This reminds me of another time I coveted a very expensive piece of apparel. (How’s that for a forced and inappropriate segue from the last post to this one?!) I was 21 years old and living in Toronto while I attended fashion design school. Being a fashion design student was only my avocation, however. My true vocation was shopping and going to parties and trying to look more sophisticated than I was.
I had never before lived in a large city and was seduced by the glamour. Soon after I arrived I became convinced that the key to happiness was to give the impression that I was a big city girl from way back. If possible, I wanted to convey the idea that, from my perspective, Toronto was rather small and unimpressive. I hoped those who saw me would say, “My goodness, she’s so in touch with what’s going on. Perhaps she’s from New York. Or Mexico City. Somewhere really big, anyway.” The key to creating this new self was dressing the part.
I was aided and abetted in my delusion that clothes could change the course of my life by the fashion magazines I consumed as though they held the secret to life. (For instance: If I wear my hair extremely windswept like the girl in the photo, I too will look willowy and heartstoppingly beautiful. Also, I should find a graffiti-covered surface to stand against for maximum effect.)
At a certain point I decided that I wanted to look very, very wealthy. I liked the term “old money” and wished to appear as though my money was walking around with an oxygen tank and walker. Today, I’d probably want to give the impression that I have something to do with “hedge funds”. Of course, I don’t really know what hedge funds are and my grade eight math skills make it unlikely anyone is ever going to hand me a hedge fund to manage. Given the state of our wretched garden hedges, I doubt anyone would even give me an actual hedge to manage. But that’s another story for another time.
Just as I was making a commitment to appear wealthy (if not to actually do anything to become wealthy) I realized that somewhere along the line I’d run out of student loan money. This was inconvenient because I still had quite a bit of school left to complete and to pay for. Luckily, I had a tax return coming and a birthday. Between them, I’d just be able to pay for my final term.
I received the money and it looked like a windfall. Sure, it wasn’t exactly old money. But it would look like it was old money if I spent it wisely on a genuine IRISH KNIT SWEATER from the Irish Shop! If there’s one thing my fashion magazines had taught me, it was that wealthy, old money individuals were very fond of cable knit sweaters. The truly rich spent all their time hanging out with labrador retrievers while leaning against barn walls and lounging carelessly on mossy lawns with vast, old money mansions in the background.
With that in mind, hours after receiving the money, I rushed off to the Irish Shop on Bloor Street and purchased myself a genuine Irish knit cabled sweater, complete with a little tag written up by the geniune Irish woman who’d knit it (in her genuine Irish stone house, located in her picturesque, emerald green Irish village by the sea). She signed the note “Doreen”. That really got me. Doreen! How wonderfully Irish! I knew all the old money people were going to recognize the quality of my sweater. They might even have their own sweaters knit by Doreen!
The sweater knit by Doreen cost $350 and it still smelled of the Irish sheep from whence it came. It was 1989 and my annual income at that time was, not including student loans, about $4000. But no worry: people of quality aren’t afraid to invest in quality!
I left the store and walked home, sure that people were looking at me differently now that I carried a bag from the Irish Shop. I imagined that any moment one of the people driving Mercedes along Bloor Street would pull over to ask whether I’d be going to the shore that summer or rather heading to the South of France.
When I got home to my somewhat grotty student residence, I quickly put on my new sweater. It hung to nearly my knees, possibly not the most attractive fit in the world. But that was of no concern to someone who’d recently completed a term at fashion design school. I used my new skills to insert a piece of elastic along the waist to tuck it in. That made the sweater less sloppy. Unfortunately, it also meant I would not be able to return it to the Irish Shop.
It took about a day of being completely neglected by the Old Money People for me to realize that I had spent the money I needed to complete my school term. The college administrators didn’t think the fact that I owned a Genuine Irish Sweater knit by Doreen reason enough to let me back in. And they refused to accept the sweater as payment.
So I dropped out of school. To this day, that is the most I’ve ever paid for a sweater. It’s almost more than I’ve ever paid for a car. When I look back on the missed path as a costume designer I totally blame Doreen. And Vogue magazine.