Avarice, Virtue & The 5-Year Project (Post # 100)

If you have some interest in style, wish to make the most of your assets, care about personal grooming, or simply are seeking to improve the sad state of your wardrobe, a 5-year project is a worthy undertaking. In addition, a 5YP has the capacity to teach you much about yourself, often in ways that are unexpected.

Nonetheless, a 5YP can also reveal a darker side. Bluntly put, it is the problem of avarice.  When is enough, enough? At what point does one move from Building a Gentleman’s Wardrobe to simply collecting for the sake of collecting? This is a particular challenge for those of us who have a collecting impulse.

I am in year 5 of my 5YP.  My wardrobe is far more fully stocked that it was when I began nearly 5 years ago. My wardrobe has greater depth and breadth, includes a more creative range of colours, and has items of better quality than it did when I began. Clearly, there are further improvements that could be made but there is no doubt that my wardrobe exists on a definitively higher plane than it did in 2007.

As I draw towards the conclusion of my 5YP you will be unsurprised that I have been looking back over the last few years, reflecting on some of the things that I have learnt. If you keep records of your 5YP, as I recommend, then like me you are able to track expenditure year by year, noting where money has been spent and on what. What stands out to me is that despite having more clothes in my wardrobe than I have ever had previously, and strictly speaking more clothing than I need, I find that I still feel the need to add more. A 5YP can so easily become an addiction.

At the end of year 4 I made my budget for year 5.  My wardrobe was already pretty well stocked at this point so I planned for a reduced budget in year 5.  After all, I had virtually everything that I needed. I had an extensive collection of shirts, including some yet to be removed from their cellophane wrappers. The size of my suit collection for the first time ran into double figures. My shoe collection was 50% larger than it had been when I started, and also ran well into double figures.  Accessories including ties, cufflinks, watches, and handkerchiefs were a significant feature.  I was nearly there a far as I could see.

So I made two decisions. First, that I would budget to spend less in year 5 than I had in year 4 and that I would stick to my budget. I confess that I had exceeded my budget on each of the previous 4 years. So now that I am 6 weeks away from completing the end of year 5 how have my expectations matched reality? Not well.

Despite being pretty sure last year that I did not need any more formal shirts I have already added 11 more formal shirts to my collection this year.  IKR!

Despite this, a few days ago I was eyeing up a particularly tasty twill item last week in Hawes & Curtis.  Navy Blue.  What did you expect?

And whilst I have not bought any suits this year, I have added two blazers to the collection and am evaluating a third as I write.

Footwear was identified as a priority item for year 5, nonetheless,  I am a little surprised to discover that over the last 12 months I have added a similar number of pairs to my collection as I have shirts. It may be worth noting that more than half of these pairs had been discounted to under £20 and none cost over £50. Nonetheless, that is a significant number by any measure.

And yet just this a few days ago I found myself looking at my shoe collection and seeing a gap that I feel I ought to get around to filling sometime soon. (There’s a shoe I think needs replacing).

Moreover, for the last few days I have been in the US where I can find a number of items that I can’t easily source in the UK.  So without too much difficulty I can think of a few more things that I might want to add to my growing wardrobe whilst in the US. I’ve also got in my head one or two items (OK maybe five, six, seven or eight items) that I would love to add to my wardrobe collection when I get some time, and money.

Speaking of money, this is perhaps as good a point as any to admit that I have spectacularly failed to spend less in year 5 than in year 4 or to stick to my budget. At least not my original one; I have revised the 5YP budget upwards at multiple points this year. So much so, that my current budget for year 5 is higher than any previous year, including year 3 when I fell off the wagon spectacularly.

Having reflected on these facts for a while it seems to me that I can only come to a single conclusion. My 5YP in my case appears to have left me with a serious case of avarice.  That’s greed in common currency.  How else do I explain the need to own ever more when I already have more than I need and more than I have ever had previously?  Is there another reasonable explanation for the fact that despite having items in the wardrobe which I have yet to wear I am already plotting for adding more?

And having visited Jermyn Street last week I’ve come away with clear ideas of where there are small but important gaps in my collection that I have already begun to think about how I might fill. T M Lewin have a great collection of jumpers, bow ties and trouser braces in a range of colours that are right up my street.  And my impression of Autumnal Orange being on trend seems to be about right based on how many windows had displays with orange or rust coloured items.  A rust coloured pair of trousers, sensitively displayed in a Jermyn Street shop window with a country check jacket, light orange and brown paisley tie and pale yellow jumper set my pulse racing I have to admit….

How shallow is that? Based on this evidence it appears that my greed genie is not just out of the bottle, it has smashed it and trampled it underfoot. And it appears to be wearing a very fine pair of Church brogues as it does so….

However, that is not the only possible explanation. People like me do need to be alert to greed. We do need to have at least one eye to virtue if the 5YP is not merely to be an exercise in selfishness. The line between self-improvement and self-centredness can be a very fine one after all. So what other explanation might there be? Well some of us are collectors. The idea of possessing the item is just as attractive as the idea of wearing it. So the question of need quickly becomes irrelevant.

Try discussing with a stamp collector whether he or she needs the object of their philatelic desire. To do so would be a pointless exercise.  Does anyone need a stamp, apart from those moments when posting a letter? And these days there are other options even in those instances. Needing more stamps is not the point of the exercise. Stamp collectors build up their collection for the pleasure of it, look forward to opportunities to display their collection and to discuss with other collectors. They enjoy the hunt for the rare stamp, the unexpected discovery, and the trading in which they might occasionally indulge in order to secure the objects of their interest.

Those who are not philatelists can’t quite work out how anyone could find satisfaction in pursuing little bits of coloured paper or why they would spend hard earned money on such things.  And that’s just it. We don’t get it. Now clearly, a 5YP is not a stamp collection and the simile begins to breakdown at some point.  One does not wear one’s stamps.  At least one shouldn’t…..  Moreover, clothing is directed at the self in a way that stamps are not.  Nonetheless, some of the issues around being a collector, I suggest, still stand.

So keeping avarice in check remains a concern. One must not become greedy. Despite considering myself to be a man of modest means I cannot  forget that most of the world’s population is simply too poor ever to consider a 5YP.  As a consequence there must be limits to one’s consumption. It is figuring out what those are which is the ongoing challenge.

So what do you think?  This is my 100th post on the 5YP blog.

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