out what to pair with it for a hat or even a scarf. Gloves aren't so tricky, but none of my hats or scarves seem to look right with it. And I'm noticing that none of the women I'm seeing with furs seem to be wearing hats or scarves either. Maybe furs just don't go with hats or scarves?? And I'm not willing to do the full fur look and get one of those big furry hats. No, no, no.
I am getting a lot of mileage out of my Scottish Fisherman's coat as well. I have no idea what this thing is made out of, but it is warm. I bought it several years ago in Scotland -- at the time, I could barely stand to try it on, it was so warm. But I'm loving it right now. Paired up with jeans and other casual clothing, it looks great and it keeps me warm. Its looking pretty good with a tan hat and a plaid scarf (of course, a plaid scarf -- its Scottish!)
I'm also wearing my cashmere sweaters like crazy. I hadn't owned one until about two years ago -- and I'm astounded at how warm they really are. This year, I added a silvery grey one from the clearance rack at Lord and Taylor. It was a good price -- and I love the color. It accents the grey in my hair quite nicely -- goes with a lot of my pants and jackets-- and its warm. If I had known how warm cashmere can be, I would have worked harder at acquring more of it -- lots more of it.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Lessons from Florida

We just returned from a short trip to Florida. It was all business for my poor husband, but I found myself enjoying the beach and wandering about in the resort town of Captiva for the weekend. This posh town is home to many upscale second homes and is a destination for many of the wealthy who want to get away from the winter up north.
I don't often find myself agog anymore at grandiose homes, but some of Captiva was rather spectacular. I stopped in at one of the local real estate offices and found myself a bit jarred by the price tags both for week-long rentals and for purchasing these homes. A walk through the town was also rather impressive. The homes were very large, mostly ocean facing (all right, it is the Gulf of Mexico, its still ocean facing) and had lush landscaping. Many of them also had screened in tennis courts, pools or garden areas. I was a bit mystified by all the screening -- even the third floor porches at our resort/hotel were screened. Then one of the kind ladies clued me in: there are a large number of unwanted intruders -- the animal kind!! The screens keep out snakes, birds, and the occasional alligator --- I didn't even ask if that included the third floor screening.
This is the slow time of year for this little resort town. Things will really pick up again in mid-February when school vacations begin. That allowed me to wander through the town and chat with storekeepers without the pressure of the crowds. This is when I found myself in a small upscale gift shop learning how these ladies identify potential customers.
I was standing in the corner enjoying the display of Christmas tree ornaments, when I realized that the two ladies working in this little shop were signalling each other with little nods toward customers. After a few customers, it became observable that the signal had to do with who was "just looking" and who might be buying. I wondered how they were making this determination -- and with my usual quest for education, I asked.
The ladies were a bit sheepish at first, but acknowledged that, indeed, they 'screened' visitors to the shop for potential for purchase. The shopkeepers had observed that the truly upper-class women rarely purchased from this shop -- it was too touristy for them. Strictly working class women would visit the shop and ooh and ahh, but could rarely afford to purchase anything of real consequence (the shop was rather expensive). They were looking for the women with enough money to afford the store and little enough class and taste to want the items they had for sale (my editorializing, not theirs) Once all of the other customers had left the shop, they were happy to share their insider tricks with me.
First, they looked for size. This one surprised me. But according to the shopladies, this is the first and best indicator. Wealthy, upper-class women are rarely overweight. They are certainly not obese. The upper-middle class women, who were most often still trim but might be a bit larger were their best customers. Truly large women were very unlikely candidates in their minds.
Their second point of notice was the shirt or top a woman was wearing. Tourist t-shirts with beach names emblazoned on them had potential. T-shirts with animals, smarmy sayings or Maxine cartoons were definitely out. The best candidates were wearing polo or golf shirts with coordinating pants. Women in what I would call basics were out. The simple white cotton blouse and navy skirt I was wearing had eliminated me almost immediately. The shopkeepers were looking for the plaids, the patterns and the little matching trim that marks something sold as an "outfit".
Their final criterion for spotting potential buyers was a quick check of accessories. Lots of gold and lots of designer labels spelled buyer, buyer, buyer. Again, plain, basic and simple did not mark a customer for these women. In their experience, simple and plain meant wealthy and tasteful -- not likely to buy.
I spent my walk home thinking hard about these earmarks. I often forget that each of us broadcasts so loudly all of this intensely personal information about ourselves every time we walk outside our doors. It doesn't mean that everyone around us notices or is able to read our information -- but the information is there for the having. Since, for me, riding on the coattails is at least partly about creating the image of wealth and luxury -- I want and need to be vigilant about the information that I'm putting out there via my clothing and self.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Luxuries Worth the Investment

After my thoughts about the nannies, gardeners, housecleaners and other help in my pre-Christmas post, I got to thinking about some luxuries that are really worth the money in my life.
First off, I had to define what makes a luxury worth the money for me? What makes it an investment rather than an expense? Each of us has a different standard for that, but I think its important to articulate it for myself. For me, it has to give me something in exchange that is more valuable to me than the money I give up to obtain it. In other words, the luxury itself isn't what makes it valuable --- its the "fringe benefit" that comes with it.
For example: I don't consider TiVo or cable to be a luxury that is worth it for me. It gives me access to a zillion channels and still nothing I want to watch. It gives me the ability to record something that I really don't want to watch, and certainly don't need to watch. It allows my family to spend hours in a zombie-like state in front of the television, not talking to one another and not engaging in any kind of real interaction. For me, there is no side benefit. Therefore, its just not worth the money for me. There are sooooo many other things that I can do with that money that are so much more valuable. For that matter, the time I spend to earn that money is so much more valuable than cable or even TiVo will ever be for me.
On the other hand, having someone come and do the deep cleaning of my house once a month is definitely worth the money for me. I'm not talking about regular housekeeping here... I mean the heavy lifting. I have someone who comes and scrubs the kitchen floor, santizes the bathrooms, deepcleans the rugs, cleans the drapery with the vaccuum attachments, and polishes my wood floors. It only takes them a few hours and it doesn't cost me alot. Okay, but the fringe benefits are out of this world. First of all, I am M-U-C-H better about regular housekeeping during the rest of the month because I know that this appointment is coming. My cleaning crew cannot possibly do the job if my house is cluttery or messy or if there are dust bunnies floating around. I have to be consistent about keeping up with my end of things. That means that my house always looks presentable -- and I'm not struggling with it. That alone as a fringe benefit would make this worth the money. But, in addition, I H-A-T-E doing that kind of housework. I don't mind laundry or dishes or even the sweeping and dusting, but I just abhor that scrubbing, moving, lifting kind of cleaning. It puts me in a foul mood and causes me to have a really miserable day or two -- and that causes the ones I love to generally experience a miserable day as well. By having someone do this work for me, I fight less with my husband, I am nicer to my friends -- its good for everyone.
Another luxury that I hadn't thought of as luxurious until someone recently pointed it out to me, is home delivery of prescriptions and of stamps. I order online and they arrive at the door. One of the reasons that I don't think of this as a luxury is that I actually SAVE money by doing this. My prescription plan gives me a discount for doing mail order service. My side benefits here: I don't run out. I'm not frantically running around, losing it because I'm desperate and the pharmacy is closed (or likewise carrying around a bill until its overdue because I can't seem to get myself to the post office during business hours to buy stamps).
I've given alot of thought to my next investment luxury --- valet parking. I don't use it often. In fact, I rarely use it. But when I do -- it is a serious investment in my night out. My condition for using valet parking is the convergence of three factors: rotten weather, glamourous clothing, and challenging parking. In other words, when I'm in the city for a big event, I've gotten myself all dolled up in my best clothes and it is practically a blizzard outside -- then I opt for the valet parking. Its generally fairly cheap -- and it frees me up to enjoy the evening. I spend less time in the ladies room trying to repair windblown hair and rainstreaked makeup. I spend less time listening to my beloved husband apologizing for not being able to find a closer parking space. I spend more time dancing, eating and enjoying. It magnifies the fancy night out exponentially. Well worth the investment for me.
Finally -- my monthly pedicure. This is one that I take a lot of teasing about in my family. Why would you pay someone else to paint your toenails when you can do it yourself for free? Well, because that person has gravity and leverage on their side and can scrub the callouses and rough spots away. And because that person can see what they're doing and can clip the cuticles and trim the raggedy spots in a way that I wouldn't dare do. And --- in terms of fringe benefits -- because it gives me an hour where no one can ask me to do anything, someone massages my feet and legs, and I am simply quiet and patient for a little while. That rehearsal of quietness is so important in our world today. We don't do enough of it. Rehearsing quietness causes it to spill over into other areas of life. And that is a fringe benefit you just can't miss out on.