I admit it…one of my favorite Toronto stores always gets a visit
By Caitlin Kelly
Her name is all the rage, again — the Japanese expert on de-cluttering, Marie Kondo, and her motto: If something you own doesn’t spark joy, toss it!
As someone both frugal and sharing a small-ish apartment with not very many closets, this is an issue of both limited income and limited places to put things. So, typically, we don’t buy a lot of additional stuff and, routinely, take castoffs to local thrift or consignment shops or to Goodwill.
Every time I drop off at Goodwill I’m stunned by the mountains of stuff I see being donated; having lived in Mexico and visited developing countries where even the basics are considered luxuries offers me valuable perspective.
We live in a small town in suburban New York and drive everywhere, including to any store, so most weeks I only buy gas and groceries and a meal out. Maybe a nail polish or a lipstick.
I do look at lots of things on-line, but rarely succumb. I recently bought three — a lot for me! — sweaters on sale from my favorite retailer, a Canadian company called Aritizia. But my shopping sprees are so rare that my credit card company software gets alerted as a result; I use only one credit card, American Express.
I almost never buy “fast fashion”; too cheaply made, not my size or style and, most essential, environmentally ruinous.
In lean times, and even in better ones, I haunt a few favorite consignment shops, both for home goods and clothing and tend to keep things for a long time — still wearing a pair of (designer) Italian monk-straps (then new) bought in 1996.
A classic style, made of top-quality materials well cared for is a great investment as long as it still fits you well; I’m still using a down jacket I scored for $50 in 2004.
And, yes, I love new things and last summer spent (madness!) a mortgage payment on a brand-new, on-sale Tod’s suede handbag. I had just gotten a breast cancer diagnosis and it was my birthday and I said the hell with it! (Our mortgage is not that big.)
I recently read that Americans throw away (!) 81 pounds of clothing a year.
This is insane.
So it’s a challenge, especially as I do treasure lovely things and adore fashion and really love to look stylish. I shop like a Frenchwoman, buying only a few items each season, being very thoughtful about each. I stick to neutrals — black, gray, cream, brown, navy — and add fun with my accessories.
For our home, we buy, similarly, the best quality we can find, and keep using it for decades, like our Wedgwood white daily china and the heavy crystal goblets we bought at an antique show.
I confess to two layers of boxes in the garage about six feet high and a small storage locker, holding a mix of luggage, out-of-season clothing, sports equipment and professional needs like photography lights and books.
To avoid acquiring objects I:
1) buy the most expensive possible, which limits it!
2) regularly toss out anything we’re not using.
3) focus on enjoying experiences — travel, museums, concerts, meals, nature — more than things.
I’d known of her talent through a mutual friend in my hometown, Toronto, and met Ali G-J for lunch on one of my visits. I admired her gorgeous watercolors and kept urging her to turn them into products. She did! Her pillows, scarves and totes are fun and charming. If you know a journalist, check out her “Joe the Reporter” image and the California Dreaming laptop skin. Prices start at $16 for a fab floral phone skin.
I rarely splurge on costume jewelry, but this London artist’s bold, outsize earrings and hairpins hand-cut from brass — some painted black, some cobalt blue — are gorgeous. (I chose the Gia earrings, 60 pounds, $77.
Guys, this brand combines several of my passions — swearing, birds, vintage art and Canadian bad-assery. Ottawa-based Aaron Reynolds decided to create a line of mugs, T-shirts/hoodies/baseball shirts, posters, pins and playing cards that combine gorgeous vintage images of birds with wickedly funny/furious sayings. Not surprisingly, his biggest audience is pissed-off American women. Great gifts for anyone whose head is perpetually about to explode. Pins $11, mugs $20, baseball shirts $30.
What is it with angry avians? This British brand creates exquisite wool and silk scarves, mufflers and pocket squares. Their color palette is bold and bright and their designs amazing. Perfect for stylish men and women of any age. Not cheap, but utterly distinctive. Women’s silk scarves start at 255 pounds ($331) to 290 pounds ($376) for large silk/wool combinations; silk pocket squares are 65 pounds ($84); love the ones marked FURY and LUST.
Smelly soap! I always order these, from my favorite Manhattan fragrance shop, Aedes de Venustas. They smell divine, $42 for three. I’ve loved Spain’s Maja soap since I was little; made since 1921, it comes in gorgeous black tissue paper, a box of three for $16.41
For all the feisty feminists in your life — the RBG Action Figure! Named for Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now 85 and still kicking judicial ass. $19.99
I’m mad for marbled papers, a glorious riot of color and pattern, and use them to cover books, to line a frame for a photo or print, lampshades, wrapping paper. This British woman’s work is beautiful: 8.80 pounds ($11.42) for a sheet of paper; 22 pounds ($28.56) for a gorgeous blue letter tray; 30 pounds ($38.95) for a vertical magazine holder; 14.50 pounds ($18.82) for five stunning bookmarks.
Regular readers know my love for all things vintage and vintage-looking. I’m a big fan of this website, with wicker, brass, ceramic, lanterns, candlesticks, trays, linens. Everything is well-priced, simple and lovely. Love this antiqued brass foliate key-holder, $29.
Here’s a fun practical present — combining two more of my loves: beer and a tidy kitchen! A tea towel identifying all the different kinds of beer. $20
I love the soft, soothing glow of candles and light them every day in our home. Love these, in the shape of pine cones, from Crate & Barrel. $12.95 to $16.95
I love using my Filofax, a leather-covered planner, with all sorts of cool inserts, from tiny Post-It notes to a well-used tiny ruler that measures in inches and centimeters. Mine is embossed red leather and a total pleasure to handle. They come in a rainbow of colors and two sizes; this one $101.
This handmade wooden box is large enough to store photos, recipes, love letters. Its feels vaguely Art Deco with its swirling colors. $295
Guacamole!! If you have seen it being made in front of you, you know it’s made in a specific heavy dish called a molcajete. Here’s one.$34.95
From much-beloved Opening Ceremony, a NYC retailer whose founders are now designing the line for Kenzo, I want these black lace boots!$325
Every year I include on this list a pretty duvet cover — and it has matching shams if you don’t own a duvet. This one, from Pottery Barn, is so beautiful, floral on a black background, and looks like embroidery. $60 (shams) to $249 (duvet cover.)
If you live somewhere really cold and want to be both stylish and warm, I love these huge wool scarves — they call them blankets as they’re large enough to really swathe your head and neck — from my favorite Canadian clothing retailer Aritzia. Some are named for Canadian places like Banff or Montreal. As a Canadian, I wear a lot of their clothes and appreciate their combination of style, quality, color and price. $78
I make a beeline in almost every city I visit to its local flea market.
When I lived in Paris for eight months in my 20s, I went almost every weekend, and not only to the enormous and overwhelming Puces de Clignancourt, but to Porte de Vanves as well. (Here’s a helpful guide.)
In London last summer, I was up by 6:00 a.m. to visit the Bermondsey Square market, a small, courtyard-contained group of vendors. I bought a great hot breakfast from a guy making eggs and bacon, and sat on the edge of a cart to eat it.
Here’s what I bought, paying 10 pounds for a ceramic shard found on the banks of the Thames by a man who, like many there, is a mudlarker — someone who digs in the riverside muck and pulls out ancient treasures buried there.
I’ve been trying to research it, but so far, no success; guessing 17th century or so.
Here’s a great description of mudlarking from The Guardian:
Over the years I’ve eased buttons, lace ends, buckles, dress hooks and thimbles from the mud and plucked clay wig curlers, wooden nit combs, needles, beads and bodkins from its surface. I’ve even found a beautifully decorated gold lace end, with possible links to the Tudor court, lying on the mud just waiting to be picked up.
But perhaps the most personal objects are leather shoes. The anaerobic properties of Thames mud means that its treasures are cocooned in an oxygen-free environment, which preserves them as if they had been lost just yesterday. My Tudor shoe is a moment trapped in time, with wear creases across the top and indentations in the sole from the toes and heel of the last person to wear it more than 500 years ago.
In Dublin’s monthly flea market, I found a terrific mirrored small handbag from Rajasthan for 10 pounds and a fistful of heavy silver-plate forks for the same price. (All our cutlery is flea market material, heavy silver plate in a variety of early styles.)
I also scored a gorgeous fuchsia hand-crocheted sweater. Even if I decided it wasn’t for me, (and I re-sold it to a consignment shop), it wasn’t a huge investment.
In Toronto recently, I found a tiny 1930s Paris pin, with a dangling Eiffel tower, for $2 — and am still regretting passing up four gorgeous lilac engraved crystal glasses for $20.
Flea markets reward the decisive!
Toronto’s major flea market runs Sundays behind the legendary St. Lawrence Market downtown, held in a large white tent. It has washroom facilities and several very good places to eat, literally next door — including the best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted.
I really enjoy the banter and wisdom there — vendors are often also collectors, full of knowledge about the things they’re selling and generally happy to share that intel, even if you don’t buy something. (Um, not so much with some Paris flea market vendors, who have been downright snappish with me, même en français.)
Flea markets, the best ones anyway, bear witness to our material past — not only the gilded elegance we see behind museum glass but the daily household objects we once valued
or our ancestors did: typewriters, enamel, tin and copper cookware, porcelain and crystal and silver, delicately embroidered and crocheted linens, (old pillowcases and sheets and tablecloths are so soft and lovely!), early editions of books.
There are much beloved/battered old teddy bears and toys, handmade patchwork quilts and homespun blankets, wooden breadboards, buckets and piles of old coins.
You do have to be cool with crowds and being bumped constantly — and they’re best enjoyed without the responsibility of a dog or small children.
If you’re really serious about collecting things like silver (is it EPNS or sterling?) and jewelry, bring a loupe (a tiny magnifying glass) with you to read hallmarks.
Never denigrate the goods!
Almost every vendor is willing to be a bit flexible; ask, very nicely, “What’s your best price on this?” Or “Would you take (name a price maybe 10 to 20 percent lower) for this?”
Are you a fellow flea market maven?
Which ones have you enjoyed — and what did treasures have you found?
My favorite reading of the past few years is the weekend Financial Times, a British daily newspaper focused on global finance, whose weekend edition is so filled with great writing and fun discoveries it often takes us three weeks to get through one copy.
Its oversize glossy magazine — with typical British toff nonchalance — is called How to Spend It, and since many of its readers make an absolute shit-ton of money, it routinely includes things like a $30,000 watch, a $5,000 silk trench coat and $10,000 gold cufflinks.
But fear not. It’s not all absurdly priced knick-knacks, but also offers — if you love good food, drink and travel as much as I do — ideas and inspiration.
A regular column in the magazine, The Aesthete poses the following 13 questions, with helpful links.
A bunch of yellow roses with coral edges, from the local supermarket.
And the thing I’m eyeing next
Something sharp and minimal to freshen my spring wardrobe from Cos, the higher-end cousin of Sweden’s H & M. https://www.cosstores.com
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe
were two stretch dresses, calf-length, in black and mustard, bought in Montreal at Aritzia, a Canadian company based in my birthplace, Vancouver. They also have stores in several major American cities. I love how clean and simple their clothing is, slightly more junior and lower quality than Cos, but versatile and terrific when you get a good piece. https://www.aritzia.com/
An unforgettable place I’ve traveled to in the past year
is Rovinj, Croatia. I discovered it through a travel blogger I met in Berlin and whose rave recommendation (and personal style) were enough to persuade me to book in for a week at a gorgeous/pricey boutique hotel called Angelo D’Oro. Most people head south to Hvar and Dubrovnik, but Istria, to the north, is also very beautiful. Rovinj is called little Venice — and you can easily zip across to Venice itself by hovercraft in a few hours. http://www.angelodoro.com/
And the best souvenir I’ve brought home
is a shard of red, yellow and green pottery, maybe 17th century, found in the muddy banks of the Thames by a “mudlarker” and bought at a London flea market for 10 pounds.
A recent “find”
is Shuka, an airy restaurant in downtown Manhattan, at 38 MacDougal Street. It serves Middle eastern food in one of the prettiest rooms I’ve seen in years, lots of decorated tile and a sunny, spacious back room. https://www.shukanewyork.com/
The person I rely on for my personal grooming
is Alex, who’s owned Hairhoppers at 50 Grove Street in New York’s West Village for decades. His shop is minuscule, with only three chairs, and his co-ed clientele of all ages is the best mix imaginable — I’ve sat beside. and happily chatted with, Grammy-nominated musicians, museum curators and little old ladies in from Staten Island. No website!
An object I would never part with
is my black and white poster of Paris at dawn by the legendary French artist Sempé. On my first honeymoon in rural France, everything was stolen from our rental car, leaving us with passports, tickets and not much else — the poster survived. It reminds me daily of my favorite city. https://condenaststore.com/collections/jean+jacques+sempe
The last meal that truly impressed me
was at a local joint, Scaramella’s, in Dobbs Ferry, NY, in our suburban county, located in a small, nothing-special strip mall. The Italian food is excellent, service to match. No website.
The best gift I’ve given recently
were earrings, tiny gold stars studded with diamonds I had sent to British Columbia for a dear friend’s milestone birthday. I’ve been buying from this Toronto jeweler — named for its founder, a former Varig pilot, Vic Secrett — since I had any money to spend. Prices aren’t all as scary as you’d think! http://www.secrett.ca/
If I had to limit my shopping to one neighborhood in one city, I’d choose
Queen Street West in my hometown of Toronto. Lots of great choices, from ribbons to stationery to clothing to shoes, homewares, furniture and art. You can easily jump around by using the streetcar as the shopping stretches for miles. Check out the Japanese Paper Place, Gaspard (women’s clothing), Lavish & Squalor for men’s and women’s clothing and housewares, and Gravity Pope, for a fantastic selection of men’s and women’s shoes. https://www.gravitypope.com/
My favorite website
Swann Galleries, an auction house in New York, which specializes in works on paper. I went in person last fall and splurged, scoring pieces by Raoul Dufy and Maurice Vlaminck, both French works from the 1920s, both of which now hang in our bedroom. https://www.swanngalleries.com/
Our final morning in Montreal, I insisted we pay a quick visit to one of my old haunts, the enormous market down by the Lachine Canal that sells an astonishing array of produce, meat, cheese, flowers, chocolate, tea, coffee — you name it!
While Montreal has multiple markets, we chose this one and it was a perfect fall day, with people of all ages arriving with babies and dogs.
Because we were traveling and staying in hotels, I didn’t buy much food — a piece of cheese, some apples and bananas, home-made mustard, maple popcorn and some astounding chocolate. The friends we were heading to visit in Ontario are about start building a new home, so a set of chocolate tools (!), like a hammer and saw, seemed like a good house gift.
Of course, this being Quebec, many of the signs are in French, but everyone will speak some English, if not fluently.
Pies: Pumpkin, apple, blueberry, sugar, maple sugar
There are 100000 sorts of things made with maple syrup and Montreal bagels, which are completely different from the doughy ten-ton things New Yorkers love to boast about — these are lighter and chewy and boiled then baked.
Scary meringue ghosts for Halloween!
Canada’s legendary food — poutine — cheese curds and gravy
Even some shoe soles are stylish! A brand called Freelance
The second you arrive in Paris — unless you’re already stylish, small and thin — you can feel like a Stegosaurus among orchids.
It’s a cliche but a true one — French men and women often dress, and design their interiors — with a terrific sense of style, and one I find endlessly interesting and inspiring.
French clothing colors are quite different from those offered in North America, especially in the U.S., where garish primaries and brilliant pinks and turquoises predominate, especially in summer.
A French red is a soft tomato-red, not a cold blue-red, their orange slightly dusty, their yellow a soft mustard. Green is a deep emerald or teal, or a soft, pale mint, maybe even a strong chartreuse. You’ll find many more neutrals — gray, cream, beige — than in the U.S. Also, lots of great browns and rust tones, like the rich russet red of cinnamon and a lovely pale peach, the color of ballet pointe shoes.
On the streets, (where in New York you see a lot of black), you’ll see instead a dozen shades of blue.
I love their combinations, in scarves, shoes, clothing and interior fabrics: mustard/gray; navy blue/soft pink; red/gray; olive/burgundy. Clothing is often displayed by color, making it easier to find what you want, or to match outfits.
Much less popular, in general. Men and women both wear prints, but usually on a scarf or a very small-scale design shirt or blouse.
You might not be a scarf person — but men and women of all ages here wear fantastic scarves year-round, whether of wool, cotton, linen or silk. Most are long and narrow, like a muffler, and add a note of stylish confidence. Incredible selection everywhere, and at all price points.
Even grocery carts are chic!
Since so many American women are large — the average U.S. women’s size being a 14, (maybe a size 6 to 8 in Paris) — almost everything for sale in the States hits below the hip to disguise bulk.
Not in Paris! T’s, jackets and blouses are all cropped shorter. French armholes are also cut higher and closer to the armpit, with narrower sleeves, making for a much cleaner line, but also challenging-impossible for those with larger upper arms. Even a size Large to Extra Large can be a lot smaller than you need.
Tall men with broad shoulders may find French clothing less accommodating as well.
I have seen larger sizes for women, but at high price points — usually $200-400 for a stylish blouse or dress, found in a few indie boutiques.
Fit matters here. You won’t see baggy-assed trousers or pleated khakis on men or women, nor pants that need shortening. Attention to detail is a key element of how Frenchmen and women present themselves in public.
Available in every conceivable color and material — from black raffia to pale pink iridescent patent leather to metallic green kidskin with a parrot on top. A jazz shoe — soft-soled, laced — is a perennial favorite, in all colors and finishes, as are loafers. You won’t see many high heels, impractical on cobbled streets.
No matter how simple her outfit, a stylish French woman chooses an interesting shoe.
There are lots of great choices for men, with a flat-soled leather or or suede boot a popular option. The Marais, long a gay neighborhood, offers fantastic options for men, and BHV Homme is an entire department store just for men.
So many bags! While some tourists drop thousands on a Big Name Designer bag like Chanel or Hermes, there are many other stylish and less-expensive options, whether a classic French maker like Lancel, Le Tanneur or Longchamps to something more fun and funky.
A great cut and lively color are de rigueur.
I lovelovelove shopping for our home here; on this trip I bought everything from napkins to bathmats to a throw for the bed, even a comforter.
I find the colors and textures so alluring, with bed linens — sometimes made of linen — offered in every color of the rainbow. If you love beautiful objects and home goods, set aside time to browse department stores BHV and (higher-end) Le Bon Marché.
Small, light packable items like salt and pepper grinders, aprons, napkins and small trays make gorgeous gifts and souvenirs.
Both of these stores have excellent cafés and if you spend more than 175 euros in one day, be sure to claim your détaxe — the 12% value-added-tax — at the store’s designated desk.You must take your passport.
For those with the budget and enough time, ($150/meter and up), you can also visit the showrooms of the Rue du Mail (as I did), a street lined with high-end interior fabric for sale, like Pierre Frey, and order some for your home. They need at least three or four days’ notice, (not including a weekend) and it allows you to bypass the annoying American gatekeeper system, where you can only buy such fabrics through a designer.
Every time I visit Paris, I stop in, and am still wearing and loving several garments I bought there many years ago — and I’m a size 12 to 14, so you don’t have to be tiny. Great selection of shoes, scarves, dresses and blouses. In June, sales start and her lovely winter coats were half-off for about $200.
It’s huge! A terrific cafe sits on the top floor, offering splendid views of the surrounding area. You’ll find clothing, shoes, home goods, luggage, make-up and perfume. Check out their throw pillows and comforters; (you can always mail them home.) Their stationery and crafts section is amazing — with lots of very good art supplies.
This high-end department store, founded in 1838 in a quiet, mostly residential neighborhood, offers a very beautiful physical space to shop in — spacious and full of natural light. Lovely tea room and an amazing food hall!
On the Rue du Pont Louis-Philippe, one of three very good paper stores all beside one another. Paper for writing letters, framing, lampshades or wrapping; also notebooks and gorgeous cardboard folders.
This chain of stores is a must if you like scarves as much as I do, in silk, cotton and wool. Their crinkled one-color scarves are well-priced at about $20, and adding one or several to your outfit, men and women, adds a pop of Parisian panache.
I moved to New York in 1989. Although I live in a lovely town 25 miles north of Manhattan, I can clearly see its southernmost towers from my street.
I love heading into the city — and that’s what locals call it, The City, (as if there were no other!) — to explore.
There are many treasures to discover, even after you’ve lived here for decades, many of them simply by walking slowly and by heading far away from the official sights.
Yes, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center and Statue of Liberty, (to name only three), are worth a visit for the first-time visitor, but my favorite spots are much quieter and have few tourists.
Everyone heads to midtown: Fifth Avenue, Times Square, etc. — but I avoid midtown whenever possible, and feel sorry for the millions of tourists who wander there, dazed and crushed, buying junk from every mass-market store they have at home in Iowa or, worse, all the shops whose Going Out of Business!!! signs have been there for decades.
Why come to New York City to eat at tedious chain restaurants and look at the same boring made-in-China stuff you can buy at home?
Head (far) off the beaten path — yes, it’s safe!
East 9th Street
I love this street; here’s a story that calls it the Fifth Avenue of small business. I like its intimate scale, its battered metal fences and indie stores, the few holdouts of quirk and individuality in a city whose rents skyrocket so insanely that decades-established places disappear overnight as landlords demand fees only possible for large corporations offering…the same old things.
People actually live here, too.
Here you’ll find well-curated vintage, one of my favorite home stores, (14 years and counting), a few cafes and a quiet, affordable streetscape that reminds us that New York isn’t, (for the moment!), just an Uber-studded playground of the 1 percent.
Start at the street’s eastern end and allow at least an hour or more to really explore. When you reach Veselka, on Second Avenue, collapse at the counter for their fab home-made pea soup or pierogies. It’s an institution, serving yummy food since 1954.
It’s easy to forget — or not even realize — that the island of Manhattan is surrounded by water. It’s a busy working harbor, with enormous cruise ships docking in the Hudson River and barges of coal, cement and other materials being towed or pushed along our waterways by tugboats.
Those cruise ships only get in and out of here thanks to the amazing skill of tugboat operators, one of whom allowed me to spend a day aboard for a Daily News story. Best day in New York, ever! I had no idea how shallow and treacherous the waters here are nor how much power these little boats actually possess.
Take a seat on one of the many benches along the Hudson and watch these wondrous watery workhorses do their thing, day or night.
If you’ve been to a Viennese cafe, this is how it looks, sounds, feels and tastes — from the long wooden rods holding newspapers to the coffee with whipped cream. This bastion of old-world elegance, available for lunch or dinner, is in the Beaux Arts mansion of the Neue Galerie, one of my favorite NYC museums, devoted to the work of the Viennese Secessionists, Klimt, Kokoschka and Schiele.
Peridance Capezio Center
I just discovered them — by accident, of course! This huge dance studio offers dozens of classes open to adults, and has lockers, showers and a small cafe in the lobby.
If you’re sick of your hotel gym and don’t feel like walking one.more.block, why not try a class? They sell clothes and shoes in the downstairs shop. It’s on East 13th., a few minutes’ walk southeast from the Union Square subway stop.
One of my happiest travel memories ever was taking a ballet class in Paris. We stared up at 18th century painted beams and stared out the windows at the brightly colored facade of the Pompidou Center. Merveilleux!
Built in 1765, this home sits in a part of Manhattan — Harlem — that few tourists might normally choose to visit. It’s the oldest house in the city and filled with art and artifacts relating to the city’s history. I knew it existed but only saw it when we went to visit friends living a block away.
It’s gorgeous — and the setting is lovely.
Have you ever been to East 47th street? Likely not. But it’s well worth a detour to this small museum, founded in 1907, with a lovely indoor garden.
Some of the best shows I’ve even seen in this city have been here, from hair combs to ceramics. Their current exhibition offers photos from 1968 to 1979. (Take a look at the exquisite modern church next door.)
OK, shameless plug for my hairdresser, Alex. He’s been in business for decades and his three-chair salon, now on the south side of Grove Street, (right at the Christopher Street 1/9 subway station), is about the size of our (not very big!) bedroom.
I love the variety of his clients, from little old ladies who arrive with their home care aides to Wall Street machers to museum curators. I once sat beside a career musician who would be playing that evening on the Grammy broadcast.
You won’t go home bragging about some Big Name haircut or color. But you’ll get a great cut and/or color, for men and women, for a fair price and enjoy some lively conversation with some of the city’s most interesting and creative people.
If you’re as crazy about delicious and unusual fragrance as I am — whether for men or women, in candle form, perfume, soap or men’s fragrance — this is not to be missed. It’s on the south side of Christopher Street, (about four blocks east of Hairhoppers), and offers a fantastic array of choice.
This piece in The New York Times piqued my interest:
American consumers are putting what little extra money they do have to spend each month into eating out, upgrading their cars or fixing up their homes, as well as spending on sports gear, health and beauty. Spending at restaurants and bars has jumped more than 9 percent this year through July compared with the same period last year, and on autos by more than 7 percent, according to the agency.
Analysts say a wider shift is afoot in the mind of the American consumer, spurred by the popularity of a growing body of scientific studies that appear to show that experiences, not objects, bring the most happiness. The Internet is bursting with the “Buy Experiences, Not Things” type of stories that could give retailing executives nightmares.
Millennials — the 20- and 30-something consumers whom marketers covet — would rather spend their hard-won cash on out-of-town vacations, meals with friends, gym memberships and, of course, their smartphones, many surveys suggest.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot as we’re finally, gratefully, at a point in our lives we need very little additional stuff. We’ve renovated two rooms of our apartment and own an array of sports gear, art supplies, camera equipment, the things we use for pleasure and for work. (We do need to replace our old car.)
It’s a huge relief.
I’ve never been a mall rat, the sort of person whose favorite activity is shopping. I enjoy it and sometimes take an entire day to do it, but rarely come home with more than one or two things, and usually nothing huge or expensive.
Like everyone, I have specific weaknesses — anything seriously antique, jewelry and lovely things for setting a pretty table.
We’ve also saved really hard for years for our retirement, so can now release a bit more of our income for pleasure; saving 15 per cent a year is no fun, but — yes, really — it adds up.
I’m more eager now to spend what extra money we earn on travel, dining out, enjoying the many plays, concerts, dance performances and conferences available to us in and near New York City. We do not have children or grandchildren, nor, as many of our younger friends do, huge student debts to discharge. Frankly, we feel like outliers — we are very far from 1%ers but we’re not panicked about money the way many people are; the average American has saved stunningly little for retirement.
In the next few months, we’ll attend a weekend workshop (for business purposes); travel back to Canada (by car), attend a few shows and concerts. We hope to be back in Europe after Christmas for several weeks.
My Dad heads off soon for a month sailing with a friend in Greece; at 86, with a new hip, he’s lucky enough to have the good health, strength and finances to keep enjoying his life. In this regard, he’s very much a role model.
How many things do you want to own? How many experiences would you like to enjoy?
Unless you’re wealthy, every expenditure of money means making a choice — the time needed to invest in earning the taxable income to buy the stuff, store the stuff, clean and polish and upgrade the stuff — or an amazing afternoon/evening/week/month/year creating indelible memories.
We spent a recent Sunday in Manhattan (a 40 minute trip into the city from our home) seeing a show, On The Town, on Broadway, and splurged on box seats, at $101 each. I felt like royalty — they offered amazing sightlines and no squished knees; we sat in comfortable elegant Louis XIV-style armchairs. Before the show, we stopped in at Sardi’s, the classic, old-school bar and restaurant, for a Bloody Mary and a snack.
What a lovely, lovely day, creating memories we’ll cherish for years to come.
I’ve never once regretted any of the money I’ve spent on travel or meals or a day of skiing or a game of golf. But I’ve deeply regretted the money I’ve wasted on a pair of too-high heels (worn once!), clothing that just looked like hell or a really boring book that was, after all, a best-seller.
Nothing that arrives in a box or bag is ever as pleasurable and satisfying to me as walking down a Paris street or having tea with a friend in London or catching up face to face with my sister-in-law in Toronto over a very long lunch.
First admission — we brought with us an empty duffel bag to contain our purchases, which cost us an additional 70 euros overweight charges (about $85.)
But my suitcase came in five kilos below the weight limit on our way to Ireland for three weeks’ holiday while Jose’s came in .7 kilos over, thanks to a lot of heavy camera equipment. (He is a professional photographer, after all.)
When I travel, and knowing everyone has their own style, I prefer to dress well when in European cities, (and all cities, really.)
I hate “looking like a tourist” — I saw many women my age wearing T-shirts, thick-soled running shoes and hiking clothing in a stylish urban place. Because I work alone at home in sloppy casual clothing anyway, travel offers me a nice chance to dress up. So, when in town in Dublin, I wore skirts or dresses and flat shoes. I didn’t pack a rain jacket (I find them clammy) and knew I could buy one there if I needed it — we enjoyed the driest Dublin June in 40 years!
I also would come back to our hotel sweaty and tired after a day’s exploring, so always wanted to change into fresh, clean clothing for dinner.
Jose typically wore dress shirts and khakis or nice jeans, with a great pair of Vans denim sneakers or, in the country, hiking boots. He also brought a lightweight navy blue blazer for dinners out and brought two ties.
In the country, I wore yoga pants and long-sleeved T-shirts and sneakers.
Before we left, I scored some great clothing at the Canadian store Aritizia, whose clothes are affordable, stylish, simple, comfortable and washable, perfect for travel.
three dresses (here’s one of them, although mine is a deep burgundy, which I had shipped to NY from their Chicago store)
five cotton long-sleeved T-shirts (could have done with three)
a warm fleece (Patagonia)
one short-sleeved cotton T (for working out or hiking)
one dressy black T shirt
one black duster (long jacket)
one pair of flat sandals, one pair of light mesh sneakers (Merrells), two pair of black leather flats
bathing suit (unused!)
a small portable umbrella
a pair of leggings (worn for hiking, relaxing, golf)
two pair of yoga pants (dark gray, dark brown), worn as trousers
three light sweaters, (one cardigan would have been enough)
two purses, one dressy, one casual
two necklaces and other jewelry
five scarves (very well used!)
Binoculars, a headlamp (for reading in bed) and a very tiny pocketknife (which cut a lemon into slices for our in-room end-of-day gin & tonics!) I also brought a small sketchbook, pocket-sized watercolor kit, colored pencils, several brushes and a pencil.
Depending on your budget and sense of style, I love almost everything from this American, woman-owned company, Title Nine (nope, I get nothing for saying so), from great sports bras to bathing suits to sneakers to casual/comfortable/stylish skirts and dresses perfect for summer travel.
Because I’m a voracious reader, some unread Irish and UK newspapers and magazines, (lots of story ideas in there!), guidebooks, maps.
In Dublin, on sale, Jose scored two gorgeous blazers and two shirts; in Ardara, a thick wool turtleneck sweater. We bought two copies of a book illustrated by artist Pete Hogan — whose watercolor work we admired hanging from the fence around Merrion Square one afternoon. We had a great conversation with him and he allowed me to photograph his paintbox.
I bought little in Ireland, which is unusual for me (and I did hit the sales!): a pair of olive suede sneakers, (84 euros, made in Portugal), several books, five antique forks and an antique Indian bag and a purple wool sweater for a fat five euros at the flea market.
I also bought, (yes, weirdly), a pile of great/affordable lingerie at Brown Thomas, Dublin’s poshest department store and at Marks & Spencer. Much nicer quality and lower prices than here in New York!
This was a journey documented with many photos, some of which you’ve seen here, and memories and new and renewed friendships. Ireland has many very beautiful objects for sale — from wool scarves, hats, sweaters and throws to ceramics, glass and porcelain.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt made the minimum wage a national law in 1938. Years earlier, he said, “By living wages, I mean more than a bare subsistence level — I mean the wages of a decent living.” But minimum wages have not kept pace with the rising cost of living.
Nowhere is the income gap more extreme and obnoxious than in the fast-food industry. Fast-food C.E.O.s are among the highest-paid corporate executives. The average fast-food C.E.O. made $23.8 million in 2013, more than quadruple the average from 2000 (adjusting for inflation). Meanwhile, entry-level food-service workers in New York State earn, on average, $16,920 per year, which at a 40-hour week amounts to $8.50 an hour. Nationally, wages for fast-food workers have increased 0.3 percent since 2000 (again, adjusting for inflation).
Many assume that fast-food workers are mostly teenagers who want to earn extra spending money. On the contrary, 73 percent are women, 70 percent are over the age of 20, and more than two-thirds are raising a child and are the primary wage earners in their family.
I spent 2.5 years — part-time, one shift a week except for holidays — as a retail sales associate for The North Face, selling $600 ski jackets to hedge fund managers from Greenwich, CT headed out to Aspen for their vacation. I made, from 2007 to 2009, $11/hour, a wage some in the U.S. — whose federal minimum is still a paltry $7.25/hour — consider munificent.
I did it because I needed a steady income, even a small one, in the depths of the Great Recession. It was, to say the least, eye-opening, to work for low wages and see how little they bought.
It’s the expectation of customers and management that, even if your feet are swollen and painful from eight hours standing/running/walking without a break, even if you feel ill or nauseated or had to re-open the store barely hours after you closed it (and cleaned the toilets) — you’re happy. Smiling. Perky.
One of the least amusing aspects of working through the holiday season, when wealthy shoppers in our affluent suburban New York mall entered the store already laden with pontoons of loaded shopping bags, was being told to be nice(r.)
All the time.
This, as you face long lines of shoppers who, by the time you can help them — (stores cut labor costs by under-staffing, even during busy periods), are pissed off and taking it out on you — not the staffing/scheduling software your company paid millions for.
That’s emotional labor.
There’s a current trend in the U.S. — where labor union participation remains at an all-time low despite record corporate profits and stagnant wages — called Fight for 15.
The movement wants a wage of $15/hour for low-wage work; a day or week’s wages for workers in places like India, China, Nicaragua — where they make most of the clothes we sell and wear.
But it’s still very little income if you live in a large American city.
I’m forever fascinated by what people are paid and how they — and others — value their skills. Most of us have to work to earn a living, and many of us will do so for decades. Most of our lives will be spent earning an income for the skills we have acquired.
As a fulltime freelancer, knowing how to negotiate is one of my top skills.
Men, statistically, have been shown to negotiate for more. They also get it.
You don’t ask — you don’t get.
One of my favorite books on this issue is called Women Don’t Ask, and I highly recommend it.
I grew up in a family of freelancers and have also spent much of my journalism career without a paycheck.
I know that negotiating is every bit as essential to my income as knowing how to write well and meet a deadline.
One example: a major magazine assigns me a story, the fee $2,400. The “kill fee”, i.e. if the story cannot be used, was $600 — a loss of three-quarters of my income. Nope, I said. They raised it to $1,000. The story, for reasons completely beyond my control, couldn’t be used; they offered me more than the agreed-upon fee.
But what if I hadn’t asked for more in the first place?
I also network, every single day, with other writers at my level; only by sharing information, candidly, can we know what people are actually paying — and not just jump at the first lowball offer.
You also need to be extremely honest with yourself and know what the current marketplace most values in your industry; if your skills are weak or out-of-date, you’re not going to be able to effectively compete and negotiate for more.