This is not, not necessarily, a political statement: There is too much money in the hands of all the wrong people.
I went to a nearby discount store the other day to buy some jeans. The first pair I tried on seemed to fit okay, which, by my standard, meant the garment covered my fanny, wasn’t too tight at the waist and, on the south end, rested at the top of my shoes. They were priced at $14 bucks or so on the shelf but when I ran the bar code over the self-checkout scanner it chirped “$10.19.” Savings enough for a fast-food burger, maybe some fries; don’t want the waistband too loose, right?
When I got home I churned up the computer to do some work and found an e-mail tickler telling me what an unstylish clod I am; and, worse, that I had paid far too little for the jeans. Perhaps as much as 100 times too little.
The e-mail was from Esquire. I don’t subscribe but I signed up for the cyber stuff, which occasionally has some interesting political commentary — alas, the magazine’s only remaining link to its once-legendary literary tradition. Traditional it formerly was as well in its approach to menswear: Ivy League and boardroom attire, its sartorial soul excluding rubber soles even to the advertising. Its attitude toward “casual” was tweeds for the country. Snobbish? Perhaps, but it was an aspirational sensibility appropriate for a time when men wore hats, not baseball caps; and jackets and ties to baseball games.
Now, here was Esquire, oblivious to my (admittedly dated) sensibility but perfectly, sadly, in tune with…today, not only in matters of fabric but personal finance.
“How Your Jeans Should Fit Right Now,” the article was headlined, meaning, I suppose, “these days.”
“Maybe you’re looking for a go-to pair for the office,” the text began. “Maybe you’ve got a traditional streak and want something that pays homage to denim’s golden age. Or maybe you just want to look cool.”
In that one paragraph Esquire reasserts the new “traditional,” suggesting that jeans are appropriate for an office other than at a tech start-up or a pawn shop; and that denim ever had a golden age save in the Klondike, where it was cool because the Yukon Territory was cold. Me? I just wanted some pants to wear while cleaning the attic, or washing the car. But, says Esquire, the savvy buyer has four style schools from which to choose his jeans: Traditionalist, Professional, The Rocker and Throwback. The jeans mavens thoughtfully provided a range of options for each category.
So, to the money part: one can go “Professional” for $725 or “Traditionalist” for as much as $1,100. A “Rocker” can fetch $890, while a “Throwback” can hit $515. What’s more, some of the brands suggested come pre-shredded at the knees! Others are simply pre-patched. And several arrive pre-faded, of course. The cheapest jean Esquire deigned to consider were a steal (my term) at $68; only two others of the 20 recommended were under a C-note.
You are giggling, I’m sure of it, astonished at behind-the-times me. Or it could be my granddaughters I hear, haw-hawing and hoping their mom won’t tell me how much of their babysitting money went for worn, bleached, tattered cotton with a designer’s name embroidered at the hip.
Can’t we teach millennials that savings accounts are hip?
Probably not, not if they read about one David Solomon of New York, whose tale of woe came up on my screen just a moment after the denim dispatch.
Solomon is president of Goldman Sachs, the giant Wall Street investment bank.
His hobbies include collecting wine, and he had hired a fellow to see after his cellar. But the aide, perhaps anticipating the tax cut his boss, and his boss’s company, were about to receive, began stealing the grape and selling it. Hundreds of bottles of it, valued at $1.2 million or more. Just seven bottles of the best stuff cost Solomon $133,650, almost $20,000 per. Crazy — for the same money he could have had 133,000 pair of Gucci jeans, with enough left over for a pair of Lanvin Striped Bleach Denim ($595).
Perhaps a generation that chooses to afford such nonsense can rather make sense of it. They could take the difference between my ten-buck jeans and the Yves St. Lauren pair (the $890 one), buy a bunch of well-worn stuff at Goodwill, brand them appropriately (“Denim of Des Arc”? “Low-Rise Mountain Homers”? Or, for some French snob appeal, “Petit Jeans”?), mark them up by 300 percent and then hawk them on the Internet site they already know how to create.
Wonder what they’d do with the profits? Wine?