Pay a lot to look cheap?

On Sunday I like to relax by reading the news, both print and online. I came across Julie Gunlock’s opinion piece that made me laugh. She thinks that upper-class folks feel uncomfortable when average people get access to something trendy: in this case, faux rusted metal trash cans and farm-to-table food.

Not being privy to their circle, I don’t know what “the elite” think.  However, shabby chic has been around for ages – at least as long as there have been starving artists and cash-strapped renters – and it’s not limited by income. Upper-class families have a tradition of keeping ancestral furniture and art in the family, so that parents might give their daughter great-great-great-grandpa’s bookcase to use in her first apartment; if it isn’t replaced by something more modern, it either becomes a beautiful antique or a shabby-chic piece.

(Then there are New England families of various incomes who personify “Yankee thrift.” Why pay standard retail price for anything?  The Boston Globe had a contest for the most frugal New Englander, and the winner was a computer-savvy former economist.)

Personally, I think paying good money* for factory-torn jeans, pre-salted metal goods, and pre-fab kitsch is silly. But I understand the thrill of finding an inexpensive out-of-fashion item in a junk shop that works perfectly for your home.  So I won’t sneer at those who “spend hours perusing the wares at Les Puces de Saint-Ouento to find that unique rusted trash can discarded by a Paris artist,” as Gunlock described them.

On the other hand, I mock street-to-catwalk fashions.

I’m old enough to remember when “grunge” became popular fashion: flannel shirts, worn jeans, and nothing matching.  It seemed ludicrous that fashionable people would imitate the everyday clothes worn by farm kids and cost-conscious young adults. My friends and I knew hunters who dressed better during deer season, but Marc Jacobs designed a Perry Ellis collection around the look.

More recently there were First Lady Michelle Obama’s $540 sneakers decorated in the style long-popularized by crafty summer campers using inexpensive canvas tennis shoes and art supplies.  (The trending term is “upcycled tennis shoes”, according to friends addicted to Pinterest.) They’re cute and, judging solely from the tweens who cruise the neighborhood in the summer, they’re popular.  But I don’t understand why an adult fashionista would be drawn to dress like a middle schooler, unless it was Halloween or Opposite Day.

No doubt the current trend will pass – and come back again!



*”Paying good money” is a saying I’ve heard my whole life. I believe it’s short for “spending one’s hard-earned money, especially on something expensive”.   It might be a Midwestern saying, since I’ve had people react to it when I’ve traveled elsewhere. Maybe it’s a play on the more-familiar “Throwing good money after bad.”


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  1. Pingback: Frugal frills | The House of Nonsense

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