When two's a crowd

See a dress you like? Resist the urge to buy more than one

Last week my daughter's godmother, Charlotte, flew in from New York and came to see us. After much chat and food, she got up to go. "What a fab coat," I said of the high-necked velvet coat she was doing up. "Isn't it?" she agreed, "it's from La Reina on the Lower East Side and it's by Leana Zuniga. I love it so much I think I'm going to have to buy another one, as a spare."

This, I told her, was a very bad idea. It's really tempting, when you buy an item of clothing (or shoes, or an accessory) and discover you love it passionately, to buy an identical one to save you from the pain you'll feel when you wear it out. The moment you buy its twin, you lose all feeling of specialness from the original.

The very fact that something has an ephemeral life is what makes it so precious. You can't trash it. You can't wear it every day. You have to treat it well, to cherish it. The moment there's another one just like it hanging in there and waiting to take its place - well, where's the tension?

There is something to be said for buying a particular T-shirt or a really simple jumper in a few colours that suit you (though you'll still be diluting its potency). Or, as with the definitive Petit Bateau T-shirts I wrote about last year, buying one in every style they come in, but all in black. But buy the exact same thing again? It will immediately halve the lure of both.

I once did this with some trousers I purchased. I wore the first pair for a few days before realising they were pretty perfect and I needed to buy a spare pair, because they wouldn't last for ever. How clever I thought I was. But, the moment I got the doppelgänger home, wearing the original, hallowed pair went from being thrilling ("These are the best trousers ever and they won't last for ever") to a chore ("I've got a whole other pair just like them in the cupboard"). Suddenly the first pair became indestructible. Because even if you do wear out the first, brilliant pair, by the time you get to the understudy, you're completely sick of the whole look. In buying two pairs of my perfect trousers, I had rendered them thoroughly imperfect; I had ruined everything. This is sartorially speaking only, of course: the world still spun on its axis, as ever before.

Fashion editors don't tell you this. They forever ram home the same advice of "if you see something you like, buy it up in all colours/buy two".

I know this because I, too, was once a fashion editor, and I'm pretty sure I've said it myself in a moment of crapness. It's almost a duty; something so often repeated, you feel it must be true; like saying how bias-cut dresses flatter everyone, which is entirely false, as they flatter almost no one.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 05 March 2007 issue of the New Statesman, The great generational robbery