Flashback to 1987…
Growing Pains is on the TV and the Seaver home has been burglarized. Every family member has been robbed of valued possessions and they come together in their ransacked living room to talk about it. Carol (the smart one) comes up with idea not to have anything worth stealing. “No name brand clothes!” she announces. Then her father, Jason, the wise psychologist asks,
“What about our sense of security? Can they take that away, too?”
Flashback to my freshman year of high school…
I was listening in on a conversation between two senior girls. One of them said,
“My grandma got me pajama pants from Target for Christmas. I wanted pajama pants from J.Crew. My grandma said, ‘Well aren’t these the same thing?’ I wanted to say, ‘No, Grandma. They’re not the same thing at all!’”
I thought a lot about her words. I knew they were true, but I didn’t know why.
Flashback to my freshman year of college…
“I couldn’t believe she got me a Kate Spade bag for graduation,” a sweet metropolitan girl from down the hall said.
“Who’s Kate Spade?” I asked.
She looked embarrassed for me. She tried to explain, but knew it was lost on me.
Shortly after this conversation, I was walking down South University in Ann Arbor (home of the University of Michigan), when I had one of those “everything changed” kind of moments.
Walking towards me was a gaggle of girls wearing black pants, dark sunglasses, and Tiffany “Bean” necklaces. Many of them carried “Sam” bags (Kate Spade gives her bags names so you can talk about them like they’re friends or pets). On the street, the driver of a black Range Rover honked at the driver of a black Land Rover. And I suddenly felt like Eve in the garden of Eden. My eyes were opened and I realized that I was naked. I had no status symbols.
Truly, before I went to college, I had never heard of TAG Heuer or Louis Vuitton or a slew of other brand names, but I began to see them everywhere I went. And I wanted them. I was desperate for fig leaves with the right labels to cover my insecurity.
Flashback to my “freshman” year of marriage…
“You’re going to wear that?” I asked disappointment woefully evident in my tone.
“Yeah. What’s wrong with it?” He retorted frustrated with my preoccupation with his attire.
We had exchanges like this before heading to the airport, church, family gatherings, and movie dates.
The night I met my husband, he had on the ugliest pants I had ever seen. They were baby poop, yellow brown and too big. His fashion sense was something I was sure I could improve.
I can’t even tell you how many strained conversations it took to get him to give up t-shirts with holes in the armpits for traveling. I’ve talked him in to collared shirts for airports, but it took A LOT of work.
When I look deep at my motivation, I see the same insecurity I had in college. When we travel, I want to look like the kind of people who have the money to travel.
Flashback to a few months ago…
“Oh my goodness, I love your shoes!” I gush to another mom at my child’s school function. They are Tory Burch and they are pretty fabulous. Tory is having a moment right now and every time I go somewhere with wealthy people, I am surrounded by women decked out in Tory Burch. They look so put together and radiate confidence.
Flash to now…
It has taken me over twenty years, but I finally know the difference between Target and J.Crew pajama pants: it’s how you FEEL when you wear them. Every time I change multiple times before I get dressed to go somewhere – I think of how great it would feel to have a perfectly put together Tory Burch outfit – something I could put on and know I look good.
Of course there is something to be said for wanting a particular brand because it suits your style, but there are thousands of styles of ballet flats that resemble Tory Burch’s. Hers just cost a lot more. The price difference is only a little bit about materials and quality and a lot about the feelings and perceptions we buy with them.
We’re willing to pay a lot for the perception of wealth and power and having it all together. You may not be able to buy love, but you can buy confidence. And the price of confidence (for many of us), is the price of an awesome bag and a great pair of shoes.
I know my desire for these things comes from insecurity, but I still want the brand name fig leaves. I carry Kate Spade bags now. Thankfully I don’t care enough to know their names or talk about them like friends/pets, but I still crave the confidence I feel carrying them.
Jason Seaver from Growing Pains was right. You can’t be robbed of a solid sense of security. That kind of security feels exactly the same in a pair of Target or J.Crew pajama pants. That kind of security is incredibly valuable, but unfortunately, unlike confidence, it can’t be bought.