The great woman is thrifty

Marjorie Harris thrifty

 

It’s not popular, I know. It is out of fashion to be thrifty.  Your considered weird if you go out for dinner once a month instead of several times a week.  If you have a steady income – it’s almost expected that you would buy yourself a little something every week or so.  This has become normal.  Women are under such pressure to shop, consistently change our wardrobes, toss last year’s skirt length for this year’s trend.  It is relentless and the reality is that none of the spending will make us great.  We won’t become more stylish – style is based on a consistent point of view that is the very opposite of following this year’s trend.  In fact, the surest way to become stylish is to severely limit your clothing budget, focus on a limited repertoire and be consistent and loyal to that repertoire.  Work it, as they say.

For the youthful great woman I say start investing and do it now.  Do it with $100 bucks a month a look for opportunities to save that money – learn how to make a decent cup of coffee at home – give up pantyhose, whatever.

For those of us in mid-life or just beyond, do the same thing.  You might be surprised at what is waiting for you in your closet; that you actually know how to make a great smoothie with any one of the multiple frothing implements you’ve accumulated over the years.  Take a fresh look at your heaps of stuff, dust them off and put them to good use.   We’re very fortunate – women just get better with age and we live a long time so imagine just how great you can become and how wonderful it will be to watch money accumulate, even if it is slowly, to help secure your independence and real quality of life through each of those glorious years.

The thing about saving and investing is they are accomplishments.  Like making the bed in the morning, it’s an easy win.  You will (trust me on this) be more confident because you are quietly accumulating money, even in small batches. In fact, the small batches are imbued with greater value because you are carefully nurturing them.

A few resources to get you started:

Thrifty: Living the Frugal Life with Style, by Marjorie Harris.   Written in 2010 and still a fun and inspiring read.

Get Rich Slowly, Personal Finance that makes cents, a personal finance blog by William Cowie and a great resource to keep you thinking about money the right way

Mr. Money Mustache, Early Retirement through Badassity, more than a finance blog, it’s sort of a thrifty lifestyle blog that calls into question a lot of assumptions we make about money, work, lifestyle and what we need to be happy.  A bit extreme, but makes you think.

 

 

Going grey

 

black women grey

 

I’ve written about this many times and it always strikes a chord.  Why?  It’s not easy to grow old in Western culture and as women we know it’s particularly hard for us.  I do think things are changing for the better and particularly on the political stage where women are increasingly accepted as leaders and in some cases as leaders head and shoulders above their male counterparts.  I’m happy about that but like you, remain frustrated at the lack of women in the C-suite and on boards which are still dominated and trusted to grey-haired men.  Where are the grey-haired women?

I started to accumulate grey hairs in my early 30s and had a chunk right in front by the time I was 40. It remains the most solid bit of grey in my now overall greying hair.  I like to think it’s because located where it is on the left side of my head where all that linear thinking is supposed to take place – an ongoing challenge.  I’m only half-kidding.

For me it was just too much trouble to try to keep up with the relentless brunette hairs and I’m too fidgety to sit in a salon to have someone more talented handle it, and too lazy to manage it at home.  And so, I’ve taken the plunge. I have to say, as a side attraction, I’m quite happy not to have the chemicals on my scalp and then draining into the water system but make no mistake, I’m not doing this for environmental reasons, it’s really out of pure laziness and something else.  The something else is a stubborn determination to stay true to my age.  Why should I have to hide it?

What it doesn’t mean:

  • It doesn’t mean I’ve gone dotty
  • It doesn’t mean I know longer want to look attractive
  • It doesn’t mean I’ve thrown in the towel on any aspect of my future

And it’s certainly not because I’ve overcome all claims to vanity.  Lord no!  I’m still as vain as ever.  Prepared, however, to expend my energy on maintaining my physique, keeping to a certain sartorial standard (though without heels or pantyhose), and focusing on sleep to keep the bags at bay.  Vain yes, lazy yes.  It’s tricky.

What I’ve always found so interesting is how young women respond to my greying hair – they love it.  I’m not exactly sure when faced with the full effect themselves that they will make my choice but it seems to render some inspired.   I believe it’s seen as courageous which is both terrific and a bit sad.

I do think if you’re a blonde you have an advantage in that greys mix so well with blonde.  If you’re anything else (red, brunette) then I admire your commitment to your beautiful colour.  I love beautifully coloured and styled hair – the fact that I’ve gone the low maintenance route does not in any way reflect my love for your coloured, blown-dry, curled locks.  Thank you for improving the look of virtually every public place in the world.

Men don’t have this dilemma of course.  Maybe some do but men who colour their hair are still considered unpleasantly vain.  Never an attractive quality in a man.  As we know, men are just as vain as women (the difference is between people not genders) but they have to hide their vanity whereas in women it’s often considered a sign of femininity.  Funny that.

When I do happen to see a woman who is allowing her hair to grey, it’s always a surprise.  ‘Ah, there’s another one’ I say to myself, ‘What’s her story?’  More often than not I’m surrounded by a sea of colour.  Some good, some gorgeous, some completely unnecessary, meaning why at 25 are you colouring your naturally luscious hair?  But that’s your business.

A big part of keeping grey at bay is economic, as so many things are for women.  Let’s talk about that in an upcoming post.

Life beyond pantylines

pantylines.PNG

What do we think of when we think of women’s undergarments:  Pantyhose, stockings, tights, knee-highs, Spanx (or that sort of thing), control top anything, underwire bras, knee socks.  Lovely though many of these items are (like ice cream, made to seduce) they are also prone to running, tearing or ripping in three wearings (lucky if you made it to 3).  Then there is the binding factor – just below the knee, at the waist, around the thighs, digging under the breasts.  What is the male equivalent?  Frankly, I can’t think of one.  I believe there are some Spanx-like undershirts that can smooth things out for men but based on anecdotal evidence, they don’t carry the same percentage of elastine (or whatever that is).  Ever spoken to a woman after a normal-ish lunch wearing Spanx?  What she really wants is to get her hands on a sharp object to cut herself out.  It’s mind-boggling how these brave women put up with being squeezed, having underwires cut into their underarms, and religiously invest hard-earned dollars in pantyhose where it’s a crap shoot if you get out the door with that brand new $20 pair intact.  Interestingly, among Boomers and Gen X (think Michelle Obama) spending on pantyhose has declined, whereas Millennials have picked up the mantle (think Kate Middleton).  If women spend on average twice what men do on underwear per year (ours cost more) and if they maintain the pantyhose habit, consider the financial drain knowing that we still outlive men and should really be scrutinizing every penny to save for a long and well-funded post-work life.

The tyranny of the undergarment has certainly loosened its grip on women.  But have we gone far enough?  Should the great woman take one step further and eliminate all such undergarments from her wardrobe?  We know she would be more comfortable, likely boost her circulation, free her to move with ease, and comfortably digest a delicious lunch, but that’s not her only concern, is it?  She has to think about how she is perceived by society and particularly by employers because perception plays such a large part in economic value.  As much as we would like to believe the Western woman exists in a meritocracy we know that’s not true.  If it were, there would be the same number of women in the C-suite, sitting as CEO’s (currently 4.4% of Fortune 500 companies) and holding board positions.  And there is the lingering notion that dressing in a traditionally ‘female’ or even ‘feminine’ style assuages the insecure male ego.  (I happen to think better of men but perception can be a trap for us all.)

So why, I ask, does the great women not shed herself of these physical and financially debilitating traditions? One answer is that a fundamental change to underwear would by necessity trigger a fundamental change to the overall wardrobe.  Think of men’s suits:  beautifully designed so that you can’t see what lies beneath – neither the man himself (a few pounds gained or loss discretely covered) or whether he’s a boxer or brief man. A carefree life without nary a thought for pantylines or coloured bras showing through.  Their white t-shirts and cotton boxers – all loose, sweat-absorbing, 100% cotton – hidden beneath a flattering silhouette that signals authority, reliability, no-nonsense. The perfect disguise.

The closest retailers have come to mannish underwear for women is the boyshort.  Having personally investigated I can tell you – don’t let them fool you – these have virtually none of the features of their  male counterparts.  They sit too low, ride up and don’t cover your butt, often feature a seam running from front to back (creating yet another place to dig in) and are not in my experience produced in the same quality fabric. A disappointing sham at best.

So why wouldn’t the great woman take the plunge?  Rid her dressing room of the thongs, push-up bras, single-wear stockings and control top anythings in favour of fit, comfort, and most importantly rid herself once and for all of the distraction that discomfort brings that may in fact be preventing her from realizing her ultimate and glorious potential?  Might there be room for a whole range of women’s undergarments that bring the same fabrics, structure and utility to women that have so long been the purview of men?  I say yes.  Bring them on.

What say you?

 

Is it cheaper to be a woman – or a man?

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2012/dec/14/cheaper-man-or-woman

 

Why pantyhose sales are still surprisingly strong

http://fortune.com/2015/11/11/pantyhose-sales-fashion-work/

Nails – a beautiful obsession

Nail6

I love beautifully manicured nails.  I marvel at the idiosyncratic expression of personality – green with a blue ring finger; pale pink and perfectly oval; short with the delicate white tips and pink nailbed of the classic French manicure.  So much thought, planning and creativity woven into 10 tiny chards.  It is a marvel and one that seems to be almost ubiquitous.  Doesn’t matter what a woman is wearing, dressed up, dressed down, the nails are the thing.  But why?

Since the early 2000s nail salons have proliferated and I can’t find a good reason why though I’ve come up with a theory:  First, it’s a treat – regardless of where we are on the corporate ladder we’re working long days, and then going home to the second shift.  It’s exhausting so going to a nail salon is good for a little ‘me time’ followed by the pleasure of those perfectly groomed nails.  Secondly, could it be that we’re looking at our hands like never before?  Hard to avoid when we’re all madly typing all day and so there they are right in front of us.  Finally, nails are the great equalizer for women across the economic spectrum.  I may not be able to afford that handbag but I can certainly have the same finger tips as my more affluent sisters. It’s a bit like living at home with your parents while owning a BMW.  The world sees your BMW, they don’t see you still sleeping in your childhood bedroom.

Clearly, we have diverted funds to support this nail obsession, not to mention time.  About an hour in total, depending upon your travel distance and, let’s face it, most neighbourhoods now have a couple of nail salons in close proximity.  So, let’s say an hour a week and then about $30 a pop – I think that’s reasonable for hands and then double it for a pedicure.  A manicure lasts nicely for about a week (with plastic gloves or don’t do any housework which is fine with me) and you can push it to two if you touch up on your own.  To be conservative, $780 every year (twice monthly) and an hour each time, and fair to say a rather fleeting investment.  It gives me pause to consider what this money and time might be invested in that would have lasting effects.  What if with that $780 you bought a simple and classic navy suit.  Something loosely cut (even from the men’s department if you dare like me) that you have altered a bit (a few darts at the back to nip in the waist, raise the sleeves a tad) and can you imagine how powerful and commanding you would look in the subway, the office?  It’s the simple deception men have going for them – and don’t we know it – the suit does make the man, of course, it’s no promise that the man is up to the suit but the impression has been made.  And as we all know in marketing, perception is almost everything. I would go so far as to say it’s one of the reasons we are inevitably put in the position of having to be twice as competent to counteract it.  If not a suit, then how about a pair of leather oxfords (black or brown) to wear with a plain pair of trousers, or an a-line skirt (I love that look), so that you’re comfortable and effortlessly grounded, doing no damage to your plantar fascia – now that’s an investment in your present and future.

And then let’s tackle the time issue.  With most of us doing the second shift whether we have children or not, exercise time is often last on the list, considered something of a luxury.  What if you split that bi-weekly hour at the nail salon into two focused walks – by that I mean, you go for a walk by yourself – or add that half an hour to another and go for a solid 5 km walk every week.  The health benefits are crazy since walking is the new running (I think there’s lots of evidence on that and more to say in another post on the extraordinary benefits of walking).

The question is – how ingrained is the nail obsession and are we willing to break in favour of something more active and potentially more rewarding?

Style versus fashion – an even more contrarian view

 

 

When you see someone with great style displayed day after day, year after year, it’s often incomprehensible how they manage to nail it all the time.  Worse, ‘style’ is couched in mystery – something that she’s got and you don’t.  In the genes.  To decode – it’s not that difficult and I don’t think  natural – it’s the result of serious contemplation and thoughtful editing before each purchase and a consistent and strict set of parameters followed largely by habit that makes it work every single day.

Barack Obama has great style – famously, his is the result of wanting to limit the number of daily decisions.

“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he told Vanity Fair in 2012 …. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

A white shirt, conservative though often bright tie (light blue!) and he’s done. Dress it down, take off the tie and put on a navy or light tan Harrington Jacket and he’s in weekend mode.   Yes it’s simple.  Maybe too simple, but that’s the essence of style.  Simplicity built around a clear vocabulary that work not just in one item but with just about every item in the closet,  and that delivers seemingly endless opportunities for variety.

The other thing you’ll notice about Barack Obama, or let’s find a female equivalent, Christine Lagarde of World Bank fame, as one example, is that nothing is too tight.  Tight clothes are not elegant, and elegance is at the heart of real style – if clothes are tight you might be perfectly comfortable with all that spandex or whatever is going on to allow you to breath, but you don’t look elegant and if you don’t look elegant then you can’t be stylish.  Sorry, that’s the unspoken law and you need to play be the rules here. Of course, Barack and Christine are both tall and super slim and so the average woman will decide that she can’t play that game because of her body type – the assumption is that the more curves you’ve got the tighter the clothes should be so as not to increase volume.  Wrong.  Look at Meryl Streep – an average smallish woman who look great in a loose-fitting suit.  If you believe that you’ve got fit the suit (pants, shirt) rather than the other way around – you have bought into the rhetoric of fashion and do yourself a disservice.  The more form-fitting your clothes, the more likely you are to have to replace them (or house multiple sizes in an expanding closet) because inevitably pounds come and go or at least shift location as one ages.  Equally irksome is that this again contributes to undermining a woman’s financial strength.  No – buy loose – buy so you can sit down comfortably after a delicious meal and not be distracted by an overwhelming desire to rip your clothes off because you’re so damn uncomfortable.  I suspect you can tell I am speaking from experience here.  Let your pants fall straight from your hip and if you can’t find women’s pants (and it will be hard) then go to the men’s department.  Trust me, their pants are designed to create a tall, slim silhouette and once you get used to not being in tight clothes you’ll realize the advantage they have here. Skirts should be aline, long enough so you don’t have to have your legs crossed all the time and the waistband loose enough to allow for a healthy digestion.  Eliminate all tight clothes from your wardrobe. Including jeans.

One of the lasting problems with internet images (despite fashion blogs by and for middle-age women) is that the women featured are 98% under 25 and the remaining 2% are former models or actors, like Tilda Swinton, who are uncommonly thin and gorgeous.  Examples of women with real-ish bodies are hard to find.   There is no better woman to look for inspiration regardless of your height, weight or age than Isabella Rossellini.  The poor woman is the poster-child for the unslim, ageing with graceful beauty, but it’s a burden she must bear.   And no better example exists to support my argument for loosening the ties that bind.  In addition, we also have the benefit of a woman whose face reflects our own – imperfect in its ageing though full to the brim with character and therefore beauty.

Whether in pants or suits (men’s suits by the way), or a dress the fabric falls from the shoulders and usually well past the hips.  I feel like she shares my aversion to displaying the butt in so many unnecessary ways.

You know something is brewing when both Target and Zara are launching genderless lines.  That’s all well and good – but I don’t want to miss out on the better quality and more affordable pricing in the men’s department.  Don’t let them kid you, like men’s haircuts, they pay less, often for more detailed work.

And so what would happen if we changed our ways and headed straight for the men’s department?  If we began buying our suits, pants, jeans and shirts in the men’s department?  Bought for years not the next season, had the luxury of a wardrobe that gave us authority and comfort while reducing our spend.  Would the fashion industry grind to a halt?  Would there be significant job losses?  Maybe – fast fashion and the pressure to keep up is making retailers a lot of money.  It’s providing work for developing economies, it’s having an impact on the environment, creating clothing that gets dumped back into emerging markets creating a non-sustainable cycle.  Let’s rethink the role women play in the cycle.  Let’s think about economic divides and how to close them, how to remove the shackles that bind and the rhetoric that keeps us shopping like a bunch of zombies instead of saving our money to secure financial strength.  A great woman will consider the folly and take decisive action.  Will you?

 

Vanity Fair 2012 – Obama’s way

http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2012/10/michael-lewis-profile-barack-obama