Killin 'em Out There: The School Clothes Conundrum


How did my spending pie-chart become so lopsided? Oh that’s right. I remember like it was yesterday. That’s because it was yesterday. I laid out my clothes, an empty shell, and hollow with no man to fill them. I lay them on the bed like that first time lover, gently. I scrutinized them as a topographical engineer or geologist might survey a vast landscape. Perhaps I was a zoologist tip-toeing around an exotic rare animal. Then comes the lean, the chin stroking, “yeah that’ll do it,” I say.


Suddenly as an adult, each new clothing purchase transports me back to those nights every early September, when the wind was mistier, the leaves were browner, the promos for fall shows were on and I’d just come back from a mall, a swap meet, a retail store, someone else’s closet or the candy lady’s house where she also sold clothes. I’m more reserved as a man – sometimes -- but in my mind, I’m screaming, giggling and jumping up and down like I won a championship, like tomorrow is the first day of school and..... “Ahhh I’m going to kill ‘em out there with this tomorrow!”


It’s that awesome anticipation, that quest – oh mighty one that it is – to either belong or stand out, the rare chance to distinguish yourself in any case. That feeling has stuck with me from elementary, into junior high, high school and then early college. It was only exacerbated once I had money of my own and didn’t have to beg mama or “earn” a cash advance via chores or a “behavioral chart.” Suddenly I could make my own rules, do my own thing, “killin’ ‘em out there tomorrow,” everyday of my life.




I call it the school clothes conundrum. For some people, it is grocery hoarding, for others, it’s electronic gadgets, rare wines, DVDs, classic cars, cigars, designer shoes, watches. For me it’s clothing. These are the purchases that define us, our tastes, our wants, our desires, and our self-imposed stratification. It is us saying individually and in unison, “nobody is going to have this,” and.....“Ahhhhh, I’m gonna kill em with this tomorrow!” Most of these purchases, while making us who we are in a sense; are, to put it mildly, unnecessary.


I realize this and suddenly I understand why the sum total book value of the contents of my closet is only several hundred dollars short of the sum total of my savings and investments, less my liabilities.  It gives me chills even now thinking about it, the insanely conflicting and sensually ominous paradox. Unwrapping the ripened vines, the fresh packaging, popping the tag, basking in the newness, bathing in the satisfaction of examining a fabric -- what you and you alone chose.  So you think. It called out to you, it said, “you” and you answered the call, something that’s uniquely you. How do you break freeeeeeeeeeeeee? And do you want to? That’s called wanton consumerism and everyone has a fetish.


I might be more contrite and saddened if there weren’t millions just like me. The mentality starts with us and we grow into it and pass it down to the children folk, the school children. Last fall (2007) for back-to-school season -- as it’s been called since retailers and designers got together in collusion to bleed consumers dry in one fiscal quarter beginning with the fall term, semester or whatever -- clothing and accessories retained their long-running title as the largest spending category. Clothing alone was $7.6 billion of a projected back-to-school total of $18.4 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. 


You may say $18.4 billion? Why that's a day of fighting in Iraq or that's a bailout infusion for an investment bank or maybe even a power plant and food supply for a mid-sized city in a developing country. Actually, in America it’s just the amount of money spent on clothes in one category, for one part of the year at that. Further still, it’s almost more than half the average annual savings rate for more than 85 percent of some 300 million Americans. That says it all and this is the mentality that I personally had since I first turned two digits and it's difficult if not next to impossible to break after 20+years of the Duhhh, Duuuh, Duuuuh school clothes conundrum. 


But I’m trying to with the help of a financial-coach-planner, holistic money hybrid person who essentially told me if things were tight and I was tempted to make myself feel better by picking up an item here, an accessory there, to “go shopping in my closet,” in other words create no new expenditures or debt unnecessarily.And here now it’s almost March and it won’t be long until it’s time to go back to school. I must fight the Jones to keep up with the Joneses because the only thing I’m “killin’ out there tomorrow,” is financial stability in my future. I must come out on the winning end of my decision apropos of the back to school conundrum and so must you whatever yours is.   

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Philip Brewer's picture

We all have our guilty pleasures. One of mine is fountain pens. Fountain pens as a guilty pleasure isn't so bad, because a nice fountain pen doesn't go out of style.

The same thing can work with clothing--if you decide that your style is a classic style. It makes shopping in the closet easier. More important, it makes it easier to pass up an otherwise tempting buy: "That'd be killin' 'em tomorrow, but not next week."

Myscha Theriault's picture

I'm a book slut.

Guest's picture

I think you mean "wanton consumerism", not "wonton consumerism"... But like you said, everyone has their fetishes! : D

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

shrimp wontons are pretty darn good. I spend a lot on food.

Guest's picture

I don't even want to start confessing how much I spend on good wine. But it's so much fun to break out great quality bottles when friends stop by!

Guest's picture

I've been selling my vinyl LP's just to clear out the space, and I am appalled at how much I spent in my life on those, as well as the later CD's. Not to mention books. I really wish I had put the price of those LP's, CD's and books into an account somewhere and checked the stuff out of the library.

Guest's picture

Fountain Pens and Books....sigh....

I raid Ebay looking for certain pens but for books...well Hamilton Books for steep discounts and I always try to find them used before I buy new.

~ R

Guest's picture

My fridge is full. My freezer is full. My fridge freezer is full. I have a pantry we bought at the department store, and it is full, and the top is loaded, and there's a bag of canned goods on the table. Several bags hang from my kitchen rack.

I have too many bottles of shampoo, but I also have plans to pick up more because my brand is on sale, cheaper than I've seen it in two or three years.

Very slowly, I'm starting to accept that I can let our stock dwindle some. I don't really need more than six cans of mandarin orange pieces, ever, and if I can organize better I will know for sure how many I do have. I don't need to buy tomato soup anymore since we don't actually eat it no matter how good an idea it'd be. :P

If there's a good thing, it's that I don't have to throw out much, and if my husband doesn't manage to find time to take me grocery shopping, we're good for probably two or three weeks (ok, who am I kidding... months), except for perishables.

But I see that I need an addition to my grocery list. There's the sales items, there's the things we need - I have to add a new category. "Don't Buy these because I already have too many!"

Guest's picture

I still love you. No need to respond, but you know.
Don't you?

Guest's picture

Ah, my problem is the opposite. I wear the same raggy clothes year after year. I have no self-respect but I save a ton of money.

Guest's picture

Proud to say that I'm recovering from my book-buying addiction. Starting in high school...basically as soon as I had disposable income... I'd go to Borders or Barnes&Noble and spent $20,$30 a trip. Then in college, I'd hit Half Price Books or Hastings, telling myself I was getting great deals.
Thanks to sites like these, I'm rediscovering the joy and selection of the local library and my friends' collections. I've found some free space on my book shelves, and I'm a lot more discriminating about which books come into my house - namely only those that I'll actually reread.

My "back-to-school clothing" hitch is probably restaurants. I love exotic, exciting, rich foods!

Guest's picture


Jabulani Leffall's picture

Jabulani Leffall

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