Unlearning Notions of Value

Over the last few weeks and months I’ve been thinking about how one’s sense of value and can be distorted.

So, for example, as a ‘shirtaholic’ I have no qualms about buying a quality shirt; in fact I won’t buy anything less for my formal collection. However, for the jumper I will wear over that shirt, an item that will in fact be far more visible I don’t see the need to spend very much because I can find jumpers that to do the job equally well for under a fiver at Sainsbury’s.

This lovely Lemon jumper was only £8 at Matalan. So why pay more...?
This lovely Lemon jumper was only £8 at Matalan. So why pay more…?

So I found myself earlier this week in a faintly ludicrous situation where I felt that a jumper at £25 was more than I was prepared to spend (yet I was wearing a shirt that cost £30).

 I am in a similar situation with suits. I have been very successful in finding suits that cost very little, usually because they have been marked down. Indeed, it is not unknown for me to wear a shirt that cost more than the suit with which it is being worn.

I am in the interesting situation of not owning any suit which cost me more than £50 and I own a number which cost considerably less. During the course of this year I have bought some blazers, each of which cost more than my best suits. So a Tweed blazer at £99 which should have looked like great value instead was weighed up with the question: is it really worth more than twice the price of my best suit….?

20121229-225059.jpg
This Aubergine jumper from T M Lewin has been discounted from £90 to £29

Part of the issue with me is that I am not a clothing snob. Actually that’s not true, I think I might be a clothing snob. What I am not is a brand snob. I am not all that interested in brands, unless I am fully persuaded that the brand brings something significant for me that I can’t easily get elsewhere. Rather, I am much more interested in fit and appearance. So if something fits well and looks good I don’t care that it’s from ASDA. In fact, if its from ASDA it might be even better because it should be cheaper!

For this reason most of my In Between Trousers and Jeans, and indeed jumpers, are from Sainsbury’s who produce cords and chinos in decent quality which fit me well and frequently have them discounted to half price or less. I don’t think I’ve ever spent as much as £20 on a pair of jeans in my life and most of my casual trousers cost me under a tenner.

It’s a similar story with shoes, not that I buy shoes from Sainsbury’s… though I freely admit that I’ve bought one or two pairs at Tesco. Rather, it is to say that I only own a single pair of shoes that cost over £50, one pair as low as £10, despite being made from genuine leather. My one exception, cost £56 but it is the most recent pair of shoes that I’ve purchased.

In other words, I’ve only recently broken the £50 barrier in purchasing shoes, for the first time in my life! On the one hand, this is a good example of careful purchasing because a number of my shoes have an RRP well north of £50. It’s simply that I’ve bought them when they were heavily marked down.

Black Monk & Oxford, Charles Tyrwhitt, Discounted form £199 to £99
Black Monk & Oxford, Charles Tyrwhitt, Discounted form £199 to £99

On the other hand, this raises unrealistic expectations. The reality is that good quality men’s shoes typically cost far more than £50. I have been remarkably fortunate over the last 5 years. Plus, I’ve been open to buying lesser quality shoes on the basis that most people, me included, can’t readily tell the difference.

However, it means that when I see a pair of shoes at £199, though they may well be worth every penny, the price tag is a big hurdle for me to overcome, because I find myself asking are they really 4 times better than the shoe I bought for £45? What I conveniently forget is that the shoe in question still retails for £125 in some stores but I was lucky to get it for well under half price.

So I find I have to unlearn distorted notions of value relating to certain types of items. The problem is that I don’t really want to unlearn these notions of value. It’s great to live in a world where decent shoes and suits can be had for under £50, chinos, cords and linens for under a tenner and jumpers for under a fiver! Why would I want to join the real world? Why indeed…

The reality is that I remain convinced that it is perfectly possible to find decent quality suits for under £50 and the same for shoes, if you are not overly finicky about acquiring the last word in quality. It is the age old question of Cost v Quality.

TML Sharkskin Grey Suit
TML Sharkskin Grey Suit

The problem is that at this stage of my wardrobe-building project I have had plenty of ‘decent quality’ items. I am now at the stage where I am working on Improving the Quality of the wardrobe and so am interested in quality, without qualification. And that can’t easily be found for under £50.

Moreover, to be honest, I am finding it increasingly difficult to find the time or inclination to invest the effort that would be required to ferret out the kind of occasional deals that I have in the past where I have managed to find the £125 shoe for £45 or the £199 suit for £49.

I recognise now that there has been in my mind an unconscious and imperceptible normalising of those kinds of bargains. Rather than seeing them as what they were, unusual and infrequent opportunities, they have become the norm.

So the idea that I might actually need to spend three figures for a decent pair of shoes is a shock to the system, despite the rational part of my mind asserting that this is a reasonable price to pay for a good quality pair of shoes.

Allen Edmonds Cronmok, Navy, US$275
Allen Edmonds Cronmok, Navy, US$275

The problem is not with recognising, say £150, as an acceptable price for a great pair of Barker’s or Allen Edmonds. Rather the problem is that I am contemplating spending 3 times as much as I spent on my pair from Loake but I get a pair of shoes that is definitely not 3 times as good. A similar issue but on a smaller scale is the jumper I can’t quite get my head round for £25 because I have 5 jumpers in my wardrobe that cost less than that figure combined!

Despite my best efforts and rational arguments examples such as these simply do not easily compute to good value in my head. At least not yet; hence, the need to unlearn notions of value.

It appears that there is a downside to taking my advice on how to Avoid Paying Full Price. It becomes an even more bitter pill to swallow when you find that you might have to….

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