Whenever someone compliments me on an item of clothing I feel a compulsive need to tell them how much it cost. It is an annoying trait and yet I can’t get rid of it; a few years ago it led to a friend snapping and reminding me that she wasn’t my priest. Still, I can’t stop.
You see, I am very good at finding bargains. It’s like an endurance sport. I go from charity shop to charity shop, only stopping once I have found a designer dress for a tenner, or some nice leather shoes for a couple of pounds. One of my favourite jackets is a denim one I bought fifteen years ago. It cost me one euro.
Two months ago I spent £220 on a leather jacket. It was new and on sale and beautiful and I couldn’t resist it; I’d always wanted one. Last month I bought a pair of gorgeous leather boots, which cost less than the jacket but not by much. This week I ordered a wonderful, long, black velvet dress, which had a price tag somewhere between the jacket and the boots.
I have Boris Johnson to thank for that first purchase – his catastrophic demise led to a number of publications paying me handsomely to explain what on earth had just happened. The other two required more soul searching.
At first I thought the economy was to blame. “The so-called lipstick index, coined by Estée Lauder’s Leonard Lauder, is the theory that sales of affordable luxuries rise in economic downturns,” the BBC explained last week. Consumers’ confidence in the future hit a record low this summer and there is no sign that our lives are about to get any better.
When everything feels glum it is natural to long for fripperies, small frivolous things that can make your day – or lips – brighter. At risk of sounding like a composite of every column written by a 30-year-old in the past few years, this isn’t even our first rodeo.
Most of my adult life has been spent in recession or on the verge of one. I deserve to gorge myself in preparation for the tough winter ahead. Well, to an extent. The point of the lipstick index is that people choose to spend as little money as possible while feeling like they have bought themselves a treat.
Splashing unprecedented amounts of money on luxury clothing is, if anything, the opposite of that. This brings me to my second theory. Who can I blame for my wanton shopping? Maybe the housing market will do.
I am 30 and my wages are stubbornly stagnating, due to the aforementioned economy. I live in the sort of flat that a student would be delighted to move into after graduation. There is no world in which I will be able to stop renting anytime soon.
Coincidentally, 30 is the age when one realises that one’s friends may be a tad wealthier than they had you believe. One day you blink and suddenly they have deposits, of the sort that no one could afford to save for on their own. I am happy for them, of course; I just wish that vast parental wealth wasn’t the only route to home ownership in London. In an ideal world, having a good career and spending your salary wisely should ensure that you will eventually be able to own your own home. It seems fair to say that the world we live in is some way off “ideal”.
Perhaps this is it, then. Against all odds, I have finally reached the age where stability no longer looks dull and starts looking appealing instead. The only problem is that it remains firmly outside my reach, because this country has little time for the young and the not-quite-so-young-any-more.
Any serious saving and investing risks getting wiped out by the actions of our gung-ho government and, even if it does not, it is unlikely to lead to any real, steady comfort. How else can I show the world and myself that I am embracing adulthood? I have never yearned for a white picket fence and the quiet blandness of the suburbs, but the idea of a secure city life now feels like an oxymoron.
That doesn’t mean I do not want anything to hold on to. I will probably wince when my friends see my jacket and my shoes and my dress and say nice things about them, because for once I will have no desire to tell them how much I paid for them. I am not ashamed of the money I spent, but what they represent is bittersweet. I am glad I now earn enough that I can occasionally afford a piece of shining armour; I just wish I could have an anchor instead.