You may judge me. (Though at least a few of you will nod silently in agreement.)
Here’s why: I prioritize spending money on my appearance. After my bills are paid and I’ve tucked away some cash in savings, the number-one area I invest in is my image. Clothes, beauty products, grooming rituals — I spend what some of you may think is “too much” of my monthly budget on my personal aesthetic.
Why? Because I want to.
I feel more confident when I look polished and pulled together. I live and work in contexts in which appearance matters (a lot). But even if I didn’t, I don’t believe women have to choose between beauty and brains to be taken seriously — or to be financially responsible.
That doesn’t mean I’m a reckless shopaholic. Quite the opposite. I have an ongoing wish list that I stick to (for the most part), and I shop strategically and pledge allegiance to eBay.
But there are times when I can’t find what I want on sale or can’t justify the time it takes to pound the pavement searching for a lower price, and I’m OK with that. Yes, I’ve unapologetically paid $100 for a high-quality tank top — which I loved and wore to death over many years. I’d rather have one perfect thing than many almost-right pieces.
Years ago I stopped buying junk. I don’t have time to replace my wardrobe every year (nor do I want to contribute to the 10.5 million tons of clothing we Americans send to the landfill annually). Plus, I buy only things I love, so I want them to stick around for a while. Not to mention the questionable ethics of buying fast fashion: If I don’t pay the price, someone else will. And cheap labor isn’t my style. So whether you’re motivated by social consciousness or your pocketbook, it’s worth taking a moment to redefine the “value” of investing in your wardrobe.
And yet, despite all that, the way I spend my money may still seem offensively frivolous to some. Would it seem more justifiable if I told you I don’t own a car, cook most of my meals, and don’t nurture an expensive coffee habit? Maybe. But even if you are a car-driving, takeout-loving Frappuccino addict, you’re still allowed to spend money on your appearance if it’s important to you and if you figure it into your personal budget. And you don’t have to defend it.
But I understand why perhaps you, like me, have been trained to either defend or hide the reality of your fashion budget. Case in point: Many of the fashion-related articles on this site are filled with pages of negative comments. We love to judge how other people spend their money, as if there’s some absolute hierarchy of spending righteousness, particularly when it comes to fashion.
Why do these conversations about fashion bring out the comment claws? Perhaps other people’s choices threaten our own decisions — it’s as if we second-guess ourselves and resort to tearing down others as a form of self-preservation. Or maybe it’s a sort of reverse elitism, whereby not spending money is deemed hip and those who don’t conform are turned into social pariahs. But whatever the reason, sharing personal spending stories and strategies is far more mutually beneficial than finger wagging and virtual vitriol.
And while some may think fashion simply has no business on a site about money, powerful women would disagree.
That’s not to say I’m defined exclusively by the shoes I wear or the products I slather on my body. That’s just one visible piece of my identity puzzle, but it happens to be one I care about. Our budgets, priorities, and preferences are as varied as the clothes on our back. What’s “reasonably priced” for you may be wildly different for another woman, but aligning our spending habits with our personal and professional goals is universally beneficial.
So let’s make room for financial diversity and butt out of each other’s fashion budgets, shall we?
Anna Akbari, Ph.D. is a sociologist, entrepreneur, and the "thinking person's stylist." She is the founder of Sociology of Style, which takes an intelligent look at image and culture-related issues and offers holistic image consulting and life coaching services. Find out more and follow her on Twitter.