Friday, February 20, 2009

Toto, We're Not In Kmart Anymore

Like most doctor's offices in which I've impatiently tapped my toes, checked the clock and agonizingly waited out the seemingly endless zone between checking in and being checked out, our pediatrician's waiting room is amply equipped with reading material.

Unlike most doctor's offices, it's virtually all in Spanish.

I don't read Spanish. (though I suppose, if pressed into it, I could decipher the general meaning as long as you didn't ask me to actually read it out loud - in which case it would sound like strangled French and dying Italian rolled into one long sickening recital not one word of which would be understandable by anyone who actually speaks Spanish). But I digress...

So, the lone item available in the plethora of periodicals was an August 2008 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine. Obviously, I lucked out. "Snack-All-Day-Diet" "Meryl Streep; the life lessons she keeps learning" "Summer's Super Foods; 35 easy, delicious, healthy meals" "More Money, Less Stress!" Sounds typical, right?

Until I came across this little gem: "Mommy Wears Prada." Right. Whatever. Seriously, what reasonably normal mother can a) afford Prada and/or b) have any place to wear it to. Turns out, this was the funniest little article I've read in a long time.

It starts like this: Typical soccer mom, coupon-clipping household diva is at the supermarket checkout. Sees a magazine that promises a simpler, easier life (who's not tempted with this idea while wallowing in the dregs of grocery shopping?). Tosses it in the cart and weeks later when she finally has a chance to lock the bathroom door and draw a bath, flips through it.

She comes upon an article titled "Wardrobe Staples" (and you know we've all seen them in practically every magazine ever). In her words: "I am a 38-year-old mother of three. Getting out the door without peanut butter smears on my yoga pants is an achievement. Looking pulled together on a daily basis is the mystical holy grail. I eagerly turned to the article." (and wouldn't we all...)

She sees the list: Classic Pumps $495... Classic diamond studs $5,000... Classic trench coat $1,395. "It mystifies me when it is marketed to moms like me. If the editors of these lists were to leave Manhattan and come to Little Rock, AR, to stand behind me in the supermarket line, coupon book in hand, would they tap me on the shoulder and tell me that a $2,000 designer handbag was an 'essential'?... Really? Really?"

And so it begins. She writes an email, a double-dog dare if you will, to Good Housekeeping with this challenge: "Let an average mom test-drive some of these 'must-have' clothes in real life and decide just how essential they are." A month later, she gets a voicemail message: "When can you come to New York to go shopping?"


And so it goes. Some of my favorite snippets follow, but gosh I really think you should read the whole thing here. I'm nothing of a fashion guru and quite frankly, I do good to just look presentable (with or without the peanut butter smears), but this was so much fun. Seriously - can you image an (almost limitless) budget for ultra fancy "essentials?" My $20 jeans from Walmart and $15 polo from Old Navy are really beginning to fade in comparison... So in anticipation of that "one day" when

a) we are no longer starving students or fledgling just-out-of-grad-school PhDs or have a radically growing family mired in an ever-shrinking budget, or middle age with kids in college or, or, or (unlikely)
b) win the lottery (even more unlikely)
c) are gifted with a jaw-dropping budget from some fancy women's magazine (most unlikely)
d) all of the above

well, I'll just keep this little ditty in mind and maybe start on my own list of "essentials."

"I'm in the bathroom at the Prada store in New York City having a bit of a moment. I thought it would be a good place to sit in private and get some perspective. And it might be, except all four walls are mirrored from floor to ceiling. Now, in addition to hyperventilating over the fact that I am wearing more than a thousand dollars' worth of designer clothes, I'm a little freaked out by having to watch myself reflected into infinity. I've fallen into an alternate universe."
"I decide that Reuben the Driver is my New York husband. He drives me to stores, opens my door, waits for me outside for hours without complaint, and never once nags me about how much I'm spending."
"Most shocking, shoppers are shoving their bare feet into the shoes. Every Payless or JCPenney customer is expected to sheathe her foot in a disposable sockette before trying something on, but apparently not in Manolo Blahnik.
It's true what they say: The rich are not like you and me.:
"I have to decide about a bag.
The budget I've been given for this shopping spree allows $2,000 for an 'It' bag. I'm conflicted on two counts here. Two thousand dollars is nearly twice my mortgage payment. It's five times my monthly utility bills. It's a whole lot of things my husband and I have had to put off or forgo when the money just wasn't there.
Then there's the 'It' word. 'It' means a status symbol. 'It' means standing out. 'It' means a bunch of things that aren't really me."
"The new bag costs more than $1,500 with tax added. I hand over my check card, holding my breath. Even though I warned my bank in Little Rock to expect some unusual charges this week, I keep expecting the card to catch fie.
The purse I am wearing was a free replacement for a $30 purse that fell apart in two weeks, given begrudgingly after I persuaded the store manager that its life expectancy should have been at least a couple of months."
"'That's the ugliest purse I've ever seen,' my husband blurts out when I show him the bag.
I'm slightly wounded. I'm still not entirely comfortable with its brass plaque etched with the brand name (in case the monogrammed initials are too subtle). But it's undeniably a classic, and the large tote size works.
I transfer the contents of my old purse - my wallet, a jumbo tube of baby sunscreen, a Ziploc bag of Goldfish crackers, my coupon file - and toss in my beat-up laptop. it all fits."
"I'm timid, at first, about wearing my new things in public. I start with the Gucci sunglasses, on a playdate at the park. They cost $300 and have plastic frames with plastic lenses, just like every other pair of sunglasses I've ever owned. At the park, they are a nonevent. If anyone notices them at all, they probably assume they are knockoffs. I don't know which is worse: to be considered extravagant or a poseur."
"The bag causes real worry. I'm hopelessly absentminded. One day I bring in groceries and forget the purse. My husband takes our van to a meeting, where he gets a frantic text-message from me: 'THERE IS A $1,500 BAG IN THE VAN. GO GET IT NOW.'"
"But the real moment of reckoning comes one evening when I have to run out last-minute to the grocery store. It's been a typical, nonstop day, and I'm wiped out. My hair is dirty. I'm in old jeans and a T-shirt. I can't believe I have to go out in public. Then I remember the black Burberry trench coat.
I throw it on. The Louis Vuitton bag slips easily over my shoulder. I slide the Gucci sunglasses over my head. It's magic. Instantly I look, and feel, like someone who has it all together. Isn't that worth a few thousand bucks? Heck, yeah - if you've got a few thousand to burn."


  1. I love fashion. We all have days when we just throw whatever on but it is amazing how much better I feel if I put on a cute necklace or actually do my hair. It really doesn't take any time and I just feel more pulled together.

  2. And see? It doesn't really take thousands of dollars, but gosh if you had those to burn? I can definitely see her point.