Last week I mentioned my latest compulsion, which was that, on impulse, I fell in love with two Harris Tweed sport coats in the Dorsey Street Exchange and bought them. While that would be perfectly normal for many people, it was bizarre for me since I had no sport coats and hadn't worn one in decades.
So can buying two sport coats - even if you had none before - be a compulsion?
Of course not. But read on ...So there I was, Slob Emeritus, with two fine works of sartorial splendor ... and no idea what to do with them. I wore them a few times and felt quite self-conscious, but then, after a while, I started digging my new look.
Nine months later, when school reopened, I'd decided to wear my sport coats to class. The decision was based on the philosophy of that Great American Thinker, Rupaul, who said, "We're born naked, and the rest is drag." So I decided to swing into my new persona - College Prof Drag. And let's face it, there's no better way to do that than with a tweed sport coat.
But suddenly a problem reared its bas couture head: If I wore sport coats to school and had only two of them, within a very short time my students would see my new fashion statement as anything but that. Instead, I'd look to them like a pathetic College Prof Drag wannabe, shlepping around in the same threads, day after day, week after week, semester after semester.
I recalled my own experience as a student, looking at zhlubby teachers wearing the same cheesy clothes, with the same wrinkles, folds and soup stains, day in, day out, and forever. It was an aesthete's hell, I tell you.
The worst examples were the women teachers in my K-through-12 gauntlet. Almost all of them wore dresses that looked like burial shrouds; in fact, for all I knew, they were burial shrouds. Part of it was the schoolmarm fashion of the times, part of it was due to the slave wages they were paid, but still
There were three exceptions: Mrs. Louise Wilson, Mrs. Duprey and Mrs. Godson. They each had a different fashion sense, coming from different backgrounds (and in Mrs. Duprey's case, a different generation), but they made my Petrova incarceration a much more pleasant time than it otherwise would've been. They also were good teachers, which didn't hurt.
Anyhow, so now it was my turn, standing in front of classes with a wardrobe that was only two pieces ahead of being no wardrobe at all.
What to do? Simple. I went back to the source - The Dorsey Street Exchange.
Of course, when cruising consignment stores, you're at the mercy of whatever's there. It's a hit-or-miss deal, and the only way to stay on your game is to frequent the joints regularly, which I did. I also hit up the Budget Box. And with the combination of my luck, others' weight gains or losses, and perhaps a swan dive or two off the Rainbow Bridge thrown in, I soon had quite an assortment of Harris Tweed sport coats.
The splendid illusion
I also read a lot about Harris Tweed and gained a fair knowledge about that miracle cloth, which I will not bore you with, but which eventually gave me some major insights into the men's clothing business and into retail in general. It all got started by a convo with Ignatius Lindenauer III.
Iggy, who was in banking for years and hated it, got nailed in the latest series of downsizings. After that, he got hired as a salesman in a men's clothing store, which he loves. According to Ig, the store is very, very exclusive, tony, chic and all the rest.
"Oh yeah, baby," he says, "the store is it. It's been owned by one family for over a hundred years, has the most elegant wares, and the customers have lots of money and class. Why, a lot of our clients are third- generation customers."
Then he lowers his voice and says, conspirationally, "And sometimes they'll drop two thou in one visit."
And on and on he raves, extolling the virtues of the suits, ties, shirts, pants, suspenders, socks, handkerchiefs - everything but the skivs, and that's only because I cut him off.
Somehow in one of our talks I told him about my Harris Tweed mishegas, and he immediately rose to the occasion.
"Listen, sweetheart," he gushed, "you want Harris Tweed? Have we got the deal for you."
"Really?" I said
"Cross my heart," he said. "Check the website; you won't believe it."
I checked the website, and he was right - I didn't believe it.
The harsh reality
They had Harris Tweed sport coats, regularly $450, on sale for $179 and if I ordered that day, they'd throw in another Harris Tweed sport coat for only one dollar more!
Wowie Zowie, it sounded too good to be true. And, as is always the case, it was.
Remember, I did a bunch of research on Harris Tweed, so I knew their going price was in the $400 to $600 range. And if that was the case, how could any store sell them for one-fifth the retail price and still stay in business?
And now the answer - they can't.
I looked at their customer reviews on those jackets and almost all of them rated the jackets, five stars out of five. One person, however, gave them only two stars.
The five-star guys all raved about how beautiful they were, how they were three-season jackets, and what a killer deal it was to get such a luxurious coat for a mere fraction of its value.
The one two-star guy had a whole different perspective. First, he said it was a three-season jacket all right, but only if you lived in the Deep South, since the fabric was very lightweight. Next, the jacket had no pockets, just pocket flaps. Also, as opposed to the traditional Harris Tweed jacket, this one had plastic buttons instead of leather ones. And finally, they were made in the Third World.
And suddenly the light went on!
The whole thing was hype. These are not $450 jackets, nor had they ever been. Even if they were ever sold for $450 (which is doubtful) they weren't worth it. Essentially, they are what they are - $90 dollar jackets being sold for 90 bucks at the uber-bargain rate, and 179 bucks at the going one. But no matter, because to my thrift shop way of thinking, their mark-up is monstrous anywhichway you figure it.
So why are people so thrilled with these jackets, when if they cruised the consignment stores, they could probably get an authentic $500 Harris Tweed for 25 bucks?
There are several reasons.
One is, quite simply, they've no idea what they're buying. They know as much about Harris Tweed as I do about designing cantilever bridges.
Another is they don't just buy the jacket - they buy all the hype that goes with it. The hype that it was a top-of-the-line Harris Tweed, the hype that they were getting a great deal, and the biggest hype of all - that an "exclusive" store wouldn't rip them off as readily as a Times Square schlock shop.
So where does this leave me in The Great Harris Tweed Hunt of 2012?
The same place I started: with premium Harris Tweeds on my back, a bunch of extra money in my pocket with many thrift shop adventures yet to come.