“I always feel ridiculous getting on the subway with shopping bags,” my friend says, her arm raised to hail a taxi downtown. We’re standing in front of Saks Fifth Avenue, where we have just collectively spent one semester of in-state college tuition on a pair of shoes, a purse, and one ounce of face cream. After a year of hating my old handbag, I finally broke down and caved to New York City’s very expensive, very fashionable demands: I bought a Valentino.
Without my friend, I likely couldn’t have pulled the trigger. I passed the bag earlier, before she arrived, and admired it in the way a person might admire Ryan Gosling – from afar, and with no intention of becoming familiar. But on the second pass, friend in tow, I picked the bag up and the purchase seemed more possible. Why not treat myself to something insanely expensive and timelessly beautiful? Don’t I deserve it?
And so, after standing in the mirror posing with it for quite some time, imagining my future life as a fancy person, I bought it. Serotonin flooded my system, the long-awaited novelty of a grown-up purse having come to fruition. Even the four-figures on my receipt couldn’t bring me down.
But then I got on the subway.
Sandwiched between overworked mothers and underemployed men, I started surveying the scene: worn, sensible shoes; fake leather handbags; ill-fitting jackets buttoned over lumpy midsections. Didn’t these people deserve nice things, too? Even standing there, new purse hidden in a shopping bag, I felt like Marie Antoinette cruising her gardens screaming “Let them eat cake!”
By the time I reached home, the serotonin had been replaced by guilt, and I kept my purchase in its shopping bag until the shame wore off. Over the course of the afternoon, I introduced it, little by little, to my apartment, as one might do a new puppy: first, it came out of the shopping bag, then the cloth duster, then out of its plastic. The process took hours — until finally I considered the hundreds of Manolos in Mariah Carey’s closet and I stopped feeling so bad.
I’m starting to think that this is why rich people don’t take public transportation. –Jenny Bahn