There’s a particularly infuriating episode in the fourth season of Sex And The City that still makes me spit with rage 15 years after it was first shown. It’s the episode when the unfeasibly glamorous protagonist, Carrie Bradshaw, can’t buy her apartment because she’s spent all her money on fashion – $40,000 on Manolos, to be precise.
This episode is particularly problematic for me, not because she asks her ex for the money (pathetic) or demands it from her friend (outright odious!), but because the audience is lulled into a place of judgement. ‘How wildly irresponsible of her!’ we’re made to think. The pay-off is – spoiler alert – ‘well, it all works out OK because she gets the house in the end. Phew!’. But what if she’d just owned her single financial lifestyle choices, with all their flaws and fabulousness?
Here’s what nobody ever tells you: in real life, you cannot have it all. You pick the steak, you don’t get the fish. You turn left, you can’t go right. You go skiing, you don’t get to lie on a beach. Life’s about choices. I know this because I chose the Manolos over the mortgage – and I’m not even slightly sorry about it.
My friends have a nickname for me: Luxury Laura – spawned from my fondness for (frankly outrageously expensive) clothes.
In 10 years of working in fashion, mine is not the most spectacular wardrobe I’ve seen, but it’s certainly been an investment – and could easily cover the deposit on a flat. In fact, I did inherit a hefty amount of money in my early twenties – much of which can now be found hanging in my wardrobe. Did I ever regret spending it on clothes and not a mortgage? I chose not to.
Let’s be clear: I am not advocating choosing shoes over having a roof over your head. I have never been unable to pay my rent because I blew all my money at Prada. Tempted, yes, but I have always preferred teetering close to the edge of irresponsibility rather than plummeting off it.
It’s easy to caricature buying clothes as a frivolous, silly pursuit – not just unfair but also inaccurate. To think that investing in property, rather than fashion, is particularly sensible, or somehow superior, is wrong. Maybe, once upon a time, bricks and mortar was a no-brainer investment, but in Brexit Britain nobody’s really got a clue what will happen to the economy or property prices. In fact, recent data suggests London house prices will fall by 2% next year, and the Bank of England has told households to brace themselves for interest rate rises in 2018.
On the contrary, if you buy wisely, luxury fashion isn’t just a joy – it’s a canny investment. William Banks-Blaney, owner of the luxury vintage fashion emporium William Vintage, observes, ‘The fine vintage market is booming and we are seeing values for excellent examples of designers outperforming wine and art. Fine vintage is a way of savouring your investment for many years.’ He says that Gianni-era Versace is selling particularly well at the moment, and that excellent condition Balenciaga or Dior from the ’50s or ’60s, Chanel from the ’30s or ’60s and McQueen and Galliano from the ’90s will always hold or increase their value. Luxury resale site Vestiaire Collective says quality, durability and rarity are the essential pillars of a good fashion investment. Hermès handbags, Triple S sneakers by Balenciaga and anything from the Louis Vuitton x Supreme collaboration all frequently resell above their retail value. That’s the thing – I know that my Ghesquière-era Balenciaga, Chanel jackets, vintage Yves Saint Laurent and listed- separately-on-my-insurance Alaïa, could all be resold if I ever wished to (which I doubt). Either way, these investments have given me more joy than any ISA ever has.
Of course, even the option of buying property isn’t on the table for many of us. Thanks to soaring house prices, I am part of generation rent, suspended in a faux adolescence that’s extended far beyond its sell-by date. It can be frustrating and disheartening. But what if you choose not to let it be? What if you make a pact with yourself that instead of letting worries about buying a property gnaw away at you, you’re going to enjoy yourself a bit and live your life now? When, for many of us, homeownership is such a distant goal – and the parameters of that goal keep changing so rapidly anyway – why shouldn’t we?
Our collective snobbery about how people spend their money is really the crux of this issue. We are constantly told what the accoutrements of respectable adulthood, what we ‘should’ acquire, are (house, car, 2.4 children), but these are woefully outdated, binary notions that put undue pressure on people. That’s why I remain fiercely unapologetic about the money I have spent on clothes, just as I do the money I have spent on food, books, art, holidays, even Ubers. I worked hard to make that money and wholeheartedly defend my right as a working woman to spend it however the hell I want. To trivialise fashion is to trivialise our independence.