Discuss: The Number to Beat

May 13, 2011

In every woman’s head, lives a number.  The maximum amount that she’s willing to pay for a handbag, a pair of shoes or a dress.  This number is a complex calculation derived by subtracting debits from credits and accounting for intangibles like number of wears possible, the quality of the garment and pure, unadulterated lust.  But when a woman on a shopping trip looks at the price of an item, the synapses fire at rapid speed, weighing the item’s price against the magic number.

For me, even if I had a checking account balance in the nine-figure range, I’m not sure that I could ever spend more than $1,500 on any single item of clothing.  Sure, I love the designer clothing that I cyber-stalk on Net-a-Porter, but the idea of paying that kind of money for something made out of cloth makes me uncomfortable.

At my current salary, and given my obsession with fashion, my numbers are reasonable but roomy.  For a purse, $500.  Though I will happily buy deeply-discounted Rebecca Minkoff bags on Gilt Groupe anytime she wants to purge her warehouse.  Same goes for Mulberry.

For a dress, I’m happiest with a frock in the $150 to $200 range.  But if the perfect dress appears, as it has upon occasion, I’m willing to spend up to $500.  I happily emptied my piggy bank two Christmases ago so that I could purchase a gorgeous Chanel turtleneck dress with gold buttons running down the back.

As for the shoes, this is where women tend to be the most flexible.  After all, unlike clothing, shoes can be repaired, resoled and reheeled almost indefinitely.  My neighbor, Clara, has been wearing the same pair of Louboutins since the 1980s, though they’re on their 17th red sole.  But even with this knowledge–and having come of age in an SATC-obsessed world where Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik were worshipped like gods–I still can’t pay more than $300 for a pair of shoes.  

Everyone has an upper boundary, an amount that just feels like too much.  And what one person might considered wasteful consumerism another will see as a bargain.  I’ll never forget the day Oprah extolled the virtues of Tory Burch’s affordable tunics for several minutes before the price was revealed to be almost $300.  The looks on the faces of her audience members were priceless.

So what is your number, how much do you consider to be too much to spend on an item even if you love it?  And do you judge women who buy things that cost significantly more than you consider reasonable?

Discussions

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  1. My budget is EXTREMELY tight right now, so I do my best not to spend over $100 on any particular item. I am absolutely manic about shopping sales and using coupons, so that helps me to buy “above my means”. That being said, I have a history of being a bit of a clothes hoarder, so I've invoked a new rule: I have to be able to wear a piece at least 3 ways (at time of purchase!) This has really helped me to be able to spend more on quality pieces, and purchase more thoughtfully. Eventually, and ideally, my limit would be about $200-$300, but when times are tough, we have to work with what we've got, right?!

  2. My budget is EXTREMELY tight right now, so I do my best not to spend over $100 on any particular item. I am absolutely manic about shopping sales and using coupons, so that helps me to buy “above my means”. That being said, I have a history of being a bit of a clothes hoarder, so I've invoked a new rule: I have to be able to wear a piece at least 3 ways (at time of purchase!) This has really helped me to be able to spend more on quality pieces, and purchase more thoughtfully. Eventually, and ideally, my limit would be about $200-$300, but when times are tough, we have to work with what we've got, right?!

  3. Colleen says:

    Good dresses – $300, unless it was absolutely perfect and I could wear it more than three times.

    Shoes – $300 boots, $200 for shoes. There are too many good deals to be found at places like Loehmann's, Nordstrom Rack, and Nordstrom's semi-annual sales for me to pay more than that.

    Purses – $500. Treated properly, they'll last for a long time. Plus, I tend to stick with classic shapes that can be used year after year.

    No judgement here on what women spend. Half the time I find out that the shoes/bags/dresses of friends and aquaintances that I've greatly admired were bought at a deep discount anyway.

  4. Lisatella says:

    We all know I like to keep it pretty frugal, but I'm willing to splurge on shoes. Considering the amount of walking I do, shoes have to be comfortable and durable. (And stylish.) It's worth spending more on a pair of shoes that will last for a while.

    That being said, my cap is probably $200 at the absolute most for shoes. For now. 🙂

  5. ADL says:

    As I grow older, my number tends to grow. But I'd say I'm at the $200 range for dresses and the $300 range for shoes and purses (of good quality, size, and shape).

  6. Rory says:

    No matter how careful I am, I wear out shoes pretty quick. Therefore I hate spending a lot of money on them. On tennis shoes I might drop $80, on professional or going out shoes maybe $50.

    As a landscape designer I really don't have any need for “professional” clothes. I usually buy work clothes at Old Navy because if I ruin them, my feelings aren't hurt. However, if I still had the office manager's job I held when I first started reading this blog, I'd say my limit would be $200, and that's mostly due to my love of Lilly Pulitzer and Macy's INC line. As much as I adore my job the pay is ridiculously low and I'm going to most likely going to have to get a new one soon. At Filene's Basement two weeks ago J picked up a Tahiri suit for $200 which made me cringe, but it looks amazing on me so I'll deal with the cost.

    Purses are my posion. I would spend up to $500 on a purse no problem. The Pippa purse Belle blogged about yesterday is my idea of a dream purse, and I'm highly considering getting it. I just don't know which color I want…

  7. Nina says:

    I will admit that I am a sucker for a sale. I will be willing to purchase something slightly outside of my normal range if it is more than 30% off, and especially if it's a brand I like/trust the quality of. I'm also a young professional trying to upgrade my mostly Express 100% polyester wardrobe to some nicer quality fabrics. However, young also means poor. I budget about $300 a month for “fun” stuff – everything from movie tickets to bar tabs to new clothes. So right now I can't see myself paying more than $300 for ANYTHING. Some months I'll spend it all on one or two nice pieces and turn down invites to the bar for the rest of the month.

    Usually my upper limits are $200 for a bag, $100 for a pair of shoes, $80 for a dress, $40 for a top, $50 for a skirt. I spend a lot of time shopping at Nordstrom Rack and Marshalls.

  8. J says:

    Normally $200 is my number to beat for a purse but the Pippa purse won out this week at $250 since it's the most perfect bag. I've been searching for one like it for about 3 years, so although the price is above what i've ever spent on a bag and it will definitely hurt my bank account I forced myself to consider it a good investment.

  9. MM says:

    Not more than $200 for anything. Partially because I'm very frugal (no credit card debt and tons of savings, and let me tell you, that felt very good when the government was about to shut down), but partually because I'm a huge klutz, and the more money I spend on something, the more likely I am to spill hot chocolate/step in a giant mud puddle/ get blue pen all over it. And the more money I've spent on it, the sadder that will make me. Recently I've taken to buying lots of clothes (sweaters and blouses anyway) at DC's many Goodwills. That way I can still have Banana Republic, Anne Taylor and J. Crew, but if I manage to ruin it, it's only a few dollars gone, not hundreds. Ironically, since I've started doing this, I've only perminatly ruined one sweater (blue pen in the wash, of course!) – go figure!

  10. Coral says:

    It depends on the brand and the item. In my mind, certain brands are worth more because of quality, fit and style. For a dress by my favorite designer, Diane von Furstenberg, I will pay a bit more (up to $250) because I know that it's a piece that is timeless and that I could had down to my daughter one day. Still, once a DvF dress hits the $275/$300 mark, not so much. At the same time, a t-shirt, is a t-shirt, is a t-shirt and that $8 tank top from Target generally looks no different from a $58 tank top from Bloomies.

    And you are right Belle, at the end of the day, all of these expensive frocks are only made of cloth (and are generally mass produced and picked up off a conveyor belt in a factory in China). Rightly or wrongly, if I see a woman paying full price at $300 for a Tory Burch tunic, rather than being somewhat envious, I think to myself, we'll, she's not very smart, she's buying into the brand name/image. Clothes are all fungible in the end and there is very little in retail that is actually worth full price or can't be found on sale at some point in time.

  11. VA Gal says:

    I'll be very frugal on clothing, but I will spend up to $500 or so on a good, classic bag. I could also go $200-300 on good, classic pumps(oh, and I love me some Repetto flats) but for everything else I try to keep it in the $50 range, maybe up to $100 for good workout shoes because I am really hard on shoes and I don't want to spend a lot on sandals that I'm going to bang up and shred. My other high dollar item would be bras. I'm endowed enough to need some good engineering and that cheap little top from Target looks much better over a good bra than a Tory Burch blouse over a cheap and flimsy bra.

  12. EDH says:

    Most of my basics (tees, tanks) are from places like TJ Maxx, Ann Taylor Loft, J.Crew outlets, even Target. I have two $19 pairs of jeans from Target that fit and look better on me than any of the CoH or 7fAM pairs I’ve ever tried. I scrimp much less on dresses, suits, or jackets where fabric/construction is more important.

    I buy costume jewelry from Target and Forever 21. By the time the piece breaks, the trend has already passed.

    I usually spend around $100 for shoes. I would spend more, except I am very hard on my shoes. I do get the heels replaced but have never had luck repairing the worn toes. Maybe now that I’m wearing more round-toe shoes (instead of pointy toes) there will be less need to repair.

    Bags, now, I will spend up to $400 or so. I tend to buy classic shapes and colors, and I’d rather have one nice bag than five trendy ones.

  13. My budget is EXTREMELY tight right now, so I do my best not to spend over $100 on any particular item. I am absolutely manic about shopping sales and using coupons, so that helps me to buy “above my means”. That being said, I have a history of being a bit of a clothes hoarder, so I've invoked a new rule: I have to be able to wear a piece at least 3 ways (at time of purchase!) This has really helped me to be able to spend more on quality pieces, and purchase more thoughtfully. Eventually, and ideally, my limit would be about $200-$300, but when times are tough, we have to work with what we've got, right?!

  14. Cindy says:

    I try to keep all my purchases under $200 unless I know I'm going to get a lot of wear out of it. All of my day-to-day staple shoes are around $100 with my purses costing the most.

    I'll splurge on a nice suit, but skimp on a trendy top. One thing I have learned the hard way is that just because it costs more doesn't mean its good quality.
    I've had Banana Republic cotton shirts that fell apart in the wash and some of my Target tops are indestructible.

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