Shopping Memories: The Indulgent Years

Ever since I read a post on Frances’ blog the other day, the one where she counts up what she bought in 2019, analyzes her purchases, and talks about slow fashion, I’ve been thinking about something she said. About the time in her life when her “buying was indulgent.” That struck a chord with me. And started me thinking about my own “indulgent years.” Namely, the years in between being a poor student, then a student-debt-ridden-poorly-paid young teacher… and now. The years before I retired, before I cared about ethical shopping and the slow fashion movement. When I had enough money to buy what I wanted. And did.

Outside in the snow today in my Stuart Weitzman boots, Adrienne Vittadini sweater, and Uniqlo down jacket.
Out and about in my old Adrienne Vittadini sweater

Not that I was ever truly deprived in the wardrobe department. Growing up, even though my mum was a single parent with four of us kids, there always seemed to be enough money. Mostly. I know my mum had to really stretch her pay cheque. She tells of borrowing my older sister’s babysitting money to tide her over until pay day some weeks. Still, like the rest of my friends, I received new clothes at Christmas, and in the fall before school started, and when I really needed something.

If it wasn’t Christmas or my birthday, or I didn’t absolutely need something, it didn’t matter that I might love to have something new, I had to wait. Until it was Christmas or my birthday. That’s how it was for everyone I knew. I wrote a post a while ago about boot nostalgia, and how, growing up, we wore plastic bread bags in our boots if they sprang a leak when it was not feasible to buy new ones. I was amazed at the comments from readers who’d done the same thing growing up. You can read that post here, if you’re interested.

When I finally had a part-time job in high school, I bought many of my own clothes. A new sweater or pair of jeans. Sometimes set aside on lay-away. And paid off little by little with the money I earned while working for my aunt Phyl in the canteen at the Lady Beaverbrook Rink during the International Wrestling Federation matches on Thursday nights. One day I’ll tell you about that part-time job. It was an education, I’ll tell you that.

Like all my friends, when I had money to spend, I bought what I could afford. Well, mostly. There was the odd splash out that I shouldn’t have been able to afford. Especially in university, when I dipped into my bank account and spent money I should have been saving for next semester’s books, or rent. Like the time in second year when I bought a gorgeous coat sweater at the Towne Shoppe in Fredericton.

Oh my. I could not afford to even step into the Towne Shoppe, but I did. And my roommate never, ever let me forget how much I paid for that sweater. In fact, when we had lunch together last November in Fredericton when I was home at Mum’s, we laughed and laughed about that. “Remember how much I always wanted to borrow your seventy-five dollar sweater?” Debbie said. “Ha. Remember how you always remembered how much I paid for that damned sweater?” I chortled.

Buying these Adrienne Vittadini sweaters and camel jacket marked the beginning of my shopping indulgent years.
My Adrienne Vittadini haul, September 1991.

But, you see, those moments of splurging were just that. Moments of heady, glorious insanity, followed by wracking guilt and fear that I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent. Thus they were bracketed by long periods of sanity when I bought only what I could afford. Which was not a lot.

And eventually when the student days were done, and the jobs where I earned not much more than minimum wage were done, and the student loans had been paid, I could afford to be, well, indulgent. More indulgent than I’d ever been able to be before, with less guilt and fear. And this may surprise you… or if you’ve been reading this blog long enough, maybe it won’t surprise you at all. But I clearly remember the day when that all changed.

Buying this Adrienne Vittadini sweater was the beginning of my shopping indulgent years.
This sweater marked a turning point in my shopping life.

It was September 1991. My friend Eunice and I had travelled to Montreal for a shopping weekend. The first of many, as it happened. We took the train, and slept on futons on the living room floor of her daughter’s apartment. We ate and shopped and laughed and ate and shopped some more. There may have been wine. Ha.

On Saturday afternoon, I gasped when I entered the Adrienne Vittadini boutique in Ogilvy’s on Saint-Catherine Street. I’d found my spiritual-sartorial home, so to speak. Beautiful, chunky cashmere sweaters, menswear-inspired camel hair jackets, pencil skirts. I ran my hand along the racks, riffling the sleeves of the jackets and coats, patting the sweaters, and tried to decide what to try on first. I’d only recently had my contract increased; finally after six years of teaching, I was making a full-time salary. I had money to blow. Not a lot, but some.

I chose a square-shouldered, camel-hair blazer and matching pencil skirt. The jacket I’d wear with my jeans and boots. Or with the skirt. And I’d get one sweater to go with the skirt when I wasn’t wearing the jacket. A beautiful long, camel cashmere, cable-knit, V-neck sweater. I saw myself in that sweater with a cream cami peeping out underneath, and the camel pencil skirt. Or with my black leather skirt, black tights, and flats. Or with jeans and boots. I was full of plans for that sweater.

Buying this Adrienne Vittadini sweater was the beginning of my shopping indulgent years.
Adrienne Vittadini sweater, Paige high-rise jeans, Stuart Weitzman boots (similar without the studs.)

Bu-ut. There’s always a but when one is shopping away from home. They only had the V-neck sweater in cream. And the camel in a turtleneck. I took them both into the dressing room. I tried on one. Then the other. The first one again. Then the other again. I could not decide. I enlisted the aid of the sales staff. They were no help. “They both look beautiful, madame.” Eunice arrived; we’d separated earlier in the day and had arranged to meet here later. I tried them both on again for her. Then I took them off, and did it again.

I was flushed and my hair stuck up on end. I had to decide. The sweaters were pricey, and I didn’t want to get home to Ottawa and realize I’d made a mistake and wish I’d bought the other one. Then Eunice said, “Why not get them both?”

Outside in the snow today in my Stuart Weitzman boots, Adrienne Vittadini sweater, and Uniqlo down jacket.
Why not get them both?

Gasp. Can I do that? I was already splashing out on the jacket and skirt. But… two sweaters? “Well, it IS your money, Susan,” Eunice giggled. Right. I could buy two sweaters if I wanted. So I did.

That was a light-bulb moment for me. Seriously. For years afterward, if someone made a crack about my shopping habits, I’d always laugh and say, “Blame Eunice.”

I mean, I’d never been a penny pincher when I saw something I wanted. Although I was pretty good at buying pieces that went with what I already had in my closet, pretty good at planning what I wanted, I’d never been good at waiting for sales. Even when I should have done. If I had the money, I bought the item I wanted. But I always, always believed that I had to choose the ONE thing I wanted. That I had to choose which one perfect piece to buy. That rule had been my ceiling, sort of. And with that one comment, Eunice blew my ceiling all to hell. Ha.

Outside in the snow today in my Stuart Weitzman boots, Adrienne Vittadini sweater, and Uniqlo down jacket.

I guess I could call the years following that momentous epiphany my indulgent years.

Eventually, I started shopping at Holt Renfrew. I could afford it now. Not that I went for the super high end Armani or Prada or St. John stuff… I wasn’t that flush. But Holts was the place, I learned, to buy good quality, mid-priced designer pieces. Many of them Holts own brand. And I discovered Max Mara. Elie Tahari. Theory and Lida Baday. I bought what worked with what I already had in my closet, with an eye for the trends, and what I loved.

I started keeping my little book of lists. Mostly because when I did shop, I often bought two or three outfits for the season. Maybe a skirt and jacket, a pair of pants and a sweater, a tee shirt and jeans, boots or flats. I needed to be able to check what I owned, so I didn’t buy something already in my closet. And to give me ideas for combinations.

When my friend Liz became the personal shopper at Holts… those were fun shopping days. I’d call her from work and we’d book a day. I’d tell her what I was looking for: a new suit, boots, a spring coat, and something pink. When I’d arrive she would have done what she calls “a pull.” I’d stash my coat and purse in her dressing room and, even before I looked at her choices, I’d do my own “reconnaissance mission” as I called it. We’d laugh when we’d pulled the same item, as we often did.

Then when I’d tried everything on with everything else, I’d sit down and try to make some choices. Liz would leave me alone to do this. No matter how much I loved everything, and sometimes I did, I knew I could not afford everything I loved. I may have been indulgent, but I wasn’t stupid. Besides, even though my original ceiling had been blown years ago, I knew I had to be able to justify my purchases to myself, if to no one else.

I still have all my Adrienne Vittadini pieces from that fateful Montreal trip: the camel jacket, the pencil skirt, and the two very indulgent sweaters. The skirt is buried in the storage closet. I mean… 1991 was a long time (and several inches around the waist) ago. But I kept it in case I ever give away the suit, so that it will still BE a suit. This afternoon I hauled out the camel turtleneck to venture outside into the snow. It still looks pretty good after twenty-eight years. Gad. That long ago. Turns out it was a quality piece well worth the price after all.

You know, I remember chatting with a young member of my department one day at work in the early 2000s. And when we were done talking about work, she asked me where I’d bought my new top. “Holt Renfrew,” I said. She sighed, “I wish I could afford to shop at Holt Renfrew.” “You’re twenty-seven,” I snapped. “You’ve been teaching for like ten minutes. You just bought a new car. It’s not your turn yet. I couldn’t afford to shop there when I was twenty-seven either.”

In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have bitten her head off. I could have been kinder. I could have assured her that down the road she’d have her own indulgent years. But, all in good time. All in good time.

Kicking up some snow with my Stuart Weitzman boots, Adrienne Vittadini sweater, and Uniqlo down jacket.
These boots seemed indulgent when I bought them back in 2010.
But in retrospect, maybe not. Similar pair here without the studs.

So what say you, my fashionable friends? Did you have your own indulgent years? I remember my mum didn’t have hers until we were all mostly grown up. I recall one shopping trip Mum and I made to buy her outfit for my sister’s wedding. We may have ever so slightly under reported to my step-father how much she paid for that pink suit. Ha. Good times, eh Mum?

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50 thoughts on “Shopping Memories: The Indulgent Years”

  1. I have a few of those skirts that shrunk just hanging in the closet. I find that it really doesn’t get cold enough here in Southern Ontario for thick turtlenecks. Layers that are easy to shed are the best for me. Never had the money to really splurge and now I try to buy made in Canada when possible. Lucky the next town has a great little store that sells a nice selection at reasonable price points

    1. How nice to have that one perfect shop. My fav independent shop here in Ottawa is now closed. I miss it. Even if just to stop in to chat and see what’s new.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this with my first cup of tea of the day. You certainly get the wear out of your wardrobe and this, of course, is the important thing. If you know what you like to wear then you will wear and re-wear to your heart’s delight. Like you, I had to wait a while until I could afford to buy more clothing but I still couldn’t buy expensive stuff. This probably stems from many years of feeling I had little choice (short, vast chest) and had to take what I could get. I am better now but have less money to spend so think very carefully first. Clothes last for years with me, even cheap items, because I look after them. But oh, how this reminded me of shopping trips when I was a teenager, endlessly flipping through the rails, trying things on in communal rooms (?!), wishing and wishing I could have everything and wanting all the latest styles. My sister-in-law, always stylish, still has clothes that she wore in the very early 70’s, neatly packed away in the loft. I would love to see those again.

  3. Clothes buying was much the same in our family . It didn’t happen often but we didn’t go cold . It means you do appreciate the good times when they arrive & it teaches you that quality & value for money are important . It’s very nice when you find something special & are able to buy it – if you so choose . Funny though , nothing compares to the thrill of my first big purchase , a dark green suede trench coat when I was a teenager . It took a great deal of hard saving from my small salary to afford that coat but I floated around when I wore it . Your camel jumper is still lovely .

    1. Remember that feeling of wonderful-ness when as a teen you bought the PERFECT thing? I remember a pair of blue and white overalls bought when I was fifteen. Sigh. Loved those things.

  4. I had my sister’s hand me downs while growing up.
    As an adult, when I was in the position to afford quality clothes I was rather large so felt I couldn’t justify spending the money. I was a yo yo dieter for most of my life.
    Now I am at my ideal weight and have been able to maintain this for the past 2 years, I do not have the income to indulge as I would.
    So as stated in previous posts I op shop ( second hand) and have a ball doing it.
    I am keeping a record as suggested in a previous post and am finding this interesting.
    Thank you again for an interesting topic.

    1. We don’t have great choice here in second hand shops. I made the rounds of the thrift and vintage shops in Kensington Market in Toronto one year and it was so much fun.

  5. I had exactly the same experience, where I was shopping with a friend, I could not decide between the two colours of a sandal, and she said ‘why not buy both’. My recruitment business was doing very well at this point and it really was a realisation that I could do this if I wanted to. Now that I have closed my business and am in early retirement I have stopped doing that. Those certainly were my ‘indulgent years’. I still have many pieces from then that are still in great condition and still get worn. So no regrets – it was fun 🙂

  6. I love the stories behind our clothing. They tell us so much about who we were when we bought those items. And they allow us to see how or even if we have changed. Thank you for sharing this one,

    1. My indulgence was usually with price more than quantity. My roommate had twice the amount of clothing I did… but mostly fast fashion-ish stuff… in the years before fast fashion even existed.

  7. Loved this post. I had indulgent years in my late 20s. I was an investment banker and did not look at price tags. I still have many bags and shoes and coats and blazers from that period. Now, I’m into slower ethical fashion. (After going on a tear at some mall shops to stock up on cheap pants, I discovered I’m allergic to the fabric, so that reinforces that.) So now it’s back to quality pieces: just fewer of them. And my bag habit isn’t going away but it’s thought out and limited to special occasions.

  8. I had a great job in high school, doing data entry (typing in address changes) and authorizing Visa charges by phone back before all that was computerized. But in my hometown back then, there were no designer brands and most of my paycheck went to buying things for my fast-growing younger siblings, framed as presents to protect the ego of my father, who had worked two jobs most of my childhood, but lost one when the company closed. I filled the gap. I mostly wore clothes I made myself.
    After Peace Corps, I had three outfits. I wore the same thing on Mondays/Thursdays and Tuesdays/Fridays; Wednesday was for outfit #3. I had one pair of shoes. It was hard, even though I had just come from a country where people had only one outfit, and it was worn to rags.
    About a decade later, I got my good job. It involved public speaking and being on TV, so I bought Tahari suits and Barami, which at the time was similar to Tahari but slightly cheaper. I still have some of them. I bought one Adrienne Vittadini dress. Sorry I gave it away, to someone who didn’t have a clue and did’t care, either. I would buy six suits every spring and six every fall. Not very sustainable. It was the ’90s and early ’00s, I had money and hung around with people with much more money. I spent a fortune on clothes, but it was small compared to my colleagues. Always a country bumpkin.
    Now I work from home and admittedly look awful. It’s sustainable, but not fun. Change is coming, soon, I hope.

    1. I think my older sisters must have done as you did. I received a number of my favourite pieces from my sisters, when Mum was still a single working parent with four kids and we didn’t have a lot of money.

  9. What a fun story. I’m glad you had Eunice to blow up that ceiling, haha! Ironically, my indulgent years are right now. Sure I had some in the 80s, but after staying home and raising five children, I get pleasure in buying what I want–my expenses run something like $200 for a Johnny Was top and the like. All of our children are not off the payroll, yet, we still have a 20 yr. old, but we have more disposable income, as you can imagine. I have an affinity for quality, some of that comes from being able to sew, so fast fashion has never had much of an appeal to me. Fun stuff to consider.

  10. Yes I well remember the years when we only got new items of clothing at Christmas and perhaps new shoes on my birthday…now there is the ability to shop when I need (or want) something new and I no longer have to wait for those special occasions. That alone spells out indulgence to me! Purchases made are quality pieces that are classic…I love a great cashmere turtleneck in black, black straight leg wool crepe pants, white or black jacket in classic cuts, silk scarves and the ever present leather handbag in colours to bring out any accent colour selected. Pieces remain in my wardrobe as long as they look great and if they look great after 20 years they are still worn! Fashion is not to be feared and if it fits well, looks great and brings joy to your heart wear it even if the garment is old…cheers!

  11. A turtleneck that looks so good after 28 years is a bargain not an indulgence! I think it’s pretty hard to find good quality garments at reasonable prices these days. Fabrics, cuts and workmanship are not what they once were and sadly, I don’t think we’ll ever get that back. Despite being committed to buying less, it’s hard to pass up something that fits and is decent quality at a reasonable price, but I do my best as I really don’t need as many clothes now that I’m retired.

    1. Now that I’m retired, I don’t need as many clothes either. Still, I look forward to shopping for that perfect turtleneck or pair of jeans every now and then.

  12. The Adrienne Vittadini things are soooo beautiful,classics-I have a similar camel -hair jacket now and love it very much. The sweaters are wonderful, too-I only don’t wear chunky sweaters any more (climate and central heating related change). If it was very cold (and ,from winter to winter,it was), I wear layers.
    I’ve had some “Eunice” moments without Eunice :-),too

    1. I don’t wear my heavy knits as much as I used to either. But give me a crisp late fall day, all wrapped up in a chunky sweater, jeans, and boots… that’s fashion nirvana for me. And since I have old chunky sweaters I don’t have to buy anything new.

  13. A young teacher, finally on a permanent contract, had a custom made gray suede coat with a luxurious fur collar made for her, indulgence indeed! Alas, dry-cleaning ruined the lovely creation and she did penance for years with poor substitutes. Back in 1996, delighting in the beautiful parkas by Linda Lundstrom, she was indulged by a generous husband at Christmas with a lovely purple and cream coloured “Thunderbird” motif coat. It was worn til the blanket stitching fell apart and stills hangs in the closet to this day along with visions of refurbishment.

  14. Oh, I remember the beautiful Adrienne Vittadini days. That was quite a step up from my Villager and John Meyer of Norwich sweater/A-Line/matching knee socks days as I went into teaching. One also felt a bit more European… Thanks for the memories!

  15. I have a story to tell. In high school my parents did not want to spend any money on clothes for me even though they did have the money. I ended up wearing my grandmother’s long plaid skirts that she did not fit into any more. I had to roll them on two times at the waist to get them to a decent calf length. they were so long! I was so embarrassed wearing them. I made a promise that day I would never wear hand me downs again when I got my first job! That painful memory led me on a long journey buying a lot of clothes I really love! Sometimes buying too many clothes! Bravo for you being able to wear and keep sweaters that old! Plus they are beautiful! I have gained so much weight that I had to buy new clothes to fit into. On the plus side, I do donate all my unwearable clothes to Salvation Army.

  16. I love that camel jumper (as we call them in Aus) on you. I can imagine its lusciousness! Who’d have known when making the purchase back then, that you’d be wearing it in your retirement. It‘s lucky that moths haven’t spoiled it.
    Keep writing your blog. It’s wonderful!

  17. The indulgent year (and it was only one year) came much sooner for me, but the lesson I learned was enduring. I was fifteen years old, and my father found himself parenting us alone for six months, while my mother was half way around the world caring for her dying father. My sister and I kept pestering him for clothes we claimed were essential, so he finally decided to set up a budget for each of us; we lived in Spain, and he told us that he was giving each of us a one year budget of 10,000 pesetas (around $148.00 at the time), with the caveat that this was to cover all our clothing needs including shoes and coats.
    This seemed like a huge windfall to me at the time, and I headed to my favorite boutiques where I rapidly spent most of the budgeted amount in one afternoon. Needless to say, the rest of the year was quite rough because my father stuck to his side of the bargain, and I never forgot this lesson. Since then I have always given myself a “cooling off period” before making any impulsive or indulgent purchases, and it has served quite well!

  18. Very pleased to have played a small role in this post by referring to indulgent buying in mine — what a fun essay and also what great comments you’ve inspired. You’ve got me thinking about my own history in clothes shopping, ever influenced by having been the eldest of a very large family — not sure I’ve ever completely shaken off a guilt at spending but I’ve indulged myself throughout, some years much more easily than others as the kids grew, left home, and as my work changed.
    As for the AV sweaters — these are gorgeous, eminently wearable still, much more so than the Adrienne Vittadini I remember with the stunning embroidery (winter scenes featuring French knots and satin stitch on a cashmere background). A very indulgent young mom with a doting husband in my community flaunted several of these in pastel tones that suggested her toddler daughter and preschool son were much neater eaters and drinkers than mine ever were. . .

    1. I had so much fun writing this. I do go on when I am reminiscing about clothes. I chuckled when I was thinking of the conversation Debbie and I had at lunch in November about my 75 dollar sweater. Great to have a friend who remembers your clothes from the old days. Ha. Wearing AV sweaters in the presence of a toddler is my idea of indulgent.

  19. Brora cropped cashmere cardigans. Soft and warm and wonderful complex colours. Bought pre retirement when I could splurge and now sadly out of fashion, I think. And not flattering on my strangely expanding middle. But I’ll never part with them. If they did come back in I couldn’t afford them again and perhaps my waist will shrink……

    1. My friend Krista just posted on IG how she wore a lovely long silky tank under a cropped cashmere sweater. Black tank, black pants, cream sweater. It looked amazing. Maybe you should be shopping for underpinnings??

  20. Love this and can so relate! My parents weren’t all that well off either, but we had what we needed, as you did. As soon as I started to appreciate clothes, I started babysitting long hours and saving my money just for new clothes. We lived in a rural area and had to drive 4 hours for our fall/school shopping trip every year, but I came home with a haul of things I loved and no one else in my school would have. Bliss!

    As well, I can relate to the career and clothing track. I clearly recall spending a fortune (to me) on a skirt, jacket and pants (options!) ensemble by Shelli Segal when that brand was fresh and way beyond my normal clothing range. I had to do my first real presentation at our annual trade show, and I just fell in love with it on the spot and knew it was perfect. I don’t think I ever received so many compliments on anything I’ve owned before or since. Alas, it wasn’t all that classic and had large shoulder pads to boot. But I have wonderful memories of it and how I felt wearing it. Thanks for the trip down fashion memory lane! 🙂

  21. I grew up wearing second hand clothes that were not typically in style so as soon as I got a job I started shopping for what I like. Now that I am at a place in my life where I can buy what I want, I am actually trying to buy less, buy more quality items after having thought them out. I just made a cost per wear spreadsheet to help me see how good my purchases are and to help me in my future shopping.

    1. It’s lovely to be to be in a place where we can do what we want… well within reason. I’m not willing to do a cost per wear, though. I get lots of wear out of my clothes, but I don’t mind paying a premium to get exactly what I want.

  22. Just wanted to say how much I enjoy your writing. Fashion is always interesting to me, but especially when it serves as a vehicle for exploring/expressing ourselves. You seem to instinctively reach for stories when writing about style, and though I’m far away in Santa Cruz, California, it makes me feel connected to you and your neck of the woods. I really appreciate it.

  23. I think these are my indulgent years! Comfortably retired, kids grown, educated and doing well on their own, able to spend more on myself if and when I want to. And yet, I’m still quite frugal! I can, and occasionally do, indulge in things I wouldn’t have in the past though.

  24. This struck a cord with me. I remember having more money in the 80s and it seemed every week I was spending $100 on clothes.—for work and for going out with friends after my divorce. Probably retail therapy in hindsight. I am much more selective now as a approach retirement but still love looking. I have to remind myself I don’t need a new dress for work or another pair of black pants. Maybe some
    Yoga pants though? Fashion is so seductive. Your AV clothes look fresh and on trend. That’s the beauty of classics.

  25. Love this post! That’s exactly how it was for me growing up as well. Great story about Eunice. 🙂 Loving that jacket. So cute!

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