My parents were a very strange version of thrifty. They never bought a car "on time;" they pointedly refused to buy me name brand sneakers or designer jeans when such things were fashionable in the 80s. I am indeed a member of the first wave of "brand" sneakers. Before the dawning of my people you had pretty much Keds and Converse All-Stars. Then the 80s happened and all of a sudden you were obliged by advertising, your peer group and possibly God to have Nikes. Only Nikes would do for a couple of years but then a few other brands cropped up as Acceptable. I, of course, being the child of extremely cheap people, was still making do with Converse--if I was lucky, that is; one time Mom actually bought a pair of sneakers for $5.00 at Giant Food. It was not, needless to say, one of my prouder moments. Once I had a part-time job I was able to save enough for my first pair of Nikes which, predictably, fell apart within a few months just like the five dollar supermarket pair did.
The parental logic was that $75.00 for a pair of shoes that wouldn't last a damn bit longer was highway robbery and, once I realized that it really does not matter what high school kids think of you, I saw their point.
There were some times when they refused to go cheap. Clothing (apart from shoes, of course) had to be high quality. This did not mean that it had a designer label--because, like the brand name shoes, putting "Jordache" on a few yards of denim does not mean that it holds up one damn minute longer. Quality usually meant that it came from a reputable department store. Thus at an early age I learned that Hutzler's store and its friendly rival Hochschild, Kohn were the acceptable stores and that nice people did not shop at the Hecht Company. It was okay to splurge on the Hutzler prices because you knew that what you were buying was well-made and reasonably stylish, if not quite the cutting-edge label fad. Hochschild's merchandise had the advantage of being so hopelessly stodgy that it had never been in fashion and therefore was in no danger of going out of fashion. Which was good, because if you bought something at Hochschild's it was probably going to last longer than you were.
Even though the big stores are gone in almost every city, I still firmly believe that it's allright to spend money on well-made clothes. I was all excited when a few years back I realized that Wal-Mart sold basic things like jeans for really really cheap. And, unlike their predecessor K-Mart, the stuff didn't look like it was made of plastic, so I loaded up on cheapo jeans and shirts. As it turned out, the cheapo jeans are not made of plastic. What they are is made by child laborers in Asia who are being paid three cents a month and may or may not be kept in hamster cages. These children are obviously aware that fat Occidentals are buying this stuff and man, are they pissed, because they make sure that a)the belt loops fall apart so your jeans fall down, b)the pocket develops a rip so that your phone/car keys fall out and into a puddle, or c)a giant rip develops right in the seat which is not a problem unless you are going commando that day but if you are going commando it is a big big problem and you will get arrested. All of the above have happened to me since my inadvisable purchase of Wal-Mart jeans (except the arrest part--when the damn things ripped I was in a part of Baltimore where no one notices a little exposed butt). I always wonder about those poor Asian child laborers anyway. It must suck enough to have to make Wal Mart jeans, but imagine being the kid who works in the factory that makes plastic vomit. We think it's funny at the joke shop, but here's a kid whose family has to live on three grains of rice and he's making fake vomit that Americans will buy for five dollars in Ocean City.
The lesson of good quality clothing came home again when I got dressed this morning after having organized my sock drawer in recent memory. This is not something that happens often but I was tired of spending five minutes digging through the gigantic pile of socks to find a mate. (Maybe I should get over my fetish for patterned socks--if they were all black or white this wouldn't be a problem.) I pulled out a pair of argyle socks that still fit just fine, have functioning elastic, have no holes and have not faded.
I bought them at Hutzler's in 1986.