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Recession Chic: Just Another Passing Fad?

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Posted on Mar 9, 2009
window shoppers

Keep your credit cards to yourselves: Window shopping is the limit for some consumers during recession time.

As the national economy continues to wreak havoc on many Americans’ lives, even those who remain relatively unscathed by the recession are feeling the need, whether for appearances’ sake or otherwise, to reconsider their spending habits—but will it last?

The New York Times:

“I think this economy was a good way to cure my compulsive shopping habit,” Maxine Frankel, 59, a high school teacher from Skokie, Ill., said as she longingly stroked a diaphanous black shawl at a shop in the nearby Chicago suburb of Glenview. “It’s kind of funny, but I feel much more satisfied with the things money can’t buy, like the well being of my family. I’m just not seeking happiness from material things anymore.”

Holly Moreno, 30, a part-time Web site manager in the Dallas suburb of Rowlett, Tex., whose husband is a business analyst, said she had been taking her 2-year-old son to indoor playgrounds at the mall and free story-times at the library instead of paying to get into the children’s museum, their favorite wintertime haunt. “Even though we’re secure with our jobs, you’ve still got to plan for just-in-case,” she said, “especially because we have a kid.”

To many, the adjustment feels less like a temporary, emergency response than a permanent recalibration, one they view in terms of ethics rather than expediency.

“It’s kind of like we all went overboard,” Ms. Taylor, 33, said. “And we’re trying to get back to where we should have been.”

Not everyone thinks the new restraint will last. Ms. Riley, 37, who lives in Atlanta, said she doubted it would extend beyond the recession.

“I do think that maybe now it’s a little bit chic or something to save money, or to be pinching pennies,” she said. Just as she stopped carpooling when gas prices went down, she said, she predicted that people would start buying again when the economy rebounded. “That’s just my own, maybe, cynical belief,” she said.

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By jerrypl, March 13, 2009 at 9:36 pm Link to this comment

Recession Chic is called thrift store!!

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By Sharonsj, March 11, 2009 at 2:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You are forgetting an important element: the cost of living has gone up faster than wages.  So after paying the bills, there’s not a lot of discretionary money left to spend on shopping.  I read a lot of fashion mags and the prices are ridiculous.  Several hundred dollars for a gold-plated necklace or a mini skirt—no way would I spend that even if I had it.

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By Sepharad, March 11, 2009 at 2:24 pm Link to this comment

Anyone who bases their actions or purchases on what is or is not chic is an idiot not worth an entire NYTimes article (though I admit Sax, Nieman-Marcus and the designer stores will probably read it carefuly.)

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By NYCartist, March 11, 2009 at 9:10 am Link to this comment

Most of have had to consider how we spend out money, lifelong.  I have always judged how well we’re doing in our home by things like:amount of sponges from France on hand, and if I buy on sale in a chain’s higher end store.  (Being disabled,I am aware that most stores are not easy for wheelchair users, so only those who make it easy to shop get my money. Some stores are not wheelchair accessible at all and won’t get my money even via someone who would shop for me.)

In part due to disability, but in part due to family history (a grandparent was a pushcart salesperson in the beginning of the last century in NYC), I like to spend my limited budget on street vendors’ merchandise.  (It’s usually easy to access a street vendor’s good on sale.)

I love shopping.  I am an artist, so clothing is sculpture to me.  (Yes, I’m smiling.)  Thrift shops are great, when I can get in (access),but more and more they are going “upscale”...

Perhaps the funniest thing to me as an older person who grew up poor, is the concept of stores selling new “distressed” jeans with holes and tears in them, high end stores.  Hilarious, as a dear pal says.

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By marcus medler, March 10, 2009 at 1:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We all know the answer; it won’t last long(frugality) even if the recession lingers. Soon the chic of the chic will need to be seen at NYC or LA, Iraqi restaurants. I predict one will be positioned near Bush’s pad as well.

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By Pete, March 10, 2009 at 10:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I remember reading, during the recession in the early 1990s, something to the effect that during the recession people were typically trading down to lower-priced goods but unlike past recessions (when people started trading up again once the economy recovered) that value-consciousness would become more of a permanent thing. And that appears to be the case, given the concurrent rise of Wal-Mart to national (and international) dominance during and after that period. That period also coincided with the heyday of Clinton’s free-trade policies, which sent much of the production of consumer goods overseas where it could be manufactured much more cheaply. So you had the combination of cheaper imported goods and a new generation of value-conscious consumer, with the boom of Wal-Mart (and to a lesser extent Target) as the inevitable result. And given that this recession is dramatically worse than the early 90s one, consumers continue to be obsessed with low prices and overseas exporters have boosted capacity and need to keep pumping out high unit volumes, it’s inevitable that cheap goods will remain plentiful and “recession chic” is here to stay - even after the economy recovers.

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