Suddenly, cheapness is the height of chic

May 01, 1991|By Jane Ayres | Jane Ayres,Peninsula Times Tribune

I almost paid retail today. I actually had my charge card i hand and was looking for a salesperson. But I put the linen jacket back on the rack. Even though it was a good price and a perfect fit and went with everything in my wardrobe and had a lining, so it hung just right and made me look thin.

None of this was enough to make me pay the dreaded full price. And it occurs to me that everything I buy has to be cut-rate. Yes it does. And since nothing I ever do is something I do alone, because I belong to that great mass of people who always catch on to trends after everybody else does, there must be a lot of us out there.

We always fly on airlines that are in receivership. The recent airline ticket discount madness has almost driven my entire family over the edge. We've been planning a family reunion whose locus has moved from Montauk to Aspen to Washington, based on ticket deals. Phone calls (on substandard, bargain telephones) back and forth across the country (after 11 p.m., of ++ course) have lit up the optical fibers of our cheap telephone systems. Coupons have been cut out of newspapers; mothers have advised children to wait before buying tickets, to demand discounts from a travel agent, to pounce now.

Now the word is out that restaurants in San Francisco are serving cheap food. The 90s version of that 30s institution, the blue plate special, is being snapped up by people who two years ago begged to pay premium prices for plates full of "field greens."

They would have called that "poke salad" in the 30s, and no one would have paid a nickel for it, but in some of today's trendy restaurants, the cheap meal is the very same meat loaf with Spanish sauce and macaroni and cheese that the grandfathers of today's customers downed at lunch counters during the Great Depression.

Suddenly, it's fashionable to be a cheapskate. I don't know where it came from, but if you've been to MacDonald's or Burger King lately around the noon hour, you know you can't get in the door. And the people in line are just as likely to be wearing a three-piece suit as they are a working man's jeans.

Thrift has spread throughout the entire economic spectrum. It seems as if everybody in every income bracket has run just a little bit short at the same time. It's not exactly a depression, though. People are still spending money. There are crowds at discount stores, and those rock-bottom emporiums that sell things in warehouse style are jammed on Saturdays. In fact the sales at these places are high. They exceed the sales at more conservative places so far that financial forecasters speak of the end of the old-fashioned, full-service department store.

But people will continue to go to department stores and buy things, as long as they're marked down. These are people who still don't understand that it costs money to buy things, even at a sale. They drive home from the mall and walk in the front door with packages; sometimes they've spent twice the amount of money they would have spent if they had just bought that linen jacket at full price and they stuff the packages on the back shelf of the closet and they forget to wear the stupid clothes.

These people need help. Obviously, these people need to go to a former-first-lady center in Rancho Mirage and get their bargain addiction under control. They need to get rehabbed, and they need to get it before payday. These people need to get into recovery, and they will, just as soon as they can find a place that will give them a good discount.

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