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December 15, 2008

Is the Gilded Age Over for Some Contra Costa Housewives?


The other week I met an old high school friend at Yellow Wood Coffee and Tea in Alamo. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, and she was telling me about her success with her new home-based business. It involves direct sales of personal care products. She used to work in the corporate worked but left that world when she started to have kids.


A year or so ago, she learned about this home-based business opportunity and went for it. It was hard work at first, she says, but now she’s available when her kids come home from school, is able to set her own hours, and is earning enough to keep her family going when her husband was recently laid off from his corporate job. Fortunately, he found another job, but my friend’s dream is to one day earn enough money to let him get out of the corporate rat race himself.


One of the more interesting things she mentioned was how some other moms in her neighborhood and at her kids’ school pooh-poohed her venture into self-employment, as if it was little hobby, or as if they just didn’t understand her need to “go back to work” if her husband was providing well for her and her kids. These women were presumably living the very good life, with high-earning breadwinners of husbands, nice big houses, and no worries about plunking down big bucks at spas and at high-end boutiques on clothes and shoes. Well, things have changed for these women, my friend said. Now these women are approaching her, asking her how they might get into her line of work. It seems their fortunes have fallen. Maybe their husbands aren’t getting their big year-end bonuses. Maybe their husbands have even lost their top-earning jobs.


I was reminded of this conversation while reading “Profiles in Panic,” an article in the new January Vanity Fair:

“With Wall Street hemorrhaging jobs and assets, even many of the wealthiest players are retrenching,’ so reads its sub-head. “Hedge-fund managers try to sell their luxury homes, while trophy wives are hocking their jewelry.” The world of the “Big Rich” is “in shock,” and its values are “in question.”


The article goes on to describe how “even those with plenty to spend aren’t spending”:
“One high-end Manhattan department store reportedly had the biggest day of returns in its history the day after Lehman Brothers went down. … [Wives rushed to return their recent purchases, because they] ‘didn’t want the husbands to get the credit-card bills,’ says one fashion-world insider …


[Meanwhile] an Upper East Side woman often goes to lunch at Michael’s restaurant on West 55th Street to Manolo Blahnik a block away to pick up a $600 or $700 pair of shoes as ‘retail therapy’ No more. ‘I was at Michael’s yesterday and was thinking, Oh, Manolo’s … But then I thought, Why? It just doesn’t feel good.’ ”


Oh, poor woman! Sorry to sound snarky, but, really, I never got into “retail therapy.” Also, we’re not in the income bracket where we could ever indulge in that kind of therapy. We save our money for me to do the real kind.

“Prudence is the new watchword now,” the article goes on to say in that gilded Vanity Fair prose. “Sack-cloth after brilliant silks and brocades of the gilded age.” It also describes how Greenwich housewives are looking for bargains and even scouring newspaper ads for coupons.

What has the world come to? If the gilded age is over for the the super-rich in Manhattan and its affluent suburbs, is the gilded age also over in the affluent communities of the East Bay suburbs? Are the gilded housewives of Lamorinda, Walnut Creek, Alamo, Danville, and Blackhawk also adopting this new frugality? It could be likely, given the eagerness shown by local high-end boutiques to boast of sales and bargains. For example, Walnut Creek’s Hush boutique is putting items for sale on eBay. In a style blog mentioned on the website for Diablo magazine, Hush is auctioning off a dress, originally priced at $965, at a price starting for $475.


If I were into this kind of “retail therapy,” it sounds like a good deal to me.

2 comments:

Red Hot Mama said...

The suburban lifestyle is in its last gasp here in Central County and a passing of the torch is taking place.

From AAUW to Soroptomists. All the loudmouthed uncouth broads with their big hair, cadillacs, jangly jewels, gold lipstick, cocktail parties, and intrigue (OMG I just described Helen Allen) are passing the scene from quiet single-family suburban insanity to urban village in-fill.

That generation is pretty played out:

- from martinis to mojitos

- plucking eyebrows to braiding armpit hair

- pink cadillacs to hybrids

- key parties to soccer moms

Maryka Biaggio said...

May I use the image of the Gilded Age Lady in a blog post about my novel (Parlor Games) and the Gilded Age?