Why Do We Still Believe The Legend Of The Investment Buy?

The year is 2011, and I am buying the same leather jacket as Pippa Middleton.
Why I’ve decided that Pippa Middleton’s jacket is also the jacket for me, it’s hard to say. The rest of my wardrobe bears very little resemblance to the 21st-century Sloane reboot the she and sister Kate are inspiring at the time, but this jacket — quilted detail, bright gold buttons, boxy Chanel-esque shape — has caught my eye on one of my trips to skulk around the Whistles sale rack, and somehow Pippa’s endorsement seals the deal. It’s not my usual style, but that’s part of the attraction. It is to be my very first investment buy.
Obviously, I can’t afford it. Even reduced by over $100 it’s still more than I’ve ever spent on anything I couldn’t live in or travel on. But I’m doing it because I have this idea that investment buys are meant to be the gateway to adulthood. Both ritual and redemption, the antidote to the ‘buy ‘em cheap, pile ‘em high!’ mentality that drained my student bank account and cluttered up my life with extraneous polyester.
‘Investment buys’ are supposed to atone for the days when my university friends and I would gather, every couple of months, for the Primark Pilgrimage — a sacred ritual that involved taking the number 10 bus for an hour to Hammersmith, London, and running breathless around the store like a pack of student Veruca Salts, tossing skater dresses and five-packs of tights into our baskets as if they were pick-your-own strawberries. I would come home laden with $2 pants, crackly cardigans, and guilt.
But if shameless consumerism was the disease, then thoughtful ‘investment’ shopping, I understood, was the cure. And a leather jacket is an excellent place to start, because it harks back to icons of fashion past. Marlon Brando. Marianne Faithfull. Michelle Pfeiffer in Grease 2. It wasn’t my first leather jacket (that one got left on the Tube, and my then-boyfriend convinced me not to bother calling up TfL lost property. “It’s the circle of life,” he shrugged, the bastard. “It’ll be someone else’s jacket now.”) but I truly believed that if I chose wisely and spent wildly, it might just be my last.
Fast-forward to fall 2017, and I am buying a new leather jacket. It’s another investment. I know this because a friend is standing next to me in John Lewis, chanting “It’s an investment… an investment…” in the kind of soothing voice a person might use in a taxi on the way to the doctor's office.

It’s a timeless classic; I will wear it forever; it’ll go with everything; it’ll get better with age; when the economy collapses I can use it as currency; look you’re not my mum, okay?

Together we do the kind of determined mental maths women have perfected over centuries of being told we need to spend more money on clothes but also that we’re terrible, frivolous idiots if we do. I barely drink! I cut and dyed my own hair for eight years! I never learned to drive! If I dig deep enough and barter hard enough with the shopping devil, I can just about make the numbers add up for long enough to punch my PIN in.
I’ve been planning this purchase for a good six months, though, so nobody can accuse me of being rash about it. I’ve tried on more than 20 jackets, compared notes on fit, length, curved hems, lining, pocket depth, and hardware (you’re supposed to call the zippers and buttons ‘hardware’ to kid yourself you’re buying something functional, like a new radiator). I didn’t want to fall in love with the second most expensive one of the lot; it just happened, the way these things often do.
But I have my justifications rehearsed, my press statement prepared in case anyone jumps out with a microphone and yells “EXPLAIN YOUR EXTRAVAGANCE!” They’re the same lines I used the last time, and the same lines everyone uses when they buy a fancy 'staple:' It’s a timeless classic; I will wear it forever; it’ll go with everything; it’ll get better with age; when the economy collapses I can use it as currency; look you’re not my mom, okay?
It’s an idea I’ve been fed for years by aspirational magazines, fashion interviews, and passages like this, from Sophie Kinsella’s Confessions of a Shopaholic: “All black — but expensive black. The kind of deep, soft black that you fall into. A simple sleeveless dress from Whistles, the highest of Jimmy Choos, a pair of stunning uncut amethyst earrings. And please don't ask how much it all cost, because that's irrelevant. This is investment shopping.”
And it makes sense that in our cost-conscious, more ethically aware times, we feel the pressure to shop less and wear for longer. Earlier this month Bloomberg even announced ‘the death of clothing’ — not a nudist revolution, but the news that fashion sales are falling as we spend more on experiences, eating out, tech and travel instead. In 1977, clothes accounted for 6.2% of US household spending; now it’s half as much. Apparel shops are closing at record rates as we look for bargains and niche finds online instead, and the whole idea of shopping as a leisure activity doesn’t hold quite the allure it did 10 or 20 years ago.
So when I do splurge, I feel the need to make it about more than just shopping. It’s about…I don’t know, self-love? Personal brand? Mindfulness? I repeat my calming monologue, even if experience has taught me that ‘investment shopping’ is not an exact science. It’s actually more of a roulette.
Sometimes you do still love and wear the thing a decade down the line, but sometimes you take the risk and the investment doesn’t pay out. Fashion changes, feelings change, the style that was supposed to be timeless reveals itself to have a disappointing sell-by date, just like the jackets a third of the price. You realize that ‘mindful’ shopping is more complicated than just throwing half a month’s rent at a snooty shop assistant and holding your breath — it takes thought, and care, and research, and luck.
But more than that, it takes a bit of honesty about the person you actually are and the life you really lead — not the fantasy version of those things in your head. Sometimes it’s buying the pricey thing and feeling fantastic about it. Sometimes it’s knowing yourself and your wardrobe well enough to buy nothing at all. And sometimes, the really grown-up thing is going home afterwards, opening up eBay and making a new listing.
“Leather jacket, Whistles, sz. 6, quilted button detail. AS WORN BY PIPPA MIDDLETON.”

More from Fashion

R29 Original Series