Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Guest Blog: Confessions of a Recessionista

Confessions of a Recessionista
By Nancy Brenner

Long before it was fashionable, I was a recessionista. I'm not the"Girl in the Green Scarf" alter ego of Rebecca Bloomwood in"Confessions of a Shopaholic," I'm more the girl in a purple shearling purchased at wholesale. Yes, I would dash off to sample sales like the mad women of "Confessions of a Shopaholic," but I went with a battle plan that would make Tzippy Livni envious. I knew the brands, size and price range of what the merch was worth retail. I tried them on in brick and mortar stores to see if they fit and decide if I could afford them.
I am not moved by a generic "multidesigner sample sale" flyer. I am not moved by e-mails offering "free shipping," or "as seen on Michele Obama," even if she is gracing the cover of Vogue. I am not a model,or a rock star, or an Olsen twin – I am an ordinary citizen. Even the fabricated Ms. Bloomwood can't rock a $5,000 frock at sixty-percent off if she has a bill collector chasing her all about town.

I've never had a credit card denied - unless it was a mistake of the card company. Or tried to pay the piper by splitting the pot with a combo of cards plus cash. I usually favor sales that were cash only -chiefly because they offered the best deals. And I knew exactly how much money was literally leaving a hole in my wallet. I never came home to a bill and wondered what was on my statement and why.

In the past year I have dozens of converts, who have discovered the joys of "black opps" shopping and my Krav Magna retail techniques. They learned that 70 percent off retail is not the "new black." Not in my closet - if you can get it 20 percent off of wholesale. There is no greater joy for a recessionista shopper than finding an item cheaper than any Bluefly, Gilt.com, Rue La La, E-Bayor a froogle search. It's not a new cure for heart disease, but it's a cure for a cautionary era. When I found an out-of-town designer outlet store would take a picture of a sale shoe and e-mail it to me - I felt like I had unlocked a whole new sequence of savings genomes.

While it was the worst market in 60 years, it was my best shopping season on record - there was rampant deflation - a brilliant ballroom skirt that was selling at toney retailers for hundreds of dollars was had for $20, another top that was retailing in the $200 range was scooped out for $10. My sniff test for shopping - would I have coveted it retail? Would have I undergone "watchful waiting"until it went on sale to an "affordable price?" Would it be a one-hit-wonder, or would the quality and style hold up for many Fashion Weeks to come?

Coupon clippers have been proudly savings for years – mostly to the snickers of a consumerist nation. I am the clippers evolved equivalent. I would encourage everyone I know to go "off the grid"and steer them away from retail, or at least paying full price. If I was made to feel frugal, I didn't mind, since I was often the best dressed in the room. In the past, I would gladly regale dinner companions of grand tales of savings - like the time I went into a Fifth Avenue department store during a transit strike, figuring foot traffic would be low to minimal, as would the prices. I turned out to be right and scored a wedding quality velvet skirt for pocket change.
I liked the equal billing that men were given in the Shopaholics anonymous group in "Confessions of a Shopaholic" - men too can overspend and buy a watch for each day of the week - a frivolous purchase even by a man of means. Men are equal opportunity over spenders - now the economy is forcing them out of the consumerist closet. But c'mon guys, do you really need a spanking new $7,000 off-the-rack suit from Saks? Even Anna Wintour is selling "value" dressing and says anything "Too Dubai" is over.

Does that mean I never regret a purchase? Of course I do, I have at least half a dozen pairs of shoes that called my name, just like the department store mannequins who tried to seduce the protagonist Rebecca Bloomwood. But while others bought houses, SUVs, remodeled kitchens, digital cameras and stood in long lines for I-Phones; I still have my 35 M -and have not yet succumbed to digital - my Minolta Freedom zoom still takes great shots. I have not trashed my DirtDevil just because I couldn't locate the filters - I called the company directly to get them. And yes, I am one of the few remaining people on the planet who still have AOL dial-up, at least the fine people at Circuit City would like to have me believe.

On rare occasion, I have paid full price. If you see a party dress or suit, don't wait until last minute - unless you are a total hermit, assume that invitations, even during a dire downturn will still be forthcoming, -- weddings, bar mitzvahs, anniversaries. And while the scale of the celebration may be downscaled and the menu may be more mac and cheese than foie gras, you will still need something to wear. Consider this too - with unemployment still climbing, it will also help to be well-turned out for job interviews that will be so uber-competitive, it will make shopping at Wal-Mart on Black Friday seem like nothing.

So, dear Pres and Congress, will be there be a bailout for Fashionistas who weren't frugal? Please make the bill pretty in pink.

While Nancy Brenner can't outfox a bear market, she can find you a warm coat to stave off the market's chills for wholesale.


Mary Ellen said...

So, when I was growing up in South Carolina, the oldest of 5 kids, my mom was a serious bargain shopper. Alas, she had poor taste, but a great eye for discounts, and to this day I more or less follow her rule--it's not really a sale until it's at least 50% off.

Shari said...

You say 80% off, I say 90% makes me a member or the club! I am wearing Brooks Brothers High Heel Chocolate Brown leather so soft you think you are holding a baby boots. They retail for $398.00, I paid $45.00 at Brooks Brothers last December in New Jersery so there is no tax. I was lucky enough to get a black pair too.

When I wear my Brooks Brothers Shearling that retailed at 1,600.00 that I bought the day after xmas at 65% off, I feel like a queen. If only I can find a man that makes me feel as good as I do in that coat....

Dave said...

I love coupons! Those 50 cents off coupons add up. Why waste money? I like to check out dealnews.com. They have really good deals.

Guerilla Shopper said...

great comments from the gallery, keep 'em comin!

Darla said...

At long last a place where unrepentent Bargain Shopping Addicts can share and bare with like minded souls. With our
heads always being occupied with whats inside our closet,it's a relief to finally be able to come Out Of The Closet!
My addiction is so serious that in Paris, Florence & Rome I visited the Museums and ytourists attractions, only after I had my fill of local bargain hopping;not the easiest thing when the only word you can speak in their language is "Combien!" (How much!)
Still I managed to buy a full size Chinese carpet in France and drag it home in an oversized knapsack
(please don't tell customs)
because it was an itressistable bargain.
Thank you Nancy. You have given me new hope. Why did I ever think
I needed a cure!

Abigail said...

Awesome! Love the "krav maga" style -- uniquely Jewish, eh? ;) You are without a doubt the most powerful guerilla sample sale shopper I know!

Anonymous said...

I love it. I am too a recessionista - and have been for ten years or more. In LA, I hit the monthly sample sales in the fashion district, and now in NYC, I save so much more, buying at sample sales and warehouse sales. It's absolutely crazy - the kind of deals I now expect are 80-90% retail. I may only spend 2-3 thousand a year on clothing but really, it's worth so much more. Plus I participate in clothing swaps and sell so much runoff on Ebay for so much profit! It's fun!

Anonymous said...

this was one of the best articles i've ever seen - why isn't nancy writing for CNN or the Wall St Journal - photo of her would be nice too -

Anonymous said...

wow - what insight - nancy paints a perspective that so many of us don't know -

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