Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Shirt Off His/Her Back

Someone who I spoke with this morning mentioned a topic that came up over Yom Tov. The question was: "If every clothing store in existence closed down for the next year, could you make it for that year on the clothes you now own? What if the stores closed for two years? Or three years?"

She reported that the answer depended on the status of the family giving the answer. Those with only adults or adults and children who have already done all their growing said "Yes, but...." Those with small children said no.

Those who said "Yes, but..." mentioned that, for the women, they would have insufficient pantyhose to last that time period. A few also mentioned that their work shoes might not last for one year, but would for sure not last for two or three years. The reason given for the shoes not lasting? The sole would start to wear out.

Those with young children pointed out that kids grow quickly and their clothing and shoes become too small. One mother mentioned that her kids seem to outgrow their clothing before she even gets to wash them once.

Why bring this up? Assuming that everyone stays the same size, I looked at my family, and the contents of their closets and drawers, and drew the same conclusion that those at my friend's house did: We could easily make it another 2-3 years on the clothing we already own. In fact, we could probably make it for a lot longer than 3 years. And yes, pantyhose would be an issue for the working women who can't wear sneakers and sweat socks to work. Regarding the soles of the shoes wearing out, last I heard that was what shoemakers were for: replacing soles and heels. So, if we could all, with no problem, make it for three more years, why is anybody going shopping for new clothes? The answer would seem to be clear: nothing to do with a need and everything to do with a want.

Children's clothing is both expensive and doesn't get worn for long enough to justify the prices charged for the clothing. Buy an infant a summer-weight stretchy in July and that stretchy will not be worn for more than two months tops. Buy a one year old a summer wardrobe and for sure he/she won't be wearing it the next summer. Children's clothing gets put away or given away still in excellent condition.

Why bring all this up now? With the economic turn down we are in now people are looking for places to cut down on expenses. Clothing should be one of the first places to look. For adults there would seem to be no necessity to buy new clothes now, except for the desire to do so and the pressure to be "in style." Even for children there are alternatives to the seemingly never ending replacement of clothes that get outgrown. One alternative is to have a clothing exchange with your family/friends/neighbors/shul members. Another alternative is to buy less, particularly when a child is taking a growth spurt. Surely another alternative is to ditch the idea that labels are important when it comes to kid's clothing, and to buy off brand but cheaper items.

My friend mentioned that the amount of money budgeted for clothing and shoes varied among those at her table: the cheapest budget, for a couple with no children yet, was $1000; the most expensive budget, for a family with four kids, two of whom are teenagers, was $5300. She also reported that about half the people said that underwear and stockings were not considered as "clothing," and was budgeted separately.

What would you do with the money if you found an "extra" $1000 lying around? How about an extra $5300? We talk a lot about cutting our food budgets down, but food is not the only place where money can be cut. Clothing is an area we need to look at with a closer eye.


SephardiLady said...

Some people spend more on one set of yom tov outfits + accessories + shoes than we probably spend in an entire year on clothing. . . .although I'm not sure exactly how much we spend on clothing because I don't separate sock from clothing, I just lump all consumer purchases from a new cookie sheet to a package of socks together.

That said, I don't think I can make it another 2-3 years without buying clothing. But then again, I have items in my closet that are 7-15 years old and some are starting to wear out.

mother in israel said...

I make do with very little clothing in each size, including my own. Sometimes I get a windfall of hand-me-downs, but even then I give away what I can't reasonably use. One Shabbat sweater per size is enough. Two white Shabbat shirts are enough. One pair of Shabbat pants per season is enough. 5-6 t-shirts--enough. Some hand-me-downs are in poor condition, so they wouldn't last even if the child stayed the same size. My 7-year-old doesn't have Shabbat shoes, but I found some gold-sequined shoes on sale for my 4yo and couldn't resist. My 14yo just bought shoes that she says are fine for school and for Shabbat--price was NIS 79 (~$22)(you may remember the expensive sandals--but she is still wearing them).

Generally having one day of Yom tov helps, as does living in a country where children are not expected to wear suits or "shabbos coats."

I regularly purge my closet. We just don't have room for extra stuff, except for hand-me-downs and out-of-season clothes. I could not go for three years or even two, but I do have some stashed fabric that I could use. :)

SephardiLady said...

The "Shabbos Coat" is one of the excesses I more recently learned about (that is older cousin's for you). I don't understand why the same coat you wear on Wednesday can't get you from point a to point b on Shabbat.

Bas~Melech said...

It's all a matter of perspective... I hate shopping, so I haven't "needed" new clothes in a long time ;-)

(I could use new work shoes, though. Repairs notwithstanding, there comes a point when they just don't look or feel good anymore)

Anonymous said...

What you're saying is that most of us have been spending too much on clothing all along (if we don't need to buy new stuff for 2-3 years, a category into which I definitely fit). So here come the lean years for which we've hoarded.

mlevin said...

I could last 2-3 years with what I have, but I buy new clothes anyway not because they are not serviceable anylonger, but because they no longer look good, or have stains. If all stores suddenly closed for three years, after a while you will notice people wearing stained or stretched clothes. After all they are still doing their job.

Margaret said...

I think I could last even longer. I read that most American have enough clothes that they never need to buy them again.

I admit to owning a lot of clothes. Some of it is because my weight fluctuates quite a bit due to some medical problems, so I have wardrobes in a couple of sizes.

I happen to really love sewing, and most of my clothing purchases these days fall under the "entertainment" section of my budget, because I love to guy fabric and make clothes. It's a hobby for me.

But then I also use my sewing machine to repair clothes and make them live longer.

Anonymous said...

A good thought, and I agree that apparel purchases could certainbly be reduced. No question.

Just keep in mind that a moratorium on clothes purchases runs the risk of meeting the same perception as radical food diets, or even chareidi worldview. When it's all or nothing, black and white, then people don't even bother consider embracing a movement or campaign. Most people can't keep up. This is why there are different types of Jewish orthodoxy and, lehavdil, all manners of hybrid vehicles, not electric only. Tuna fish for lunch every day? No desserts for years? Sure, you could do it, but you would go bonkers after a few months. Atkins diet, with the requisite and copious meat and lack of fruit? Sure, you could do it, but you'd get tired of it after awhile. All gemara, all the time, to the exclusion of everything else? Sure you could do it -- and people do -- but it's a recipe for burnout.

Bottom line: Don't underestimate the power of clothes as a means of differentiation, recreation and self image.

I don't know...challenge each other to come up with original or pleasing outfits for the least amount of money?

Rae said...

Anonymous 2:57--You make some good points about how people will not stick to something that gives them no choices ever. But cutting down is not a moratorium on total clothes spending. And hopefully the economic picture will improve so people have more leeway in their spending. But when money is an issue like it is today for many people then it sure makes more sense to me to cut down or out on clothes spending so you can put what money you have to use in other places. About that self image--and is it better for self image to see yourself as an actual debt loaded person who cannot buy necessities because you have to have a designer suit? Not a self image I would want or would want to encourage in my family.

Mike S. said...

I certainly could not. My socks would be worn to tatters long before 1 year, never mind 3. And the elastic on my drawer legs will have worn to the point that biking to work would be extremely uncomfortable. Also I do not have a large excess of work clothes, and they are replaced based on wear, not fashion, so that if I can't replace what is now my oldest clothing with newer stuff, I would have to start doing the laundry and dry cleaning far more often. Even that way, i doubt I could make it much past a year without my boss complaining.

Lissa said...

SephardiLady, I'm just a little surprised that you would lump together into one category things you call consumer purchases. Makes it harder that way to really get a handle on exactly where the money is going. When we do our budget there is one category for clothing that includes clothes of all kinds, shoes, dry cleaning and shoe repair. i also include in this category all laundry products and things like laundry baskets. I can see clearly how much everything we wear costs us as well as how much we spend to maintain what we are wearing.

Mlevin, who cares if there might be a small stain that hasn't faded all the way when the layered look is being worn? Those slightlly stained tops still work just fine under a sweater. Or wear them to cook or clean in and save the better things for street wear.

And Anonymous, my outfits please me a lot because like basmelech I hate shopping. My image isn't tied up in wearing somebody elses name on my clothes so that I can impress people with my fashion savvy. And my clothes certainly differentiate me from a lot of my friends. The spend their recreational time shopping and most of them have credit card debt. My husband and I take our savings from not having bought everything the designers are pushing to buy and we went to Israel this summer. I guess if shopping gives someone happiness that is their business. It wouldn't make me very happy.

SephardiLady said...

We just don't spend that much and I'm starting to see a large decline in consumer spending, so I haven't separated it out, although it would be easy to identify gifts, e.g.. If I spent more, I'd probably start separating household items from clothing from gifts and even start separating clothing by family member.

SephardiLady said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Oy vey, all that's needed is a little tiny bit of perspective. My grandparents escaped from Vienna, traipsed through 4 countries, lived in a barn in the foothills of the Italian Alps, for 5+ years with just the clothes on their backs and the little they could carry. For part of this time, my grandfather lived in an Italian jail for 2+ years with just the clothes on his back.

So, yes, we could all manage without new clothes for a few years.

SuMMy said...

This article is definitely food for thought.

I was recently talking to someone who belongs to a group of immigrants that have been very financially successful (one has even made the forbes list!) and asked him what is the key for the success of this group. His main reason: when they were starting in America they all lived beneath their means.

mlevin said...

Lissa - you may not care that you have a stain on your clothes, but I do. Plus, your sweater can get stained, too. I can't show up at work looking like I had been house cleaning. My clothes must be neat and clean.

And believe me, it is not comfortable cleaning house in shirts and nice skirts. I clean in T-shirts/Sweatshirts and very baggy pants or long baggy shorts.

Tamar said...

We use a method we call If you can't see it you can't spend it. We have an automatic deduction at work for 401K and we also have an automatic deduction at the bank where every month they transfer a certain amount of money into savings funds. What remains in our checking account is all that we will spend. If things get tight in any month then we cut down on spending in the discretionary areas, like clothing or other luxuries. We never ever consideer our savings accounts as a backup for monthly spending. And the rule with credit cards is you can't buy it on credit if you don't have the money in the checking account to pay off the bill in full.

One way we saved a lot was by changing from a cell phone plan that cost a certain amount every month and had a limited amount of minutes. We got one of those prepaid deals that gave us a plain phone, no texting, no email connection, really cheap per call, not per minute used, and didn't charge extra for long distance. We took the plan in March and we both still have money left, enough to get us through until at least Jan. or Feb. We got better about using our cell phones only for necessary calls and not for helping out with the boredom in a long commute.

Lion of Zion said...

luckily we've been the recipients of tons of hand-me-downs for my son.

costco has really nice ralph lauren sweaters for $29.99