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Why Women’s Shopping Is Not What It Seems

Fashion
Why Women’s Shopping Is Not What It Seems

It’s an age-old stereotype: a woman going shopping, quickly tossing away hundreds or even thousands of dollars on “just” clothing, shoes and bags during a one-afternoon spree. She ends her day exhausted but fulfilled, clutching her dozens of bags to her chest and carefully putting her purchases away in a gigantic walk-in closet with all of the other fashion pieces she’ll never be able to wear.

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Granted, our culture does seem to encourage endless spending on women’s clothing, shoes and accessories, from expensive limited edition designer bags that spark a frenzy amongst collectors to “express fashion” discount chains such as H&M, TopShop and Forever 21 that encourage shoppers to purchase quantity over quality. But not every woman throws her hard-earned dollars away in such a blasé manner: many items that women choose to purchase are actually thoughtful and can be enjoyed for years. Furthermore, if a woman is a savvy shopper and knows what items to splurge on, regardless of the price tag some purchases may end up being rewarding investments. In fact, many pieces that women purchase, such as a Chanel bag or Hermes scarf, can actually drastically appreciate with age or, even better, be handed down and treasured from one generation to the next. In contrast, men – who always seem so exempt from stereotypes of shopping until they drop – not only spend more money on items like shoes than most women, rarely purchase pieces that appreciate with age. Instead, their high ticket items like suits and ties – which, granted, they don’t need as many of – rarely go up in value over time, and I’ve never really heard of a man passing down a clothing item to his son or grandson. Unless you count a 1970s light blue polyester suit that makes for a good Halloween costume nowadays. So let’s rewind for a second and take a second look at that old stereotype of the shopaholic woman. First we’ll look at how men and women spend, and then let’s take a second glance at whether or not all of that shopping that women (supposedly) indulge in might actually have some long-term benefits.

Battle of the sexes: what women and men spend their money on

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A recent study by The Guardian found that British men actually spend more money on shoes than women. (So much for that old stereotype of women being the big shoe shoppers.) Men also spend more than women on a host of other activities and commodities: they pay more for holiday shopping, eating out, electronic devices and alcohol and nightlife and entertainment. According to various surveys, women account for around 70-80% of consumer spending in the United States. Interestingly, women tend to spend more on their children and purchases that would benefit a whole family (for example, kitchen appliances). Unsurprisingly, women also spend more on personal care than men, although women are at a disadvantage because beauty products such as shampoos tend to also be marked up higher than the same or similar products that are marketed for men. Women are spending more and more of their time shopping online compared to men. They are the main group of online shoppers. Online shopping provides ample opportunities to compare and save on purchases. For example, with a boom in online luxury shopping in recent years, there are more opportunities than ever for women to pick up exclusive designs and labels online, sometimes at deeply discounted rates. While most women’s fashion items don’t increase in value over time, if a woman carefully selects a piece, certain items can be worn for a long time without falling out of fashion and handed down to future generations.

Can fashion actually be an investment?

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While most fashion accessories don’t increase in monetary value over time, there have been some exceptions. The demand for exclusive purses has been high in recent years, with bags that are strongly desired by collectors fetching tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. A red crocodile skin Hermes Birkin purse recently set a world record for selling for the highest price for a handbag at auction, over $203,000 dollars. Birkin bags are nearly impossible to obtain and appreciate dramatically as soon as they are purchased.

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Chanel bags also tend to be good long-term investment pieces. The value of a classic Chanel 2.55 bag has increased as much as 12% per year. In fact, Chanel bags have proven to be investment pieces: a Chanel 2.55 bag that was purchased in 2010 cost $2,650. By 2013, the same bag had increased in price by 84.9% and retails for around $5,000 today. This classic bag is not just an incredible fashion statement – not to mention an expensive splurge – but a collector’s piece that could very well increase over time. If it increased that much in a mere three years, imagine how it might increase in 30 years! And since it’s a classic bag that has been popular for decades, perhaps a woman could even pass it down to her very lucky daughter or granddaughter. This means that the piece has value beyond just money. Classic bags in classic colors by designers such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Hermes are the best bets for a piece that will appreciate over time. The Chanel 2.55, for example, is durable, has a classic appearance, and in black it could be paired with anything. Needless to say, there’s good reason that many of the owners and collectors of these timeless bags consider them (functional) works of art. Conversely, it’s hard to imagine what men spend their money on – shoes, food, alcohol – actually appreciating much over time or being considered works of art for future generations to enjoy!

What else is worth the splurge?

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Not every fashion item can increase in value quite as drastically as the classic quilted Chanel bag, but some clothing items are worth the price tag because, if well taken care of, they can be worn for a long time and are versatile enough to wear in a variety of occasions. If women are lucky, there’s always the chance that the pieces might even increase in value over time as they begin to have vintage appeal and the styles or cuts become desirable again to future fashionistas.

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One item that never seems to grow old is the little black dress: it can be dressed up or down, and go from the office during the day to a cocktail party at night. Its cut can be suited to each individual woman’s silhouette, and should make a woman feel confident. Some of the most famous little black dresses the world has ever seen included Angelina Jolie’s 2012 thigh-high split Oscar dress by Versace, which, like most of Versace’s gowns, probably came with a $10,000 or higher price tag. In 1975, singer/actress Cher wore a famous iridescent slash black dress gown that was designed by Bob Mackie, and was sold at auction later for $28,125. Of course, Audrey Hepburn once wore a Little Black Dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s that has become one of the most famous LBDs of all time and fetched $923,187 at auction in 2006. Most women can find a little black dress that are slightly more versatile than these gowns: Burberry is a safe bet for finding classic LBDs retailing for around $1,000-$2,000 each. Another piece that is worth the price tag because it can be worn for years and for almost any occasion is a classic tailored jacket or blazer. Chanel made the tailored tweed jacket famous decades ago and it has never really gone out of style. Chanel is still the go-to for tweed jackets (prices vary). Other choices are Mackage, whose tailored jackets could be found for several hundred dollars apiece. Finally, what better piece to wear under the tailored jacket than a smooth satin or silk blouse? Another piece that will never go out of style because it pairs so perfectly with a classic jacket, simple pencil skirt and tidy bag, the silk blouse is a choice that women might splurge on but will find themselves wearing for years. Satin blouses might range in price from several hundreds of dollars to over $1,000 for silk, but will fit in flawlessly with any wardrobe.

Women and their shopping habits

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Women’s spending habits may make it appear as though women are big consumers (especially if you look in their closets). But unlike the habits of men, who tend to spend more on disposable items and entertainment like eating out, many women are careful consumers, spending on items that will improve their appearance and benefit their families for years to come. When women invest in high-ticket items such as jackets, blouses and dresses, they are consciously adding choices to their wardrobe that will be worn for years. A bag that can value over time and be passed down to children and grandchildren is not quite the outrageous commodity to purchase when you consider it will be treated as though it is a work of art and might serve as a family heirloom for future generations. Furthermore, a man could easily spend upwards of $120 one evening on dinner and drinks at the bar. A woman could put that amount towards buying a thoughtful item for her wardrobe that will be cherished for years to come.  A weekend tab totalling $300 in meals and drinks will quickly be forgotten, but that same $300 could be spent on a luxurious and classic satin blouse that a woman could wear for years. So the next time it looks like a woman is frivolously spending, she might in fact be searching for meaningful items that she – and other members of her family – can use and cherish.

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