Ah, the season of frenzied present-buying is well upon us all, and those who can afford to - and probably an enormous number who can't - will be spending plenty of money on Christmas gifts. I rather fancy that 2014 is going to be a bumper year for spending, fuelled partly, I dare say, by a feeling that the Recession is beaten, and better times are round the corner, pay rises especially. Even if this turns out to be true, I don't personally think we will quickly get back to the spurious prosperity that seemed to be around in 2007. But it doesn't take much to regain an appetite for spending up to the hilt. Many people must have a bottled-up urge to buy a few nice things, for both themselves and their nearest and dearest.
And up to a point, why not? The trouble is that if you do suddenly have some spare money in your purse or pocket, or you feel you have, it tends to say 'spend me, give me my freedom', and you find yourself conniving willingly at its escape. It would be more prudent to tuck it away for leaner times that are certain to come again - or at least to spend it very carefully on things that will have enduring worth or usefulness.
I wish I had used such good judgement, when I had real money to spend in 2009, 2010 and 2011. But instead I blew it on all sorts of things connected with setting up my New Life. This post is about some of the more expensive things I bought, and examines whether they were really 'good buys' - or instead Awful Warnings From History. Reckless ways to spend cash, that seemed right at the time, but now look like rather crass mistakes.
They split into four convenient groups: clothes, boots and shoes, bags, and jewellery. Standard girly stuff. A poverty-stricken saint could have avoided the errors I made. A headstrong sinner with a nice bank balance was sure to fall!
It really is so easy to make mistakes. Not so much in sizes or syles, but in wanting new things, and above all wanting the 'best' labels. I hankered after owning some signature garments for the posh occasions I imagined would come. For example, once 'fully converted' and glamorous, I would need a correspondingly glamorous wardrobe for cruise holidays. Such is self-delusion. And I was in a frame of mind to be easily seduced by the flattery that came my way in posh boutiques. It seemed so affirming at the time. You know, 'they see the woman in me'. I put up no resistance. Buying expensive stuff seemed not only a way into a dream life, but a way of saying 'I really am worth this' at a time when my self-image was fragile. The clothes also looked amazing. So I got tangible things to fuel that dream. Let me list the most expensive clothing items, in the order of purchase.
12 November 2009
A blue knitted wrap for £150.
16 November 2009
A Windsmoor winter coat for £199. Here it is on its first outing. I still have the scarf. The bag is discussed further on!
19 November 2009
A black Diane Von Furstenburg dress for £313.
A multicoloured Diane Von Furstenburg silk dress for £271.
A Ralph Lauren wrap for £288.
20 November 2009
A red Diane Von Furstenburg dress (ordered on the Internet) for £392.
November 2009 was clearly a mad month for me! And some of this stuff was hardly ever worn. It may have graced my wardrobe for a long time as 'trophy clothing' but in the end it was passed on to charity shops. The red DVF dress had one outing in Brighton in December 2009 (the last time I ever wanted to go to a disco; it was a big one in Brighton, where Boy George was the DJ) - and then never again.
The only item listed above that is still in my wardrobe, though now reserved for really smart winter occasions, is the Windsmoor coat. I own another Windsmoor coat found for £25 in a local charity shop - it's almost as nice, and I generally prefer to wear it instead. (And it gets as many admiring remarks as the one bought new does. There's a lesson in there)
Boots and shoes
I have never bought any high heels. I have bought a few medium-heeled boots and shoes, but rarely wore them, and they have all now gone to charity shops. I'm not a 'heel person'. And despite all the money I've thrown away on expensive clothes that were never much worn, I can say with justice that I'm not guilty of spending lots and lots of money on outrageously expensive shoes! But I did buy one pair of very expensive Dubarry boots on 14 October 2011 for £332.
Although leather, they are really luxury wellies. You can wear them in town, but, though handsome, they are not meant to be the last word in elegance. They are posh country wear, like a Barbour jacket is. They create the right impression, if you want to show off your 'county' credentials. But they are unsuitable for a proper long-distance walk or ramble, and certainly too nice to mess up in mud or mire. I have however regularly worn them, and I still like them. So they have not been a waste of money. But I wouldn't nowadays pay so much for a pair of boots, unless they were the best and most comfortable boots in the world.
I admit to having a weakness for bags going back a very, very long time. I was once notorious for spending ridiculous amounts of money on leather brief cases for work. (I see it now as a clue to my real frame of mind!) At the (quiet) start of transition, I went through a phase of buying 'man bags', which satisfied the dress code imposed on me by parents and partner. But that didn't last. The dam burst on 13 March 2009, when I took myself off to London Town and bought a luxury black leather Prada handbag at the firm's Sloan Street shop. It cost a cool £910. But I thought it looked every penny of it, and I still think so.
Like the original Windsmoor coat, this bag is now reserved for big occasions when I want something more glamorous than my ordinary day-to-day bag. I have no intention of parting from it. It's not for sale. It epitomises a significant stage in my personal history.
There were other bags too. The most expensive cost £440. They have all been passed on. I kept going back to a less expensive but entirely practical black Radley bag bought in August 2009, until I adopted the orange Italian leather bag (originally bought for M---) that is often now seen in my photos. It's the closest to the 'perfect' bag that I've ever had. Long may it last.
Two items to mention here.
29 January 2009
A TAG Heuer ladies' wristwatch for £950.
This watch looked great on my wrist until the battery needed replacement in 2011. By then I'd found out that I'd be charged £65 for it to be sent away, opened, serviced, and resealed so that its 'underwater performance down to 30 metres' would be maintained.
£65! And the watch gone for a month! I wasn't going to play that game. So for the last three years it's been sitting in a drawer. For a while I used a cheap but entirely reliable and quite-elegant Timex wristwatch instead. Then I decided that I didn't need (or want) a timepiece on my wrist at all. The phone would do. And that's how things stand: if I want to know the time, I consult the phone. In the car, there's a very clear digital clock on the dash. I don't need jewellery like this any more. I'd rather like to give the TAG Heuer away to a friend, but I have hesitated, not wanting to lumber them with an expensive cycle of battery-replacements...
25 June 2010
A pearl necklace made up of 69 sea-water pearls, for a total cost of £638. I bought the necklace in Guernsey, and I include the £112 VAT imposed by HMRC when I arrived back in the UK. But this was a superb souvenir of the island, and gave me a luxury item to treasure.
I wear them as often as I can, but of course they are 'special' and not for the supermarket - nor for ordinary country walks, when more robust jewellery is appropriate. Nor for encounters with baby children - groping, grasping little fingers and pearls are not a good mix!
So these have been my personal Objects of Desire. And most of them have been discarded - only the Prada handbag, the Windsmoor winter coat, the pearls, and the Dubarry boots, remain loved and used.
You know, I really have wasted an awful lot of money! I've got to own up and admit it. However, I have also learned some wisdom, and I've become accustomed to curbing my impulses to spend.
Here's a statistic or two to prove this. In 2009, I spent £4,982 on clothes alone. In 2014, I have (so far) spent £611 on not just clothes, but all shoes and all accessories too. Quite a difference! I'll need to spend a little more in 2015, because I am very poorly off for shoes; but not now quite as poorly off as I was, because one long-needed item, new black flat shoes, is in the bag. I got these in Canterbury the other day (and the cost is in that 2014 total of £611):
There you are, Hotter's finest. More expensive than M&S, yes; but priced at only half what Russell & Bromley would charge. I now turn away from the expensive shops and the top labels. I want to spend my cash on other more down-to-earth things.