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Two hectic—and expensive!—days

Good grief, these past two days have been hectic! And expensive: I’ve mortgaged my patrimony to renew my wardrobe.

The state sent me a notice saying I had to get a new photo for my driver’s license. Some time back, the State of Arizona decided testing and retesting people for driver’s licenses was just too much government intrusion, and so they instituted long, long renewal periods. Now instead of making your renew your license every few years, they make you get a new photo once every twelve years. No driver’s test: just a photo. When you reach the age of 65, you have to take a vision test and renew your license, after which you have to renew every five years.

The state has laid off workers in every department, including DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). Some of my students reported waits as long as four hours.

So I carried the 439 pages of proofs I’ve been editing with me to the closest DMV office, 11.3 miles from my house, and prepared to settle in for the long haul.

The wait and the process of jumping through hoops wasn’t as time-consuming as expected. After sitting for a few minutes—not long enough to get a running start on editing copy—I was called to a desk where I was made to fart around with a form. Fortunately, they didn’t give me any argument: we’re told that if they can’t find your photo in their system, you’ll have to prove you’re a U.S. citizen, and so I had to dig out my birth certificate and carry it with me. Then it was off to sit in line to get a new photo—here, too, I barely got started reading copy before they hauled me up to the camera. Sit and wait again while they processed the new piece of plastic.

Took a good look at it and saw the expiration date was still May 7, 2010. Back to the front desk: “How do I get this thing renewed?” They had failed to do the eye test when I showed up, and so I had to start over and jump through all those hoops again!!!

It took two hours to go through the whole damn process twice.

I had already decided that since I was going to be on the west side, I would go up to the strip mall near Arrowhead (home of the highest per-capita proportion of millionaires in the Phoenix urban area) that houses a Talbot’s, a Chico’s, and a B’Gauze, two of which normally have clothes that fit me. My clothes are all falling apart, because I haven’t bought anything other than an occasional pair of Costco jeans since last March, and at that time it was only a couple of shirts and a pair of socks. Otherwise, the last time I bought decent clothes was in 2007.

At Talbot’s and Chico’s, every stitch I put on made me look like a potato sack tied in the middle. Talbot’s was particularly discouraging, because their clothes used to fit me. I’ve put on weight, no question of it: about five pounds since 2007. And I’m getting saggy because I spend way too much time parked in front of the computer. But it doesn’t seem like a five-pound gain should cause every skirt, every blouse, and every pair of pants to look dumpy on me. After all, I haven’t gone up a size in jeans.

Chico’s clothes have never fit me, so I wasn’t surprised. I found one shirt, for which they charged me $64. Talbot’s used to carry great clothing—understated, classic, and perfectly fitting—but when the company changed its look, the wonderful fit went away. So, IMHO, did the good looks of the outfits Talbot’s used to sell. Which, I suppose, explains why I haven’t bought anything there in a while. I did pick up a knit shirt on sale: $24. When I wore it today, the dye rubbed off on my white pants.

B’Gauze carries light cotton gauze outfits that are great in the summer. But because they’re shapeless and loose, they look like what they are: fat lady clothes. That notwithstanding, I bought a decent blue skirt, very flowing and airy, plus two white shirts, one that looked great with the skirt and one in the same artist’s-smock style as a turquoise shirt I already own and love, which is wearing out. The bill: $194.

These two expeditions consumed half the day.

Then it was back to the house to read copy until 5:30, when I had to race up to the college to attend a workshop in the new BlackBoard version 9. As we’ve observed, BlackBoard is one of life’s prime time-wasters, and the new version is changed enough to require one to diddle away a great deal of time figuring out how to operate it. So that sucked up the whole evening.

By the time I got home, Cassie had hunger-barfed all over the living room floor, a fine ending to a tedious day. Well, not quite: I worked into the night to finish reading proofs—the copy was a tangled mess that apparently was never edited, the content tedious drivel that left one wondering who at the press has the author as his sister-in-law. Because I had to return the copy to the client today, I plowed through to the end of that, finishing around 1:00 a.m.

This morning it was off to the Friday classes, which mercifully end at 11:30 because the 101 section meets only on Mondays and Wednesdays. From the college, I had to drive into Tempe to meet Tina and pick up a batch of completed work. From there, it was up to mid-town Scottsdale to return her project and mine to the client.

On the way home, I had to pass Scottsdale Fashion Square. M’hijito has been wanting a sideboard, so I thought I’d drop by Crate and Barrel to see if they had anything. Or, more to the point, if anything was on sale.

No, and no on those two counts.

However, Dillard’s was having a bra-fitting event. The wait was half an hour, so I tracked down a much-needed bra and underpants on my own.

In my old age, I’ve come to find underwire brassieres singularly uncomfortable. The decrepit wireless numbers I have are worn out and leave me sagging and bouncing. Cheap bras are even more uncomfortable than good bras—the ones I bought in a package of three from Costco ride up, gouge, itch, and hurt. I tried on three bras in the $25 range and ended up buying a $60 Wacoal, another of the few clothing brands that now fit me. By the time the bargain panties were added in, the bill came to $93.

I wasn’t happy at having to pay sixty bucks for one bra, when I really need two or three bras. Oh well.

I found a pretty belt in Dillard’s notions department, another item that I’ve been needing: $17.

Then I decided to visit J. Jill, which sometimes carries linen clothes that sort of fit me. After Thursday’s miserable experiences at Talbot’s and Chico’s, I was pretty discouraged with trying on clothes. Nevertheless, I wrestled myself into a few things—the arm is still quite sore, and pulling things on and off can elicit quite the jab of pain. I found…

An ankle-length knit dress with pleated front and near-empire waist that does a nice job of hiding the flab, lumps, and bumps. Matter of fact, it looks very nice.

A plain black knee-length knit dress that also reveals no cellulite and hides the fat very nicely. Comfortable and socially acceptable. Perfect for church and general out and about.

A black linen maxi-skirt that despite being a size 10 fits well around the flabby waist as well as around the capacious rear end. Astonishing!

A white knee-length linen dress that feels like it has its own air-conditioning built in. Good for summer; also disguises the fat effectively.

A pair of linen cropped pants that fit adequately and are not jeans, a style of which I am becoming royally sick.

A white knot-button linen shirt with the same air-conditioning qualities, very nice with the black skirt and with the linen pants.

A tie-died knit cotton maxi dress that also does a pretty good job of disguising the fat and the sags.

A linen jean jacket which looks cute with the tie-died dress, works OK with the capris, and will look great with the endless collection of Costco jeans. And in the sort of shabby-chic style currently in vogue, it sort of works with the pleated maxi dress and the black skirt.

I needed these things very much, except for the jean jacket. I’ve been wearing the same two pairs of old washable wool slacks to church, week after week after week, and the Costco jeans have become so ubiquitous I wear them to teach in and sometimes sneak them into church. I had one rather gaudy casual skirt—a survivor of some long-ago trip to B’Gauze—and two ancient Eileen Fisher outfits, one of which has been resewn and has to be pinned together to accommodate the crumbling elastic in the waistband.

The bill for all this stuff? $730.

The J. Jill ladies gave me a coupon discount plus $73 off for opening a J. Jill charge account.

I really didn’t want to open an account there. However, these maneuvers cut the bill to $613; taxes raised the bottom line to a breathtaking $662.

Holy mackerel. I’ve never spent that much on clothes in my life. On the other hand, it is objectively true that just about everything in my closet is shot except for the dozen pairs of Costco jeans, one of which was now smeared with red dye from the Talbot’s pullover.

Well, I figured, I can afford it. There’s $3,300 in the savings account set aside for just such purchases as these, plus FaM cranked $450 on the late, great traffic spike: AdSense owes me more than enough to cover the bill.

Yesh. That’s what I thought.

Then I pulled in the driveway and got the mail.

The air-conditioning company sent a bill for the work they did at the downtown house: five hundred and eighty-seven bucks!!!!


Well, M’hijito says he will pay for it. The rent he gets from his roommate will cover it. But we were both furious: normally the office will call when a bill of that size is proposed. I did not like being blindsided with a $600 bill for what I expected would be, at most, a $200 job.

So I think I’ll return the Chico’s shirt, which on reflection is kind of garish. And $65 is way, way, way too much for a knit pullover. The belt that looked like it fit at Dillard’s is actually too large, so I’ll take that back on Monday when I’m relatively close to the Paradise Valley store. And I’m annoyed enough about the Talbot’s shirt rubbing red dye all over my white jeans that I may demand my money back for that, even though I wore it all day Friday. One thing is for sure on that count: I never will buy anything from Talbot’s again.

Returning the overpriced shirt and the belt alone will knock about $100 off the total two-day damage. I don’t know whether I’ve got enough chutzpah to take the dye-leaking shirt back to Talbot’s. On the other hand, since I’m never going to shop there again, why not? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

My plan, at least before the AC bill showed up and shocked me back to reality, was to use this mound of clothes to build the basis of a new wardrobe. Throw out all the worn-out, tattered old junk, and the cotton jeans that have shrunk so much I have to lie down to zip them up, and get rid of everything that I’m not wearing.

Then, once the diddle-it-away savings recover, I’ll plan to spend about $60 to $100 about once every three months to build on this new foundation. Over the course of a year or two, I should end up with enough decent clothes in the closet that, even as things wear out, I won’t be stumbling around looking like a bag lady or a latter-day hippie. That’s affordable. And maybe I can even buy another bra sometime in the next year or so.

16 thoughts on “Two hectic—and expensive!—days”

  1. Definitely demand your money back on the Talbot’s shirt. They’re supposed to be high quality! If you can’t wear a Talbot’s sweater over your white pants on your yacht, what can you wear? Do it for the rest of the over-30 crowd who have limited shopping access and don’t want to turn their entire wardrobe pink.

  2. WOW! The most I’ve ever spent at one time was $200 spent at Ross Dress For Less – on a state voucher. I had to spend the entire amount, or lose it. I’d been a stay at home mom living at poverty level and had absolutely nothing to wear, and I’d qualified for a “back to work” program through the state. I bought several work suit/dresses, shoes, underclothing. This was back in 2000 when name brand items at Ross Dress for Less were rarely over $20. Have you tried shopping Ross? I know zero about “fashion” so I’m always happy with what I’ve found there. I really like shopping at Savers, too, but clothing in my current size is difficult if not impossible to find. I’m glad you found some nice things!

  3. You have my full support and encouragement for spending money on yourself! I fight that psychological battle every time I have to get myself anything, being a broke and single (until September) mom of two. I have to be continually prodded to buy clothes that fit, look good, and have had no previous owners. (Point of fact, the wedding dress I picked out was used!) When you look good, you feel good and hold your head up. I think we’ve all had those days where we throw on the pair of pants that are too tight and about an inch too short, then run into that rotten girl from high school who had 5 kids and still somehow looks like a model!
    Return the stuff you don’t like, but keep the good stuff. After all, being a professor, you should to be able to go teach without feeling like a schlub!

  4. @ Nicole: LOL! I suppose you could use the pinkened pants while you’re working out your Arabian mare…or donate them to your horse trainer to wear for the purpose, assuming she’s your size.

    @ Mrs. Accountability: Yes, I have shopped at Ross. I have friends who love to shop there, and there’s no question you can find some nice things there. SDXB and his current girlfriend shop at Savers–she is very tiny, and so I expect she has an easier time there or anywhere than women who don’t look anorexic.

    I have the same problem at Ross as I do at a big department store or at the thrift stores Frugal Scholar favors: impatience. I don’t have the patience to sift through rack after rack after rack of clothing to find something that doesn’t look like it’ll be uglier than sin on me and that fits. It’s so hard to find clothing that fits! Add to that the fact that about 70 percent of the stuff out there looks like it was designed for a 14-year-old streetwalker, and the rest of it evidently was rejected by the Union of Circus Clowns.

    Part of what was going on yesterday is that when I find something that fits and doesn’t look horrible, I’ll usually grab it…because I know I’ll never see it again. And because I dislike shopping and so have fallen into the habit of buying a lot of stuff at once and then not shopping much for another two or three years, I know another shopping spree like this isn’t going to happen for a long time.

    That’s why I’d like to try to build the habit of buying one halfway decent piece that costs no more than about $100 (preferably much less) about once every three months. I have the feeling that if I were replenishing the closet steadily, I’d look better in public and it would keep clothing purchases within reason.

  5. New here – found you via a reader comment on The Simple Dollar. I’ve only read this one post but think I’m going to enjoy frequent visits!

    On the Talbot’s shirt – did you wash it first? Red dye is notorious for rubbing off. They’ll probably take it back anyway in hopes of keeping you from, er, mentioning in a blog or something. 🙂

    I’m in the same situation with you body-wise & have also just discovered J.Jill’s clothing. I’m loving their a-line tunic & knit leggings (which are looser fit & actually look like slim leg pants). I’m tall, so it’s nice to find a brand that sells longer-length pants. I wish we had a store in the area instead of relying on online shopping!

    I also sit most of the day at a computer & by the end of the day feel like I’ve shrunk into this shapeless blob. What is comfortable when I’m up & about in the morning getting ready to leave for work feels tight & constricting by the end of the day. I think gravity’s winning!

    Back to the finance part – I think you did quite well on the wardrobe for the $ you spent. These are all basic pieces you’ll get a lot of wear out of. The main problem I have with good (& pricey) bras is that once spoiled to them because of the comfort & how much better I look in them – but really 2 or maybe 3 are plenty (nude, black, & possibly white or a color). If you treat them well they’ll last at least a year. – so that’s 120-180 wearings each!

  6. Hi, I also found you via reader comment on TSD. I give you huge kudos on the JJill scores. It sounds like you did very well and it definitly sounds like you needed to update. When shopping happens all at once it can be a shock but the pieces you bought should be with you for a a long time. The Wacoal was a killer I know but they say over and over that the proper support makes everything look better. I’m sure it feels better too!

    There is another professor blog I read but she hits on fashion a bit. She’s got a cool styling for a white dress a few posts down, I hope you enjoy.

    Thanks for the blog, I’m looking forward to getting caught up 🙂

    • @ Ellen and Minki: Welcome! Gosh, that was the first time I’d commented on TSD for a while…tend to lurk there because so many people comment it feels like you get lost in the crush. Thanks for the link to Materfamilias!

      In spite of paying almost full price (was mighty glad to wangle those two discounts!), I feel pretty confident about the quality. Right now two J. Jill linen shirts have been haunting the closet for about six years. Other than needing to have a button sewed back on now and again, they’re as good as new. The knit A-line that you mention is, if I’m visualizing the same piece, part of a line of travel garments called the “Wearever” collection. They’re machine and hand-washable, no wrinkle, and they only come in black or white. The sales rep said that if you run it through the washer on gentle and then put it on a clothes hanger to hang dry, it will last forever. She said she had one that’s eight years old and still looks like new.

      Clearly, if you buy products that last for a long time — and that please you enough that you don’t get sick of them — over the years you’ll save money because you won’t have to buy clothes as often.

      Wacoal is a very good bra. Even the underwires are relatively comfortable, and they seem to last forever. I’m tough on my bras because I do put them in the washing machine. Occasionally you’ll see them on sale: in the post-Christmas and midsummer sales, Saks will put some models on sale at prices that are close to what a normal bra costs. Usually these are in strange colors, but if you’re going to wear them under an opaque shirt, who cares? Got a love interest…just get a pair of panties in the same strange color (I had one in bright teal!) and voila! An outfit.

  7. i looked online at JJill and the stuff seems very nice. All the linen clothing seems to be washable, which is a blessing. I was going to “scold” you (just a little), but the clothing seems attractive and very basic, and so should last a while.

    Definitely return that Talbots shirt. Call before you bring it in, just to make sure.

    The upshot of my complaining about Chicos in my blog ….I think they took me off the mailing list! No more catalogs! Plus, the guy never responded to my email. What a company!

    P.S. Talbots sold JJill last year…at a huge loss.

  8. I’ve always liked J.Jill specifically because 99% of the clothing is washable, something that’s a nonnegotiable for me. Most of it’s well made, and most of it holds up for at least a couple of years. I expect to use all of these items except the capris (which have an elastic waist that will surely give out) for at least three or four years.

    I will say this about the sale at a loss, though: Apparently J.Jill’s style doesn’t appeal to younger upscale women. Twice, now, I’ve heard disparaging remarks. Once I was in the store and picked up a long dress that I was interested in. While I was standing in line to ask if I could try it on, some woman stared at it, turned to her friend, and said “that’s ugly.” I put it down and left the store, almost in tears..

    Then yesterday as I walked out hauling $662 worth of clothes in a J.Jill bag, two women walking up behind me remarked to each other on the store. One said she’d never been in there. The other said she hadn’t, either…because the clothes looked (she mumbled a word that sounded like “tacky”).

    Since I’ll go almost anywhere in a pair of Costco jeans, obviously my taste does run to the tacky. Granted, Scottsdale women tend to epitomize the term “rich bitch,” but the fact is the store is never overrun with customers, and if it’s not making a profit, the style is probably not appreciated. It’s something that the company has resisted pressure to sell the same old things everyone else sells, but one wonders how long a corporation with shareholders can maintain that strategy.

  9. Funny

    Your blog always makes me smile. (except when you got hurt). I was passing a store window the other day and wondered who was the old lady reflected in the glass. As DM used to say ” You can’t fight gravity. Everything shifs south at a certain age.” I’m all for comfort his stage of the game. Whenever I can find something that looks reasonably respectable I put the item in my shopping cart.

    Best wishes from Best Bun

  10. Funny – Big congrats on spending a lot of money on yourself. Really. Sometimes you just need to, even though it’s a big bite at once.

    J. Jill has a LOT of sales, so check their website frequently. I’ve lucked out and found items I’d liked but talked myself out of on sale later. (I’m keeping my eye on a certain leather jacket at the moment.) And no shipping fees if you order while you’re in the store.

  11. Damn, this reminds me of why I hate clothes shopping too. Like you, I seem to wait until my clothes are unwearable before stocking up every 2 years. I probably don’t help matters any by only shopping at Kohl’s, Walmart, and Dillards (they have the petite work pants I need that fit a 5’2” lady with a disproportionate waiste and butt)…

    I say that the Talbot’s shirt is crap and should be taken back on principle, but I understand the balance of money-back vs time wasted and hassle. If you do return it, you have the backing of a ticked-off red-head in Texas.

    Anyway, I sympathize. Stupid bras…

  12. Hi, this is also my first visit here after a reader mentioned the site on TSD. I’ve bought most of my clothes at Talbot’s for years, and I think they’re a good value for the money, although not inexpensive. I’m careful with my laundry – wash things on a delicate cycle, cold water, inside out, drip dry many of them, and my clothing lasts for years and years. I wore a sweater this week that is at least 10 years old, and it looks as good as it did when I bought it. So I’m a big fan of buying quality and taking good care of my things.
    I’m quite petite in all areas, so my bras don’t work very hard for a living, but they last me years and years as well. I wash them in the machine (cold, delicate) in mesh bags, and line dry. I buy the Playtex “Thank Goodness it Fits” petite line. I bellieve they run about $24 – $26, but I usually get them at the outlet store, or for a deal at Kohl’s, and more typically pay about $15.
    I would be really surprised if Talbot’s didn’t make good on the shirt. I’ve had nothing but good experiences with them in terms of customer service.

  13. Welcome to you, too, Rosa. Yes, it’s true that the Talbot’s sales staff are delightful. My problem is with the new line of clothing. Things I bought years ago still do look good and still do fit nicely. So that makes me think that the problem isn’t so much my old-age sags and bags, but the cut of the new styles they’re selling. And I am not fat–my BMI is in the normal range.

    We live in a country whose leadership moans incessantly about an “epidemic” of obesity, but few clothing manufacturers sell things that look decent on anyone who isn’t stick-thin. If American women really are that big, wouldn’t you think American clothing retailers would have their Asian suppliers make clothes that will fit around a person’s fanny and waist? Talbot’s used to and now no longer does. I think that’s too bad.

  14. I concur with the JJill-mania. I, too, have run the cycle of Talbots/Ann Taylor Loft/Chico’s. Bidding a non-fond adieu to them all as they changed their fit, their style and their prices out of my range. J.Jill stuff is great, I love their boho-chic look, but you need to take advantage of their coupons and promotions. FYI – in your birthday month, you can get an additional 5% off!

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