August 08, 2007

Let's Not Push the Envelope on This One, Fellas

AND NOW, TO THE LIGHTER SIDE of the news.

Debenhams PLC, the British department store chain, has revealed that British women have spent £1.4 billion on clothes their partners know nothing about. The Telegraph naturally turned to a crack female reporter to explain the situation. Writes Lesley Thomas:

Research by Debenhams has uncovered the fact that British women own £1.4 billion worth of clothes they feel guilty about and the purchase of which their husbands or partners know nothing.

My own husband, a former student of maths and logistics, appears not to have made the connection between having lots of clothes and buying them - but then, I am very careful. Hiding clothes at the back of a wardrobe is a common tactic. Other prevarications include claiming designer-labelled items were bought in a sale or were second-hand.

One of the women surveyed said she always took a red pen on shopping trips so she could mark the labels of her purchases to look as though they were from the bargain bin.

I have often made several purchases look like one by stuffing them all into one large Gap carrier bag - sometimes, cunningly, a Baby Gap one. I have even left bags of shopping from Joseph and Selfridges in the boot of the car, to be brought into the house one at a time over the course of several days.

Only around one in five of my new purchases is officially presented - usually the genuine bargains. The rest are gradually assimilated into the secret wardrobe. Other women apply different strategies, including the pretence that they've owned the new clothes for years - "since before we were married, darling".

According to Debenhams, 17 per cent of Britons pretend to their spouses they've owned new clothes for years. I know of one woman whose fripperies appear on the joint credit card statement and who has convinced her husband that Hobbs is a hardware store. Some adopt a high-risk strategy - high risk for the clothes - of putting the new purchases straight into the wash to age them instantly.

Luckily, my husband isn't too label-savvy. He may be aware of Prada, but Marc Jacobs might as well be Mark One; the word Issa means no more to him than River Island.

Why all this subterfuge? Few men are in a position to complain about spending levels. In most cases, it's our own money we are wasting (investing, in my case) on overpriced handbags (I prefer to call them heirlooms).

It is, I think, worth noting that Mrs Thomas and several other female Telegraph writers not only think so little of their husbands that they obscure the nature of their purchases from them, but openly write about doing so in a national newspaper. What was the point of all that? Or did they engage in other trickery, such as hiding the paper from their spouses and replacing it with The Sun? (That actually might have worked).

It is obvious, though, why women conceal the nature of these purchases from their husbands. It's easier. After all, as one of the surveyed writers said of her spouse, "He and I disagree about how many pairs of shoes and handbags are really necessary. Straight men just don't understand that one can never have too many." No, we bloody well don't.

However, I do not mean for this post to be critical of women's spending habits. Yes, women spend more on clothes and shoes than men do, and sometimes spend amounts on these goods that are unfathomable to men, particularly when it comes to shoes (no man ever looks at a woman's shoes, unless they're knee-high boots). But these spending habits, when examined rationally, are more reasonable than one would think.

After all, when women buy clothes, they're actually getting and keeping useful goods. Plus, society demands far more sartorial elegance from women than it does from men. And let's be honest -- men want their ladies to look good and draw attention. If that means the lady must spend a bit on a nice outfit, then it's arguably worth it, even though the expense may seem a bit excessive at first blush.

I can't say I think it's healthy for women to hide their purchases from their husbands, though. After all, fiscal harmony is quite important in a relationship, and as a result it makes sense for men and women to sit down together and budget what will be spent on what. That would not only reduce future friction when it came to clothes purchases, but also when it comes to the coarser half's own expenditures, which will almost certainly prove more extravagant and less useful than his partner's. Men might get annoyed with their ladies for buying expensive clothes, but I would suggest the converse reaction is far more fierce when the man of the house comes home and announces he has bought a new riding mower. Because he could.

Along those lines, I would strongly discourage my fellow men from publicly drawing any conclusions from The Telegraph's story. Because I know what you're thinking right now. You're narrowing your eyes and thinking thoughts along the lines of, "I knew it! My girlfriend's shopping trips are just allowing her to channel her inner Imelda Marcos!" And some men may even be considering whether to raise this very topic when they spy their ladies in a new dress or something.

Don't do it, guys. Just don't.

After all, the last thing we need is for women to start looking at our own wasteful spending habits, which generally speaking are far less justifiable than theirs. I mean, crikey. They don't have any idea. Or if they do, they don't have a full picture of just how many billions upon billions of dollars men waste annually -- and the things we waste that money on:

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These purchases are all far less justifiable when one considers that women, aside from their spending on clothes, are generally much better at the nuts and bolts of saving money than men are. And let's face it -- it is far easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. If you think that's not the case, just approach your significant other and announce you want to spend several hundred dollars on a Star Wars chess set.

However, I do think this shows the value of having both husband and wife on the same team when it comes to financial planning, budgeting and expenditures. There's no reason why both parties can't work out an arrangement that allows the lady to buy some Prada shoes and the man to buy a flat-screen television, while still reaching towards their shared financial goals. That goes especially when one considers hidden expenditures can not only cause trust issues, they can have a deleterious effect on a couple's bottom line. Men and women are supposed to spend their lives together, not surrounded by the accumulated detritus they've managed to acquire over decades of secret acquisitions.

What's that? No, I'm serious. What d'you mean I'm a hopeless romantic? Oh, quit already. Now go read the next post about the Chinese saber-rattling.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at August 8, 2007 12:09 AM | TrackBack
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