Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Little Black Dress

Last weekend I found myself shopping at a local mall for the perfect outfit...I am no stranger to this situation. In fact, I've managed to shop for several "perfect outfits" in my 23 years' time. However, I had never before had to actually venture out into the free world to find that perfect Little Black Dress. Until last Friday.
Here in my wallet was a wad of tip money I had saved up from waitressing all week long so that I could spend whatever I wanted on that perfect little number out of what seemed like thousands to choose from in this heavily populated metropolis of Tysons Corner, VA. It was me and a handful of twenty dollar bills vs. frazzled Friday night shoppers and mean, boldly printed price tags...
First, I thought, I'll go where the bargains are. It seemed senseless to me to spend over $100 on a dress for a wedding I was only going to be attending for four or five hours, max. Three stores, a quarter tank of gas and a couple of battles through rush hour traffic later, I parked my vehicle outside of the dreaded mall at 8pm on Friday night. I had one hour to buy this dress. The cost of it was becoming more meaningless by the second.
Around 9:40, I found her. She was perfect, elegant, simple and looked just fabulous. She was also in the ballpark price of about five hundred million duckets. Alright, fine. But then, as I was paying at the register of Nordstrom, a thought scurried through my mind. All black is kind of plain, right? Okay, well, I am at the mall still. I can run to Macy's really fast and pick out some cool shoes to compliment the dress.
The wedding was great, the bride looked dashing and I got numerous compliments on the shoes. I am wearing them right now. I wear them when I get ready for work each morning, I wear them to check the mail, I wear them when I am curled up on the couch at midnight watching Sex & the City reruns. I am also eating cheese and crackers for about three weeks because I spent a semester's worth at Harvard in a time frame of about 55 minutes last Friday. I have to wear these shoes as a reminder that if I choose to treat myself, the financial sacrifice later on may be just as significant.
I have learned and accepted the moral of this story. God bless Macy's and every single pair of their astoundingly adorable shoes.


Christopher Morris said...

I think the key to this story is that you are AWARE of the dent in your finances that the purchase made and then adjusted accordingly.

Too often, us Gen Yers (um, technical term) buy and buy without really understanding the long-term effects on their wallet. I was just reading this interesting article recently about advertising/branding, which says:

Gen Y makes for a different type of consumer than Gen X was 10 years ago. "Gen X'ers were the first generation raised where consumption is a way of life," said Rob Frankel, author of The Revenge of Brand X. "Boomers bought stuff because they needed it; X'ers buy because they want it. Gen Y is less rooted in traditional social mores and ethics. They are easier targets, because they have grown up in a culture of pure consumerism. They're more likely to buy because they see buying as a part of life." He continued, "They're way more tuned into media because there's so much more media to tune into. Remember, there was no web in the 80s and cable TV was something of a joke." Where there are more media outlets for Gen Y to be aware of, there are more opportunities for advertisers to reach them.

It's up to good financial literacy programs in elementary school and in high school (and beyond in credit unions) to make the difference.

Rena Crispin said...

I find cool department-store quality dresses for those one-time fancy occasions on the sale racks at the discount stores for the Big Stores. Example: Marshall's is the discount store for Marshall Fields. The sale rack will be limited but that just makes it easier for me! There may be only 5 dresses in my size, but I usually find the one that's perfect for about $30.

Philip Heckman said...

Ah, those hard-working, reliable over-generalizations – how could you write a trend-exposing thumbsucker without them? The most notable unsubstantiated howlers in “Has Gen X fallen through the cracks” by Vivian Manning-Schaffel:

QUOTE: Gen Y makes for a different type of consumer than Gen X was 10 years ago. "Gen X'ers were the first generation raised where consumption is a way of life," said [Rob] Frankel. "Boomers bought stuff because they needed it; X'ers buy because they want it…

Comment: Come on, Boomers love stuff just as much as their offspring do. Check out their basements and garages, crammed with crap they “had to have.” And remember that it was a Boomer President who issued the 2001 Executive Order to go shopping.

QUOTE: What works in reaching these young power spenders? "Obviously, they are more savvy about being marketed to," said Martin [Carolyn Martin, Ph.D.]. "They want to be treated with respect, and not condescended to as know-nothing kids. They want to be listened to and have their needs and expectations addressed."

Comment: It’s easy to be savvy about old-fashioned commercial messages – so obvious and heavy-handed. Today’s young consumers demand subtler methods, “guerrilla marketing techniques” that allow them to think that they’re above all that advertising hype, even as they’re sold.

QUOTE: Or they may just learn to live completely in debt. "What [Gen Y] has is a natural inclination to spend and embrace products that promote that behavior," said Frankel. "For example, a parent-approved debit card, which the major brands are pushing as 'a way to teach your kids to spend wisely' when in fact the effect is just the opposite: like poker chips, the plastic isn't viewed as real money."

Comment: No debit card will teach responsible spending by itself. The parent has to follow through and deliver the message, then check to make sure it’s sunk in. You can’t do that after the bird has flown the nest.

Christopher Morris said...

I'd agree with Phil, and think that Gen Y's media consumption (branding in general) has been taken to a far greater level than with other generations. The "guerrilla marketing techniques" that he references are bewildering.

For example, when was the last time you saw a Nike swoosh covering the window of a car or tattooed on an arm? Go outside and notice how many people "advertise" their name brand across an articles of clothing (this is now cross-generational too). I could go on and on, but that kind of branding and consumerism would have been unthinkable in previous generations.

One part of the piece is that Gen Yers (and others) should be taught at one point, that "OK, you are going to pay $150 for those sneakers or whatever, but do know that it was probably made for under a $1 and here is why." That's part of being a smart consumer too, maybe the next step after good financial education. To understand the proverbial "big picture."

I'd also agree with Phil that parents need to step up. Schools might have a good financial education program (or not), but then there's Channel One - kids are a captive audience for ads and "news."

I'll get off my soapbox, and leave the rest to Naomi Klein - if you've never read No Logo, then try to...soon.

Rena Crispin said...

Okay, so you refuse to talk about the little black dress. We'll come back to that when you all come to your senses. My question to you all is this: don't we ALL, regardless of age, see buying as a part of life? In other words, haven't we all moved into this Generation Y thing together with the changing times?

Christopher Morris said...

Yes Rena, I think most of us do show little black dress symptoms from time to time (sorry for the tangental posts).

Shopping releases endorphins - I remember buying a new stereo receiver with surround sound speakers a few years ago that was more than I could afford, but man was it worth it! Now every time I watch Star Wars, it's like you are sitting in the Millennium Falcon right next to Han and Chewie...