Manila— At the start of the millennium, I had the chance to work overseas in an international organization. I was chauffeured around in a diplomatic car when I attended functions representing my office. And since it was a workplace that required smart dressing, I wore professional, tailored suits most of the time. I wore stilettos and pumps about 3 or 4 inches. Any higher than that, I know I would be killing my feet, my back and myself faster.
But I wore heels only at work. I put on sneakers or flat shoes when I walk from my apartment to the sky train going to the office. I change into comfortable footwear again when I go home. I cherished weekends because I didn’t need to dress up, and my feet were free to strut the streets in flip-flops.
My work wardrobe requirements probably meant my shopping life was glam and glitzy, and yes it was, but it wasn’t the kind that followed high-end, global labels. The fashion in the city I worked and lived in teemed with unique local designs, so I indulged in shopping. The night markets were my haven. I went for cotton, since the climate was the same as my tropical country's and cotton is always comfortable.
In those years, I can recall only a short list of brand purchases that I considered expensive, but which I was able to buy only because they were on sale, such as a Swatch, a Clinique, a Nike, a Marks and Spencer, a Fitflop and a Nine West. I may have called these labels luxuries but I bought the products because I liked them and I could afford them. Most of these were one-time purchases. I didn’t feel any love for the others that I see on shop windows because they were too expensive and I didn’t find them remarkable and usable, anyway, or were just too far out for me.
I wouldn’t buy a Louis Vuitton satchel that is worth $3,000 because I won’t need a tiny bag that has room only for my wallet, mobile phone and lipstick. I didn’t see any use of a $2,500 Armani jacket, either, or a $900 Hermes scarf.
If local designers in every country are given wider venues for their creative products, the high-end brands would not even compare with their creations. But such is the cutthroat world of fashion. You get ahead or perhaps do something right and then you become Prada and be part of the holy grail of style. That is why many shopaholics who are into appearances religiously chase trends and live their lives around what’s in the moment, because fashion may probably help solve the problems of the world. A lot of people make branded stuff their investments, too.
Mine are just favorites and treasures. These include a bag hand-made from rice stalks by Cambodian women farmers, who gave it to me as appreciation after an interview with them for a report on women empowerment, or bracelets designed by the Karen tribe of Myanmar.
I also treasure a pair of jeans I bought from a clearance bin, a jacket from a thrift shop and an $18 pair of shoes from a bargain store that even outlasted a $700 Fitflop pair that I also bought during that time I wanted to feel how it was to be a person of means even just for once.
I’m not one who is able to recognize a Jimmy Choo or follow fashion according to Vogue or if my shoes are so last season. I don’t speak Prada but I come out of it alive.
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Diana G. Mendoza is a longtime journalist based in Manila.