Friday, May 16, 2014


I spent last weekend visiting some old friends in Dallas. We have an awful lot of past to gab over, as Joyce was my college roommate (and post-college traveling companion: cross-country and pan-Europa). Since she was dating her husband while we were in school, I’ve known him forever, too.

We don’t just revisit the past, of course. We talk about family. We talk about friends. We talk about books. We talk about politics, culture, and sports. And, amazingly, we talk about fashion.

To wit, Joyce talks about her passionate devotion to high-end fashion, and then we laugh about my abysmal ignorance of Chloé, Marni, and Cucnelli.

On the other hand, I know a boatload more than Joyce about what’s in the latest L.L. Bean catalog.

But Joyce is a fashionista – always has been, always will be. She’s not just a dedicated follower of fashion, it’s her career, and her job at the Dedicated Follower of Fashion Emporium in Dallas takes her, twice a year, to fashion week in New York, Paris, and Milan, where she sometimes even gets to sit in the front row. Ad she sometimes even has her picture taken with a designer I’ve actually heard of.

At a recent meeting at the Dedicated Follower of Fashion Emporium, Joyce was given a bunch of goody bags from different vendors, and she put a couple of them aside for my teenage nieces. So my “classic” niece will soon be in possession of a Burberry wallet that retails for close to five-hundred bucks. (Yikes!) And my “edgy” niece will be on the receiving end of a Stella McCartney tee-shirt that goes for somewhere between $300-400. (Yikes!)

Joyce is really good at this sort of figuring out who’s what style, and she completely got my nieces right. M is classic; C is edgy. (When we were in college, before anyone did colors, Joyce gave me a periwinkle colored bathrobe and told me that this was the color that I should be wearing. Damned if when I had my colors done a decade later, she wasn’t right.)

So the girls have a nice little luxury-good treat coming.

I could do without the Stella McCartney tee-shirt – and the world could do without seeing me in it. But I wouldn’t have minded if there’d been another goody bag with a wallet in it… Oh, boo-hoo.

At least theoretically, I can afford to go into Burberry and get my own damned wallet.But I don’t do a lot of luxury good shopping. And don’t intend to start now. The closet I come is an occasional pricey sweater from the Peruvian Connection. These purchases I justify by a) telling myself that I’ll have the sweater for decades (as has, indeed, been the case with earlier Peruvian Connection purchases: I’ve had one sweater for almost 25 years); and b) ignoring the fact that some Peruvian woman probably made three cents an hour making the sweater.

Just as well I stay out of the types of stores where someone, sizing up my Talbot’s stretch khakis and natty T.J. Maxx scarf, would look down their imperious salesperson nose at me and intimidate me into making a purchase. Because:

For luxury-goods retailers, nothing spikes sales like snubbing the customer.

Shoppers pining for a fancy handbag are more likely to pull out their credit cards than turn on their heels after encountering a rude clerk, according to new research. That’s because indicating that some people don’t fit with fancy brands motivates those individuals to prove they do — by making a purchase. (Source: WSJ Online.)

This doesn’t work at the Gap – where classic niece M works. If you’re snubbed by a clerk there, you’re likely to turn on your heel and shop elsewhere. But it works at Burberry, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci, which were the high end stores included in the research conducted by a couple of business school professors. (The lower-end stores were the Gap, H&M, and American Eagle.)

When a retailer signals, “’No, you don’t deserve to be here,’ it makes us want to be a member,” said Darren Dahl, a professor at the Sauder School of Business in Vancouver who conducted the research with Morgan K. Ward, an assistant professor of marketing at Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business.

For the person eager to own a luxury-brand item, a withering sales clerk is a goad, Mr. Dahl said. Instead of driving a shopper away, the challenge prompts him to think, “I’m going to show you I have a right to be here.”

In the long run, Dahl and Ward don’t think that snottiness is a good strategy, and that, in the long run, good service pays off in the long run.

I suspect that this is, indeed the case. I certainly know from Joyce that the women with monthly clothing budgets that run into the many tens of thousands get plenty of TLC.

But maybe the fancy stores do get to pick up a few bucks from the occasional, once-in-a-lifetime shopper that they crap on.

I think if I do decide to up my shopping game, I’ll do it online, where they can’t see me. Or paw through the racks at T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s to see if I can get something on deep discount. Who cares if it’s last year’s model? It’s not as if I’m going to know the difference.