InEconomies of Scale

Today I went to buy some new work clothes. I’ve decided to try to dress a bit better for work, whatever that means. I told my wife I don’t want to dress like a boring, middle-aged, golfing civil servant. For the record, I don’t golf, I don’t think I’m too boring, and I’m not technically a civil servant. I’m actually awesome.

Anyway, as is no secret here on the interwebs, I’m a librarian. Also as is no secret, Libarianship is not the most financially lucrative profession. I’m not complaining. I am rich in all the ways I care about. I say that only to set the stage for revealing that people of my income level do a lot of shopping at Target and JC Penney. I buy a lot of my everyday stuff at Target — jeans, tshirts, etc. Work clothes and dress clothes at JCP. I have found that I can get a good value for my money in these stores. Apparently I am not Walmart’s target demographic, as I can read, am liberal, and don’t want a “Real Men Love Jesus” tshirt.

After purchasing some new stuff at the local JCP today, I went out into the mall and walked through Dillards, just to see how the other half lives. Or at least the poorer part of the upper half. Whatever.

I realize I’m totally out of touch with the world of lower-upper middle-class consumerism, but $70 seems like too much to pay for a dress shirt. Will it last longer than the less expensive one from JCP? Perhaps, but only if not subjected to my razor-like elbows which without fail bore holes in the elbow of my shirts and sweaters. Pretty much every item in the store was at least twice the price of it’s downtrodden equivalent at JCP.

I left Dillards without buying anything.

I have to say, the quality of the Dillards stuff was noticeably better. I am loathe to admit this fact, but it is true. The fabric felt better. It was just nicer. But was it worth over twice the cost? No. It wasn’t. It comes from the same sweatshops as the  JCP stuff, just with a little heavier fabric and perhaps a few more stitches.

And really, Dillards isn’t even a particularly expensive department story. It’s only the level right above my own layer of the socio-economic stratum.

But this is how it happens, right? This is why nobody has any money and  is in debt up to his eyeballs (I know – the truth is that basic living costs have gone up a lot, but I’m talking about upper middle-class suburban consumeroids). You get a raise, increase your income to some particular point, and suddenly your aspirations of success and comfort change. Suddenly you “deserve” the better stuff, and that quickly spills over into other areas of your life. Suddenly your raise is eaten up by the increases in lifestyle costs.

Anyway, I have to admit I started thinking about this last weekend. I overheard someone talking about how much better $190 jeans feel. Then I noticed that the jeans my 11 and 8 year old nephews were wearing cost — without a doubt — twice as much as the Levis I was wearing. I shit you not. I’m really — really — happy they have such nice stuff. The cost just seems sorta crazy.

I’m not saying we should all live like ascetics. Hell, I like getting a new gadget or something else I don’t need as much as the next person. This is just an observation — an awareness — of how our “needs” change.

That’s all. Carry on.

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