04 November 2008

Thrift, Thrift, Horatio

"Thrift, thrift, Horatio, the funeral bak'd meats,
did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables." - Hamlet (I.ii. 176–181)

In this famous line from Hamlet, the Danish Prince is, of course, being fiendishly sarcastic about the haste with which his mother has married his uncle, following the death of his father. However, the frugal economy Hamlet implies seems a  suggestion most apt for today, in these financially uncertain times.

India Knight is a woman of many talents, and she has inspired me yet again. Just when I thought knew what to expect from her as a writer, she comes storming out of left field. This past weekend, as the D.E.B. and I curled up with our copy of the Sunday Times, I was stunned to see her name emblazoned across the cover of the Times’ Style magazine. India is now a Style guru with a new book coming out this Thursday, extolling the virtues of being “thrifty”- The Thrift Book: Live Well and Spend Less.

Her article–based on the book—is itself a great read. India shares openly her own financial demons, such as being hounded by bailiffs, and being flat broke even at a time when she had two books on the top bestseller lists. Knight does an excellent job of assessing our “must have” culture, and outlines some very simple ways we can “kick the habit,” do better, and be better.

I was surprised to find that without even trying, by just giving into my own current, personal circumstances, I have been (largely unknowingly) “doing my bit,” becoming a better consumer, and in India’s words, “become more green.”

For example, in the section entitled “Sensible Supermarket Shopping,” Knight suggests making the following adjustments to one’s food shopping regime:

a.) Shop locally, daily, buying only precisely what you need.

b.) Shop online from a properly compiled list.

c.) “If you find yourself naturally resistant to the idea of buying discounted food because you’re middle class, get over it.”

d.) Stop shopping at “posh” supermarkets.

Living how and where I do – more or less vehicle-less in rural Warwickshire, with the world’s tiniest refrigerator – I have very few options other than to shop locally, almost daily and online.  (see previous posts: “Patience and Fortitude” and “Is this an appliance, I see before me?”)

Thankfully, the Barford community has pulled together in true English village fashion, and re-opened its Village Shop. In just under two years, the Barford community dug deep, and raised the £300,000.00 needed to build and open the new shop. The shop is gorgeous, and cost effective. It has one paid staff member. Apart from the Manager, the rest of the staff is composed entirely of community volunteers. It seems that the frugal and communal lessons of WWII continue to inspire generations of Britons, and change the face of British communities.

Ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Village Shop

The Vicar, blessing the Shop and all who shop within her

Barford's answer to Starbucks

The D.E.B. during the Opening Day shopping spree

While basking in the glow of my newly found sense of  “how green am I,” India Knight presented me with a fresh challenge. Clothes. Now, I have to say, I have never considered myself, nor ever really aspired to be a “full-on fashionista.” That is not to suggest that I am a slouch. I like to look good, I care about my appearance, I enjoy beautiful things, and would like to think of myself as a “woman of style.” Although I have never paid $700.00 for pair of shoes, I have been known to get more than a little crazy in Anthropologie on Fifth Avenue; I weep to think of how far away I am from J. Crew, and I have never met a cashmere sweater (jumper) that I didn’t like. In her article, and I assume in her book as well, India Knight challenges her readers to re-discover thrifts shops, eBay, and to consider making their own clothing.

I have always, always loved, loved, loved thrifts shops in England, i.e., Oxfam, and the countless Hospice and Cancer Society shops that dot every large English village, hamlet or town. To me, these shops are unique in that they are actually thrift shops, whereas “thrift” or second-hand shops in NYC are really just expensive shops in disguise – dressed down, with dim lighting, dull furnishings, and microscopic dressing rooms to fool the wannabe spend-conscious shopper. (It will come as no surprise that my favorite second-hand shop in NYC is St. Luke’s Thrift Shop. It doesn’t get any better than last season Episcoplian.)

I have decided to take India at her word, and have created a “Thrift Shop Challenge” for myself. I just found out a few hours ago that I have been invited for an interview for a short-term vacancy at The Shakespeare Institute! (No one is more surprised than me.) Of course, after receiving the news, my first thought was: What will I wear? Normally, my second thought would be: www.jcrew.com

Here is was what I found today (weepingly) on jcrew.com. Gorgeous... 

                              The "Kate Flannel Dress" ($198.00 USD) from J.Crew.com                           (They don't deliver internationally...sniff, sniff!)

Can I be thrifty, and find a comparably fetching interview ensemble here in England without succumbing to high street offerings at the likes of Next, Laura Ashley, Monsoon or Hobbs? We shall see. My interview is in exactly 7 days from today, so the challenge is on!



Elizabeth Harper said...

I adore all the charity shops here.

If fact, I mentioned to John just yesterday, that perhaps the next time he wants to spend the day at the marina with his boat he could drop me at the largest town (with the most charity shops) and come back for me at the end of the day. I wish you and I lived a bit closer, because all modesty aside...

I am appropriately named Elizabeth when it comes to finding the bounty in c-shops...yes I am the Queen!

Congrats on landing the interview.

Anonymous said...

If it was a real 'emergency' (girl speak for "I NEED that dress", haha) couldn't you have a friend here buy it and ship it? Or would that take too long/be too expensive?

(I know that's not very green, but it's a great dress!)


An American Girl in the UK said...

Thanks for your comments, Ladies!
Elizabeth, I may take you up on your charity shop saavy and plan an emergency road trip down to Cornwall if I get stuck next week.
And Linda, yes, I did think of begging a friend to ship something from J.Crew, but there are just a myriad of possible hiccups -- what if its delayed, late, doesn't fit when it arrives, etc & etc. But, it is a corker, though, isn't it!

Spike 1 said...

Of course I want to sound all official and "clinical" and say, is it really all about the dress?

Of course, it is! What am I crazy? The YSL and Chanel women ride again. Clearly who can say no to any and all things cashmere... hello I love my wrap/scarf.

You will ace the interview regardless of what frock you wear. Hope you find something worthy of you!

SWC said...

WHAT!! You have never paid $700.00 for a pair of shoes?

You have not LIVED until you have a beautiful, expensive pair of shoes sitting in a box, gathering dust in your closet.

My expesive shoes are like pets-- I take them out and walk them around the house and then, back in their cages they go....

newyorkcitytoparis said...

I too live abroad (in Paris). And I too used to live in NYC and teach at NYU, Gallatin. And though Paris is the shopping capitol of the world, I miss certain stores/internet shopping. In particular, JCrew, Banana Republic, Century 21,but especially the ultimate, Bluefly. I just discovered a service that allows you to order online, ship it to the service, which in turn will ship it to you. I forget the name but look for it on Bluefly.com. I think India Knight also mentions one in here article. I have yet to try these services, but seriously thinking about it.It is much better then getting friends and family to send stuff. I have done that and it never works out quite right. Good luck!