Thursday, July 19, 2007

Losing Your Shirt

I think it's kind of funny that the phrase "losing your shirt" is sometimes used to mean that you've lost all your money, in gambling or an investment. From a wee bit of research, it sounds like the original meaning of the phrase may not have had to do specifically with money, but now I think it usually does.

So to get really literal about it, what if you lose your shirt by spending money on really expensive shirts?

In today's NY Times Style section, there is a piece about Thomas Pink shirts by Mike Albo. Thomas Pink makes very nice, and very expensive shirts for men and women. They have a few stores in New York now, but I first discovered these shirts on a trip to London, where at the time, at least, they were within my price range (for a rare splurge) if I caught them having a sale at the shop in the duty-free area of Heathrow! I got a few beautiful shirts of very good quality, and still have them, though lately I don't wear them much as they seem a bit formal. And I haven't bought any more since then, since I couldn't quite bear to cough up the bucks, and none of the styles and colors were so seductive I just had to have them. But here's the part of today's article that made me laugh:

According to the slightly vague biographical information available on the Web site, Thomas Pink was a tailor in the 1800’s well known for his hunting coats. The company says that the expression “in the pink” originates with him. His legacy lay dormant in history until the 1980s when Peter, James and John Mullen, three enterprising brothers looking for an investment project, recognized the branding potential of his name and bought the rights to it. (I imagine the Peter, James and John to look like Jeremy Irons, Daniel Day-Lewis and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, in that order.) In 1999, the company was sold to the luxury goods conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

The brand may be trying to evoke a sense of Dickensian craftsmanship with its purchased history, but the appeal of the store is more about the marketing ingenuity of the Mullen Brothers and the acquiring power of LVMH than the Victorian ghost-tailor. Buying a luxury shirt here is buying into their vibrant view of the work world and celebrating how they transformed the name of an obscure clothier into a very successful franchise that boasts outposts in places like China, Dubai and Dublin. The bright natty shirts seem to flaunt a fearlessness and confidence in our global economy, especially if you are the kind who can invest in things and buy the rights to names.

This ploy works out fine, because the shirts are crisp and well made and attend to the right amount of detail without being tedious. In the dressing room I tried on a Slim Fit shirt in a subtle pale green check ($175). It fit marvelously, even though I looked less like a cheery British industrialist than a washed-up Hollywood actor trying to clean up for a court appearance.

But that makes sense because I suppose this isn’t a store for people like me with money issues who go to Barnes & Noble and buy self-help books like “Credit Hell: How to Dig Out of Debt.” These clothes are more suited for the hard-working finance types who have that Suze Orman glint in their eyes and who, when going to Barnes & Noble, select titles like The 48 Laws of Power and You, Inc.

Ever so gently, my sales associate encouraged me to buy the gorgeous pale green shirt. I politely declined. She said I could just try it out and return it after 14 days. I really wanted to do it, but that would mean I would be breaking some rule in one of my get-out-of-debt books, and I would have to punish myself by cutting up my credit card while crying. Instead I bought a collared gray sweater made of soft merino wool ($195) because it also fit superbly. This made perfect budgetary sense at the time.

Clothes do have a strange power over people sometimes!


MissGoldBug said...

I'm a sucker for a well tailored shirt, too. If you wear it for years and you positively glow in it, I think it's worth it!

Can you post a picture? I a really curious!

Madame X said...

MissGoldbug: You could look at the Thomas Pink website, but it doesn't do them justice. One of mine is a wonderful sort of woven fabric-- the threads in different colors give it a really nice texture and sheen that would never come through in a photo.

Anonymous said...

I have a Thomas Pink store in my office building. Unfortunately (but fortunately for my budget)I'm petite and their shirts don't fit me well. Big sigh. It's a shame as the quality's great and they have goods sales in the summer.

Anonymous said...

I am a Thomas Pink fan and I think their quality worth the bucks. I usually but one or two at the sales, $80 for a woman's shirt is much better than a $50 banana republic's!