Style, minimalism, and grief

Style Diary

Thoughts on style, moderationism, and grief.

Fuck Resale Value

At home in my living room

Yeah, that's me.

You're probably wondering how I ended up here.

I live in a one bedroom, third floor walk-up condo in Inman Park, Atlanta, Georgia with my husband and two cats. I think our unit is the best in the whole building — in the whole neighborhood! It's got eight windows of natural light on three exterior walls. I've covered the bathroom in bold, floral print wallpaper. I've replaced two chrome sink faucets with brass. Painted over wood cabinets and trim. I'm planning on removing the bathtub/shower combo and replacing with pure walk in shower. None of these things, supposedly, are good for my "resale value," — brass is tacky, wood is sacred, what about bathing small children? — but I'm doing them anyway.

 My jewel-box bathroom.

My jewel-box bathroom.

Let me back up.

The year was 2013. My mom had just been diagnosed with cancer the past October. I was dating a person who was very unsuitable for me. I was renting a home with a friend of mine, waiting out our lease, thinking I'd soon be moving in with the person I was dating. I was deeply unhappy.

Then we broke up, and it was like a weight was lifted off my chest. I woke up the next day and felt somehow lighter, floating, buoyant as though I was breathing after being held underwater too long.

Enter my mom, my real estate agent.

She was undergoing chemo and had started to lose her hair. I feel like this is relevant because it helps illustrate the lengths she goes to, as you'll read in a few paragraphs, to make sure I was taken care of. She was then, as she ever was, so capable.

She was the first person I called when the breakup happened. Trudging through my neighborhood that afternoon, on my cellphone, I told her about it through tears. 

 Cats relax in the western sun.

Cats relax in the western sun.

Walking, talking. I think I was more upset about where I was going to live than anything. If you've ever suffered from depression, you know your mind takes you funny places sometimes. It's so often the small dumb things that pile up and worry you most, more-so than the big ones. So there I was, in tears because my lease was up soon, and what on earth am I going to do now that I didn't have the future I thought I would?

And then she asked why I didn't just buy my own place. In fact, she was looking up nearby condos as we spoke, and why didn't I just go around the corner and take a look at the building we'd looked at a couple years before when she helped us find a place to rent. I can't buy a place, I thought. Having had the concept of financial solvency drilled into my head since I was a child, I had robust savings for someone my age. But a down payment would take me down to about zero, leaving no savings to speak of. My mom wasn't worried whatsoever. "Oh, your father and I will help you," she'd said.

I want to stop here and acknowledge I come from a place of privilege, and while I have worked hard, made good financial decisions, and have always saved as much as I could from what I've earned, I have always had a step up because of where I started from. I feel immense gratitude over this. In the end I covered 2/3 of the downpayment on my condo with money from my life savings account (seriously, I have had that account since I was 8) and my parents gave me a one-time gift to cover the remaining portion.

 Stuart in repose, bedroom.

Stuart in repose, bedroom.

The place I eventually bought was a short sale, meaning it was worth less than what the owner had paid for it, and in the bottom of the current housing market I was able to buy it for under asking price against two other offers. It sounds so completely foreign even now, just four years later as the Atlanta in-town market booms. Friends buying places now are putting in offers before houses are even listed, competing against three and four and five other buyers, writing personal letters to the homeowner in hopes their offer is accepted.

My mom and I looked at countless places, obsessing over all the details. In so many ways this unit I live in was meant to be. She went through a bone marrow transplant the week she put the offer in on the condo for me. It was months before we closed. In the meantime I was living at home with her as she recovered and continued cancer treatment. This is a period of time I've come to cherish.

To wrap this up, because it's getting long-winded and not even the real point of this post, I'll just say that this place is so special to me. My mom helped me pick it out; she helped me make it my own; she made sure I would be taken care of. She died in December of 2013, after I'd lived here for just a couple months. My husband, who was then my boyfriend of also-just-a-couple-months, was with us when she died. In the next few years we stayed together and began to make this home our own.

I love to look at real estate but I just never see anything or any place I like better than where we are now. I mean, not for under a million dollars. I have a never ending list of home improvements, but for the most part I think our home is perfect. So I do the things I want to do to it — within reason. My next big project is to tear out the shower/tub combo, which everyone is like no, don't take out the only tub! Think of the resale value! People with small children can't live there now! 

And I'm like, people with small children aren't buying third floor walk-up one bedroom apartments. At least not in Atlanta. I've used this tub literally one time in four years.  I want to be able to roll my plants into the shower to wash them off. I'm getting rid of the tub. Fuck resale value.

 Living room at sunset.

Living room at sunset.

OK, so...

I've been thinking about resale value of clothes as well as real estate. Elizabeth Suzann just did their grab-bag sample sale and I heard it sold out within minutes. Congrats to the ES team! You will soon be even busier little elves! Some of the talk about the sample sale was that ES garments have a high resale value and thriving second-hand market. This is great news.

 Bedroom window at dawn.

Bedroom window at dawn.

I wonder though, what makes good resale value anyway? Is it the quality and implied longevity of the garment that makes people more eager to pay higher prices for this second hand. Sure. Is it the name? Well, yeah. But I want to know what is more important — the name, sewn in on a tag, literally branding the garment, allowing for easy identification and verification? Or is it enough to just know the provenance by heart? You can look at a garment and tell if you like it's style and design, so why is there so much importance on the name, especially after it is in your possesion? Obviously one benefit is that if you know you like a particular designer's offerings, you can track down those things easier in the  secondhand market. So OK, it's good for identification. 

But beyond that, isn't a Georgia O'Keefe painting still luminous and beautiful whether or not the woman signed her name on it? I think of all the craftspeople over the years who never marked a piece. Does it make their handiwork less valuable? Not valuable in a market economy; rather, valuable in utility.

Maybe we should find a better way to mark our garments. Maybe it's an inconspicuous mark, if you must make one, embroidered monochromatically on an edge or a hem somewhere. But I'm over the tacked-in heavy tags, flopping around and itching on the back of your neck. I envision a future (my future, to be clear; I'm not pushing this on anyone who doesn't want it) where individual garments can be logged automatically in your wardrobe — maker, size, measurements, fabric content, age, washing instructions). You can search and group based on any of this meta data. And then we don't need to keep the physical tags.

 Nadine observes from the under-the-stairs jungle.

Nadine observes from the under-the-stairs jungle.

I've cut off so many giant tags the last couple weeks and I am *this* close to going on a closet-wide tag purge. Sometimes it's a comfort things, but also I think about the relative uselessness of brand names once the thing is actually in your life. Names are good for finding the things, but when you have it you have it and shouldn't require a physical reminder. There's no makers mark on my condo. I make the mark myself.

And what about the resale value? Is an Elizabeth Suzann piece as valuable if the tag is removed? I'd hope so. Once it leaved the designer, I think these garments can live on their own quality. Just last week I altered another designer piece into something unintended, but it worked better for me that way, and that takes priority in my mind. Liz Pape has talked about how she hopes people really live in her clothes, dirty them, change them. How is this so different?

I get the argument that later on it would be helpful to identify these items. This is why I'm not suggesting removing the markers completely, just maybe being more subtle about it. Like I mentioned, some small embroidery (and I'm not talking like polo shirt logos, because those shirts ALSO have tags inside, and because the embroidered logos are so conspicuous) or even like, a signature button-hole or something, I don't know. Something utilitarian that doesn't get in the way of the garment being the garment. It's when brand names become status markers, signaling the wearers hipness or not, that it gets icky. Maybe I'm overthinking it, but I just feel like the less I look at the brand names the more I can enjoy the garment for the garment's sake.

I read this article in The New York Times about a few contemporary independent clothing designers and how they function in the current fashion world. It touched on how these designers don't even actively market themselves. Granted, that's a luxury that comes with steady word of mouth and steady income. The ability to choose the caliber of clothing that doesn't require branding and marketing is also a luxury, but it can't hurt to ask for the the world for you want to see. Fast fashion, despite its name, isn't going away overnight either, so why not start the change somewhere, and then let it grow.

I hope to see a future where we move away from everything being judged on it's market value, and closer to unadulterated enjoyment of what we have in the here and now. Where a name sewn in a garment is not the most important quality about that garment. Less striving for more — just one more thing. More following the heart, more being happy, more working toward things that make you happy. Less caring about what other people value. More thought given to what you value. Do you see that world too?

 Living room window. Non-karate chopped cushions. Fabric swatches everywhere. Real life.

Living room window. Non-karate chopped cushions. Fabric swatches everywhere. Real life.

Tilda Swinton, Maggie Smith and Diane Keaton are also fans. Despite such an illustrious group of patrons, [Maureen Doherty, founder and owner of Egg] has never even sewn labels into her garments. It’s “a relief,” she says.
— Amanda Fortini, The New York Times