Saturday, October 11, 2008

Can She Afford That?

I own a beautiful, black leather Jil Sander blazer. It's perfectly tailored, with a piping detail on the front, down the back, and on the sleeves. It's void of a collar and carries no pockets. When I put it on, the jacket has the fit of a bespoke piece. That's if I put it on. Whenever I do decide to wear it and people comment on it, the inevitable question arises: "Who is it?" When I say Jil Sander, an incredulous expression flashes across their face. "Is it vintage?" Vintage meaning used, worn by someone else prior to my ownership, significantly cheaper than something straight off the rack. Affordable.

I don't think everyone is subjected to this line of grilling. Oprah, Donald Trump, The Sultan of Brunei, and Bill Gates can wear and buy whatever they please without someone questioning their ability to pay their credit card bills at the end of the month. I'd like to think I'm above this crass and vulgar bit of judgment, but I've caught myself on more than one occasion.

While working in the design office of  a contemporary clothing line, a coworker mentioned that one of the assistants on another floor was toting a new Hermès Birkin bag. Incredulity flashed across my face and I insisted that it must be a fake. My desk mate, who had gotten over her initial disbelief, assured me that it was the real thing. I shook my head and said there's no way an assistant could afford a Birkin. What about the waiting lists? Impossible. Must have been a rich oil or shipping heir boyfriend who picked up the tab for her. I simply couldn't believe it. A leather Jil Sander jacket is pricey, but an Hermès bag is in a completely different stratosphere. This was my line of reasoning.

Just as others had done with me and my item, I was questioning the authenticity of a complete stranger's bag based on her job title alone. Site unseen. I'd never even cast a glance at the owner or the bag. I wasn't proud of myself, but it made me wonder where this unsavory part of human nature came from. Heuristics is a good place to start. The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as "Of or relating to a usually speculative formulation serving as a guide in the investigation or solution of a problem", basically it's an argument derived from past experience. The only other young woman I knew with a Birkin received it from a wealthy, hedge fund chap. Therefore, either THIS assistant's must be a knock-off or a gift. I deduced that since I was an assistant, our paychecks were comparable. If I saved up every single dollar from my wages for the entire year, maybe I would be able to purchase a Birkin of my own. But then there's that dreadful waiting list! With all of these variables, that's how I came up with my blockhead conclusion.

The young lady could have saved up for the bag herself. She could have been an heiress working as an assistant instead of collecting on her trust fund. She could have stolen the bag. Perhaps she was the highest bidder on eBay or bought it on consignment. Bottom line, it was truly none of my business. The fact that she was capable of owning the bag to begin with made me question my own station in life. I believe that's what got me worked up. I think the people that pry into my Jil Sander jackets origins are doing a bit of the same. Even those that make far more than I would have that look of disbelief. 

We all have insecurities. When money and class are thrown into the mix, it can get prickly. We can feel less than. If you're on the receiving end of the incredulous look, it's possible to preempt their question by asking, "Is everything ok?" That should give them the splash of water they need in their face to snap out of it. Now if you're on the opposite end, even if the bag is screaming "I bought this on Canal Street!" at the top of its lungs, just nod and smile. Nod and smile.

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