Sales & Marriage

When Mike gets the mail, he carefully tears open the envelope, using two fingers to widen it so that he may peer inside without removing the actual bill. Craning his neck and squinting his eyes, while carefully poking at the still folded contents, he is able to locate the accounting total in the dark abyss of the legal sized stationary. From what I can surmise, it’s a coping mechanism — if the paper is never removed from its source, he’s never really seen it. But from the outside, it’s the kind of careful hesitation that someone might heed if they were bracing themselves for a crime scene. Then he leaves the bill for me, the official family bookeeper, so that I may take it to the office for payment, removing himself emotionally from the final assault of the burst pipe that resulted in our lovely plumber’s latest correspondence.

Yet, the credit card bill that arrives during sale season is an altogether different affair. I probably keep ten percent of what arrives, so as far as I’m concerned, the initial number is just a rough estimate — like overpaying your taxes, knowing that you will get a lot of it back at the end. But while I whittle down my purchases significantly, there’s a lot happening on that pre-returns bill. So I prefer to intercept it, hold onto it for a few days, and then nonchalantly stick a random post-it on Mike’s desk with a non-descript total. This way, everyone is on the same overall marital page about where our household expenses are going. Sometimes I’ll jot a little asterix with some diversionary highlights - *Dentist. *School Supplies. *Lola’s health insurance (i.e. that dog really needs to get a job). I then try to discreetly slip out of his office and back into mine hoping the post-it gets lost amongst the paper recycling plant that doubles as his office.

You see, I treat sale season like someone would a side hustle, working the night shift into the wee hours, stalking the internet for the shoes and jackets that at full retail seemed like irresponsible purchases. During these few times of year, my porch looks like a shipping and receiving dock and I’m constantly worried that Lola is going to give herself a heart attack from the anxiety of the UPS and FedEx drivers that she can see making their daily rounds down my driveway from her living room perch. She has literally spent the last two weeks barking at the constant clanging of the trucks’ metal doors rolling up to reveal my concealed garment bags stacked within.

In the throes of my sale season compulsion, I truly believe that I am saving us money when making these purchases. Plus, when I end up returning something and the funds are credited back to my card, there is a fairly large piece of me that feels justified in the conviction that I am actually making money. I do realize that this sounds like a fashion Ponzi scheme.

For Mike, there is no question about what is going on here. We share office space and he is fully aware that my company’s business shipping is done from there. This is personal and, as he side steps over the cartons that are often stacked in the foyer, he knows exactly what’s happening.

The other night, knocking on the door of my closet, which is just a tiny room filled with cheap rolling racks, Mike peaked his head in and jokingly asked, “What do you do in here?” 

“I try on clothes,” I responded. 

Again, very direct. I was surrounded by boxes, tissue paper, plastic hanger bags, return labels and a box cutter, which I keep in my costume jewelry drawer for slicing through packages with ease. Having one on hand is a habit I picked up as an editor wrangling in product for photo shoots, so keeping one in an accessory drawer seems not only appropriate, but also professional. In full disclosure, I also store a tape gun in there for proficient returns.

Yet, when it comes to the credit card post-it, before I make it to the door I inevitably hear a stunned, “Nic…what was on this bill?” 

“You know, life stuff,” I usually respond. To deflect further questioning I might even throw in, “Do you know how much the co-pay is for the boys’ pediatrician? It’s insane!”

“Can I look at it?,” he’ll call out to me without the accusatory tones I surely deserve.

The man knows to the penny what the cable bill will be every single month and yet he won’t make eye contact with it, but this of all financial reckonings he wants to see? Why did he not grasp the full implications of this operation when the postman was using a dolley?

Yet, every four months, we do the same dance. I go back to my office in our shared suite, returning with the paper and acting excessively nonchalant, which by definition is not at all nonchalant. I’d normally insist that if he wants to see something, he needs to walk to my office, but tactically I prefer that he is sitting down. Mike leans back in his chair and, clearly practicing great restraint, calmly scans the bill.

My husband will then rub his temples to settle himself, look up at me and, without irony, ask…                                                                        

“What did you buy at Trader Joe’s?” 

And while this pattern repeats itself, I am almost always shocked by the purposeful evasion of the actual matter at hand. 

The way the breakdown of designer dot coms reads, most rational people would assume their wife’s credit card was stolen. And yet my husband projects his astonishment and distress on the supermarket, which we both know carries life necessities. Food for our children, for example. It’s a ridiculous charade. 

But instead of playing along with the grocery game and appreciating Mike’s impulse to protect our marriage from the issues that have plagued so many couples before us, I react as though I am being accused. Which, in fairness, I am - but under the guise of buying too much food to feed our sons. 

So while I want to say, “What the f do you think I bought there?,” but should in solidarity say, “Those boys just plow through snacks,” and then get myself the hell out of there, I instead sarcastically respond with, “You know, a Chanel bag. They are nineteen cents like the bananas, so I bought a ton.”

“Nic, you don’t have to get defensive,” Mike always responds reasonably. “I’m just asking because I can’t understand what you do with all of this money at the supermarket. I mean, what happened at Whole Foods?” 

“Well, I know the Whole Foods charge seems a little high, but they had the Marni sandals I’ve been searching for,” I quipped the last time. Is he kidding? If he ever went to the supermarket, he’d know how much organic lettuce runs these days.

Of course I’m defensive. We have two children and a 120-year-old house that is falling to the ground and I’ve got a warehouse of designer shoes being unloaded in the driveway. I am a maniac. Feeling victimized is my only option. And if anyplace can make a wife a martyr, it’s the supermarket.

In truth, we have always had a democratic marriage when it comes to money and everything else. As adult partners that share the responsibility of two children and a household, there is simply the unwritten understanding that we have priorities, but we trust each other to make individual decisions about the personal purchases we make. 

The issue with this arrangement is that I know in my heart it is completely imbalanced. Mike doesn’t even buy underwear and wears the same “vacation shirt” on every trip that we have taken since I bought it for his first visit to St. Maarten with my grandparents almost twenty years ago. Every fall he has the boots resoled that I got for him at the Barneys Warehouse sale before we moved to California. We lived in Los Angeles for nine years and we have been back for three, so you do the math. Last Father’s Day, my boys asked if we could get him a new bathing suit because, “Daddy always wears the same one.” If only they knew that he was wearing those trunks when we were counselors at sleepaway camp decades ago. It would not surprise me if his name and bunk are written in them. 

He’s no buddhist, but my husband is a person who truly wants for nothing. At least beyond his wife and childrens’ happiness. So, while I would have never married someone who didn’t feel that I was free to make my own financial decisions without oversight, I do realize that my material values may be called into question in comparison to someone who doesn’t wear underwear because it seems like a waste. 

Mike simply wants to enjoy his home and the world’s many experiences with his family. I do too, but sometimes momma wants to do it in a new pair of shoes. I may be defensive about this twice (ok, thrice) yearly compulsion, but I have enough self-awareness in hindsight to admit my shortcomings. And Mike, to his credit doesn’t judge me.  More often than not, when I have buyer’s remorse, he urges me to keep the pants. “They look cute,” he said to me the other night as I was hemming and hawing over a new arrival, smiling at me like he used to when we were teenagers. Everytime he does that he reminds me that I have all that I need, so those pants will likely go back. Maybe it’s a tactic. 

Reflecting a little, I can see why Mike's reaction touches me. My  grandfather adored my grandmother Leona, always wanting her to have beautiful clothes, taking true pleasure in seeing her enjoyment in getting dressed. When "Loni" recently passed, we found stacks of photos that he had taken of her often standing at the top of their stairs, modeling her outfit before a night out. But they grew up during the depression and my grandfather’s desire was born of a need to give his love the life she had only dreamed of in hopes of erasing those memories of never having enough. And yet, for her, from the time she was in high school with a wardrobe that could fit neatly in a grocery bag, he was already her everything. 

Always reminding me, “You don’t love things, you love people," for my grandfather it was never about the clothes, but rather the wish to see someone you love enjoy a little uncomplicated delight in an uncertain world. I can draw no comparisons to the bread lines that my grandfather was too pained to speak of, but I did grow up wanting to emulate my grandparents’ relationship — one where I would wake up everyday appreciating feeling treasured. It may sound trite, but that’s how I feel when Mike smiles at me lovingly and tells me to keep the pants. It reminds me of my grandparents. If I close my eyes, I can vividly picture my grandfather grinning at Loni and telling her the same.

“Ok,” Mike will finally say about the bill. “I think if we can both make a concerted effort not to waste, we’ll reign in the supermarket runs and be back on budget.” 

Having come to my senses I always answer, “I totally agree,” both of us knowing that nothing will change but the seasons.

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A few months ago, friends requested that I share some of my finds during my frenetic nights of sale season. Some of my best gets sold out, two of them because of me, but here are three handfuls of items that have either made their way to my door or I have my eyes on.

P.S. If those Marni sandals pop up in a 7 (they run big!), be a friend and message me! Happy Sale Shopping. xoxo

1. TOP 2. PANTS 3. SLIDES 4. BLOUSE 5. JEANS 6. LOAFERS

 

1. TOP 2. PANTS 3. SANDALS 4. T-SHIRT 5. CULOTTES 6. SANDALS

 

Born to shop

I sat in bed the other night with Lola snuggled by my side, engrossed in Kate Schelter’s visually delightful new book, Classic Style: Hand It Down, Dress It Up, Wear It Out until the wee hours. Through vibrant and playful watercolors, thoughtful anecdotes, and personal memories, Schelter celebrates iconic items, ranging from Stan Smiths to a signature Rolex to a Le Crueset pot, encouraging a less is more approach that embraces the simple luxury of the well designed, allowing for more space to express one’s true self. Dig deeper and the imagery and essays become about so much more.

Some might say that I am a more is more kind of person — my shoe collection is in the Carrie Bradshaw vein and my jewelry style distinguished by layers of gold chains and statement hoops that I have amassed since childhood has an Adriana from the Sopranos quality. 

That being said, my motto in life and for Garland Collection has ironically always been “Classic is What Counts.” If I’m not going to wear it forever, I’m not going to buy it. Buttondowns are staples, as are the silver Birkenstocks that I bought before a trip to Rome almost a decade ago. I garden daily in the Naot clogs that I purchased in Israel on a teen tour when I was fifteen. And while my greater shoe situation does give me reason to wonder if there is a void I’m trying to fill (everyone has a weakness), if I could only keep one pair, it would be the Prada wooden heel platforms that I have worn to almost every meeting and most events over the last fifteen years. They are so comfortable that I am sure I could go for a run in them, they look good with everything, and their height and timelessness give me confidence. 

But I am no bag lady. I invest only once every few years and if its lack of sartorial experience means my grandma could not have owned it and my grandchildren won’t want to borrow it, I’ll happily stick with what I have. For this reason, my collection of Goyards are so worn in that the monogram and stripes have chipped away on one (it has seen a lot of life in its decade and a half) and each one is smattered with small(ish) holes that I like call “haute hobo.” But their utility and history keeps the well-loved look in regular rotation. As a personal appeal, now that everyone has been informed that this designer dishevelment is a means of self-expression, stop telling me I need new bags. You know who you are.

I rarely travel without my Louis duffle — it matched my grandma’s when we went to St. Maarten together (we once mixed them up at security and I had to explain to the officer why I had a ziplock of roughly twenty prescriptions with someone else’s name on them) — and my LL Bean Boat N’ Tote that I bought at the flagship in Vermont twenty years ago with my pre-married monogram is still a summer staple. My Smythson “Travels and Experiences” diary is always with my passport or road map— it’s pages lined with notes on the random field to find Shona sculptures in South Africa, how to locate the fisherman in a remote Belizean village who will take you out to catch Barracuda, the address of the best antique store in Cleveland and the less than appealing fish shack in Iceland that will blow any seafood lover’s mind. 

And while I am typically known as a refined blazer-loving dresser come fall, Roberta Roller Rabbit kurtas with vintage costume jewelry are my summer look. In full disclosure, I wore one to my first meeting with Vogue when my Garland signet ring was chosen for the September cover. My publicist was appropriately shocked by my entrance in beachware, but it was August and it’s all about personal style, right? And since I design jewelry, there is no shortage, but if I were ever forced to grab one thing and run (beyond my children, dog and photographs who in this fantasy are safely outside), it would be the charm bracelet which I have been adding to since my parents gifted it to me for my sixth grade graduation. What’s more classic than that? 

My twin almost six-year-old boys are subconsciously starting to gravitate toward distinctive styles as a way to project their own sense of self. Sweetlips has been wearing Air Jordans since he was a year old and Bean has only recently allowed skater style Air Force Ones into his rotation of old-school Converse. They are each allowed only one pair of sneakers for camp and for school, so they choose thoughtfully. (I do see that this rule is at real odds with my own shoe situation, but collecting kicks seems even less appropriate when you are only graduating Kindergarten.) Sawyer Bean has never seen a pair of Bermuda shorts he doesn’t like and Crosby’s collection of retro sports team tees will be outgrown but not forgotten. Polo shirts, (“Big RL pony only”) are visible in most photographs (they know momma likes a popped collar), and I’m pretty sure that they are the only humans beyond Mario Batali to still make Crocs look cool. They have been their trademark warm weather shoe since their infanthood in LA. 

Unexpectedly, Classic Style also happily brought me back to the first post I included in this blog years ago, long before our new redesign. The essay, titled “Born to Shop,” about the women in my family’s link between fashion and memory ended with inspiration boards featuring just these items that I’m still reminiscing about. Because the emphasis on the Garland womens’ legendary wardrobe treasures influenced so much of who I am, it’s the first essay I archived on this updated site. I love how Schelter’s book had me thinking back, musing on my own classics and reminding me of my roots in starting this blog back when I was an editor and designer trying to bridge the gap between my passions.

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Below is that original essay from long ago. My grandmother is no longer with us, but the memories still ring true. I again updated the boards from years ago mostly with new links…as classics, my choices are inherently unchanged. 

On that note, what are your classics? Share them with me — I love to hear personal anecdotes! And more importantly, share them with Kate Schelter @kateschelter. (Her instagram is filled with her joyful watercolors) I don’t know her personally, but I’m sure she’d love to hear how she’s inspired. 

P.S. If you are looking for a great hostess or birthday gift this summer — Classic Style is a great choice. It’s as pretty as a coffee table conversation starter as it is a great read on a glorious beach afternoon.

 

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Born to shop

(from the archives and updated with a new "Get" list below)

Lying on my parent’s bed, my face cradled in my pudgy hands and steel blue eyes wide, I gazed up at my mother as she was putting the finishing touches on her evening’s attire, and like any innocent two-year-old would question as mom slung a purse over her shoulder, I sweetly purred, “Mommy, is that your Gucci?”

There were so many things wrong with my childlike curiosity.  First off, the bag was a Fendi.  

The second, more obvious issue, was how at two-years-old, the same age at which many of my peers had yet to gurgle words like cookie or poop, my vocabulary consisted of high-end Italian designer labels. And, I didn’t just throw these words around without understanding their connotations, like a child overhearing an unknowing parent’s accidental expletive, who for the next month will inevitably drop the F-bomb at regular and altogether inappropriate intervals.  At twenty-four months old, I could match accessories, like shoes and bags, to their proper couturier.  I took born to shop to a whole new level.

I obviously wasn’t flipping through pages of Vogue to view 1980’s must-have culottes or pounding the pavement on Madison Avenue.  So where did my diaper clad propensity for the bag de jour, (or more aptly at times, the bag Dior) come from?  While I have always been a slave to fashion, my family recognized that this wasn’t the sign of an overindulged toddler. Rather, it was something immensely more innocent -- a revealing example of the early devotion to the women in my family. My grandmother Loni has always been my fashion idol and, more importantly, the person whose every word I have lovingly hung onto since the age of two. When I took inventory of my mother’s accessories like the diaper-clad fashion police, it wasn’t about the clothes, but about my desire to emulate Loni and be a part of all the stories and laughter that was traded between the women in my family.  

At two years old, I was the only grandchild, and the daughter and niece of three women, all still in their twenties.  My mother, aunts, and Loni often sat at the kitchen table, telling stories and laughing until tears poured down their cheeks and their stomachs hurt from fits of doubled over hilarity.  Even though I was so young, I always sat with them at the table, and in a very innocent way, I absorbed all of that female camaraderie. 

So, as Loni would reminisce about the “good ‘ol days” when she was kicked out of the weekly dance at Poe Park in the Bronx with my grandfather because she bravely wore pants when the dress code for women was clearly skirts, the story would somehow become proudly engrained in my childhood brain as my own personal inheritance.  Loni spoke of those difficult days of the Depression, days she looked on fondly because she knew of no better life, and the $25 (a lot of money in those days) Loni’s aunt gave her for her college wardrobe at NYU.  She can still tally off her little luxuries – one sweater set, one skirt, and one pair of shoes from B. Altman & Company. She would ultimately have to leave to go to work to care for her young brother and ailing father, but that tough personal interior became a part of my own biography very early on. 

While the surrounding circumstances of that event were tragic, it is my grandmother’s ironically joyous memory amongst all that hardship that has remained in my heart, despite the privileges that I, because of them, have had.  It’s never really been about the clothes themselves, but the stories behind them that taught me about character and helped me to shape my own.  Oddly, as an adult, with so many of my own life experiences to share, I still manage to repeat the story of Loni’s NYU “spree”, for it seems to be a more acute representation of who I am, shaping my own outlook on life.  Those four little pieces of clothing gave Loni joy and made her feel special and that, not the part where she had to leave the education that she loved, is the Depression story she remembers.   

We all seem to have inherited Loni’s tendency to weave together the past through the clothes we wore, remembering our attire from a particularly memorable life event as though they are the landmarks to find our way back. I guess at times it is because the clothes alone tell the story – past, present, place, and person.  My mother often recalls her time as an art student at American University by mentioning the 70’s-esque tube top and painter pants she almost always wore to class, as if the outfit itself embodied the cool, young, free-spirited artist that she once was.  When my aunt Valerie fondly remembers going to my aunt Susan’s college graduation and becoming drunk for the very first time, she never fails to detail the white wedged clogs she was wearing that day.  She was the first person in her high school to introduce those fashion forward “wedgies” with the thick pieces of wood along the bottoms, and when she became sick into a pillowcase at seventeen, all she remembers seeing were those shoes – they, not the Tequila Sunrises, were the symbol of her coming of age.  Even I reminisce on the low slung corduroy “recycled” bell bottoms that I wore practically every day through my eleventh-grade hippy phase, including the afternoon at sixteen I sparked a crush on a tenth grader who would one day become my husband.  

From countless hours around my grandparents’ kitchen table, perched on my knees between my grown-up aunts, I learned the difficult stories about my grandparents’ life and love for each other during the Depression, and at other times, like when I encountered the word “Gucci,” they laughed about the story of a bag, which represented a different life than what my grandparents were born into.

So, chances are, like some kids learn the word bake or knit because Granny has taught them of her two joys, I learned about Gucci because my grandmother told the story of when she received her very first one – and, oh yes, was it joy.  As legend goes, the doorbell rang and my grandmother answered the door knowing that the highly anticipated monogrammed Gucci purse with the bamboo handle had arrived.  

Who would have thought that Leona from the Grand Concourse would one day have such a luxury?  My aunt Valerie, who was still in high school at the time, began yelling out the windows in mock excitement, “It’s a Gucci! It’s a Gucci!,” lovingly mocking my grandmother’s delight over her new designer bag.  Loni put the bamboo handled Gucci in retirement many years ago, but it has remained in it’s original box at the top of the closet, one of the few pieces that she is not willing to part with and add to my vintage collection.

At twenty-four months old, after hearing the story that has become female family lore, as far as I was concerned, everyone must have a Gucci…and, I still don’t disagree. Yet, to my naively astute two-year-old mind, the value of the Gucci was not monetary or social standing, but an altogether different status symbol — one in which I was allowed to claim my place around the kitchen table with the women I adored.

Garland Collection was named for my grandparents, 

Leona and Stanley Garland.

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I shop a range of high and low - "Classic is What Counts." But I keep a handful of investment pieces that will stand the test of time. A few of these items are long-time staples in my closet, and one (i.e. the vintage black Kelly bag), are on my “one day” list. 

 

1. HOOPS  2. BLOUSE  3. SIGNATURE PENDANT 4. WATCH  5. SANDALS  6. JEANS  7. BAG  8. RING  9. BLAZER

 

None the Worse for Wear

(from the archives and updated with a new "Get" list below)

 

No matter where in the world we travel, be it Botswana or Belize, Baja or Boca, there is always one setback that I can count on and, regrettably for me, it’s not delayed flights or lost baggage. To my unbridled discontent and even preemptive stern warnings, my husband will, without humility or even self-awareness, wander the hotel’s grounds and enjoy the property’s amenities clad in nothing more than his complimentary hotel bathrobe.

I have stumbled upon him enjoying the open view of the bush in the lobby of a South African lodge in this getup, jovially greeting stunned new arrivals as they checked in. I have found Mike in his man-robe, enjoying a snack by the pool in Florence while sophisticated Europeans enjoyed Prosecco nearby. Most recently I witnessed him dressed for a bubble bath while reveling in a nightcap at a quaint boutique hotel in the Berkshires. The other couples still wearing appropriate cocktail attire were at least inebriated enough at that hour to be easily amused.

Mike firmly insists, “That’s what the robe is there for.” I cannot imagine that the other guests who enter the business center to find Mike tapping away in terrycloth would agree. We have never stayed at a nudist colony.

To add insult to injury, he wears the plush wrap tied low, Tony Soprano style, and balances out the show of misinformed masculinity that is the chest hair peaking out of the over-exposed neckline by completing this well-edited ensemble with the equally flattering, and also complimentary, bedside slipper mules. I mean, he can’t wander Ojai barefoot, right?

I shouldn’t be surprised. This is the same person who has coined the phrase “No Pants Tuesday.” You see, Mike spends this day with our toddler boys, taking them out for a “Dudes Lunch” and then to a wild afternoon of bonding at the playground. Just envisioning my three men together out on the town truly warms my heart, which is what I like to focus on. Because when I arrive home at the end of the day, eager to see my crew, and even though Mama has curated an enviable wardrobe for Sweetlips and The Bean, no one is ever wearing pants. Because it’s “No Pants Tuesday.”  (He swears that everyone leaves the house fully clothed.)

So, when despite my earlier protests, I do inevitably encounter my husband swathed in his jetsetting finest and chatting up other fully clothed patrons who are trying to engage in polite conversation while praying that this affable guy has boxers under there, I try to take a photograph to document my plight. When it comes to marriage, always have proof.

I like to send these displays of mortification to my mother-in-law. Why do I bother to involve her? Because she made this bed and now I have to sleep in it. You see, it is my opinion that this sort of blissful oblivion to basic human protocol had to be ingrained as either acceptable during childhood, or at the very least it was consciously overlooked. So while this may seem like a coping mechanism, I blame my mother-in-law for all of her son’s shenanigans, and if I have to suffer through them now, I’m not going to let her retire and take a cruise. As she always says, “Hey, you married him.” Yeah, well you made him.

Yet, we’re still traveling.  The truth is, against my better judgment, I can’t help but laugh. I’m literally an enabler of the inane. When I give a stern warning, it’s simply because I fear that we won’t be allowed to return, not because I want to change him. As his co-parent, I’m glad that Mike is showing the boys to take life seriously by making the details more fun. And I can only hope that one day Sweetlips and The Bean’s partners will continue to bring me in on the joke. Even in our darkest moments, I believe that we pressed through because we’ve been able to unearth even the slightest morsels of humor or levity. Or, in the case of the bathrobe, which my husband truly believes that the hotel has offered for his all-inclusive comfort, I’ve learned to just let certain things go for the sake of my sanity.

The bottom line is, he has no shame and for fourteen years this has been good for me who has plenty. While he’s lucidly padding around a resort in a bathrobe and slippers, you can be sure that I am meticulously accessorized within an inch of my life. We balance each other.

What can I say? Love is blind.

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Since this essay was pulled from the archives, I've added my new wishful packing list for an upcoming summer getaway...and a little something for the hubby too.