Recession Mama

{September 20, 2009}   Economical Emmy’s

By Katy

Kate Walsh at the 2009 Emmy Awards

Kate Walsh at the 2009 Emmy Awards

For last night’s Emmy Awards, “Private Practice” star Kate Walsh wore a strapless, flowy J. Mendel dress, Louis Vuitton shoes, jewelry from the Stephen Russell Contemporary Collection.  But what surprised me was when Kate showed E!’s Guiliana a $30 clutch and that she used SUAVE hair style products.  Now Suave…that was smart advertising!  It just got a major plug at the Emmy’s.  When would Suave ever get mentioned at an awards show?  Kate also mentioned that besides using Suave hair products, her look wasn’t her choice.  Instead, frugalistas voted for which hair style Kate would be wearing on television’s biggest night.

Here were their choices:


Obviously, she chose the modern bob in the middle, and I think it looks sexy and fresh!  I also think it’s sexy and fresh to choose a high-low mix for an awards show.  It’s how real people dress anyway.  Well, maybe not that HIGH.  But I definitely like to mix a Chanel bag with American Apparel and J. Crew.  Before words like “recessionista” and “frugalista” came into our post-recession vocabulary, I think truly stylish, and of course, girls without trust funds, always dressed this way.  But now, it’s fashionable to be frugal.  I wonder who else dressed for the recession at last night’s Emmy Awards.  And what do you think of Kate’s economical elegance?


By Katy

A lot has happened this last week in the world — one of the worst typhoons in my native Taiwan’s history, hurricanes near Florida, North Korea releasing journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee… and while my fellow recession mamas were mourning the lay-offs of two veteran journalists, I was wrestling and wasting trivial thoughts on…clothes and shopping.

As a little girl, I loved shopping for back to school clothes.  When I turned 15, the ginormous annual September issue of Vogue would serve as my inspirational fashion bible.

Charlize Theron graces Sept 09 cover

Charlize Theron graces Sept 09 cover

I would earmark pages, memorize the new fall colors, and clip out anything I deemed to be too good to stay in the actual magazine.  Now, mind you, I grew up in Texas where most people think big hair is still synonymous with beauty.  But to me, Dallas is home to Neiman-Marcus, the most elegant department store in the world, well at least to my young, impressionable mind.

My obsession for style also came from my beautiful and fashionable mother.  She had a wardrobe that I had hoped to blossom into one day. (I later realized that although I love her style…I had my own distinct fashion sense.) My mother was also a champion shopper.  Not only could she negotiate anything with anybody, she also had exquisite taste.  Just by touch and sight, she can tell you where a particular dress was made and the exact fabrics used to make it.  Such a gift!


Well, last week, Barney’s held its semi-annual warehouse sale in my neighborhood in downtown Los Angeles.  This is a big deal because for the first time in its history, this venerable sales event came East!  The store in Los Angeles is in Beverly Hills, of course, and its annual warehouse sale was always, as far as I remember, held at a hangar at the Santa Monica airport.  And this year, I could actually walk to the warehouse sale, and that’s exactly what I did!  First day of the sale…I walked, OK practically skipped, the 12 or so blocks from my loft in the fashion district all the way to the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Once I got there, I started at the beginning.  I had all day, you see, so I really took my time.  I perused every rack, starting in the couture sections and found a delicious plum colored Prada cashmere v-neck sweater, a Dolce tan and black lingerie top, a Stella McCartney tan pencil skirt to match, and a colorful Pucci maxi dress.  I then scanned the tables for a pair of James Jeans in my size and made sure I didn’t need any of the shoes that were displayed in disarray.  If you’ve ever been to a sample sale, you’ll know what comes next.  I staked out a rack next to a full-length mirror.  I put all of my clothes on one side, and I started trying on everything over my thin t-shirt and shorts.  What didn’t fit or didn’t look right got discarded to the other side of the rack.  What I ended up with was the plum-colored Prada and the jeans.  I made a quick decision to discard the jeans.  I have a lot of designer jeans, and this one needed hemming.  I don’t have the time nor the money to hem jeans at this point.  Now, what to do about the Prada sweater?  It would go with everything!  It fit me like a glove.  It was so well made in Italy.  And isn’t purple THE color for this Fall?  Then, I looked the price tag.  Originally, the sweater costs $895.  It was on sale for $250.  Now, that’s quite a mark-down, and in better times…I would never have even hesitated.  But I did.  I thought about how many cashmere sweaters I’ve seen at J Crew or Banana Republic that were not even $250 at the regular price.  Why was I going to buy a sweater for $250?  Was it just because it was Prada?  That didn’t make any sense.  I’m not a label-whore.  I like clothes that are well made and that will last and not go out of style…so this did fit into those categories.  But $250 for a sweater?  In this recession?  No, thank you.  So I put everything back, and I walked out into the sunshine and bought myself a fat-free yogurt instead.

Now the story does not end there.

This week, my mom and I went to the Carolina Herrera Bridal Sample Sale.  Everything was marked down 30%-70%.  We didn’t find anything we loved, so we went to…where else?  Neiman’s in Beverly Hills.  While there, my mom found a Chanel bag she really, really liked.  I also thought it fit her perfectly.  It was $2870, and although I think that’s outrageous for a handbag, she told me that it was quite reasonable.  She checked out this bag for what seemed to be hours!  She dumped all of her personal belongings from her current Chanel bag to the new one.  She walked around with it.  She was on the verge of buying it.  And then, something miraculous happened.  After finding out that we were from Taiwan, the sales lady told us how sorry she was to hear about the typhoon and the deaths.  My mom said, “Oh I think that’s the very reason why I should not buy this purse.  It wouldn’t be right.”  She put the bag on hold (just in case, I guess), and we walked out without buying anything at all.

I also spent some time this week with a dear friend of mine.  She also loved to shop, and she was also great at finding deals.  And she told me, “This recession was the best thing to have happened to people like us.  Before this recession, we never thought something like this could happen.”  Oh so true.  Now, we think twice before buying something nice.  OK a bit corny, but I’ve been watching “Mad Men,” so give me a break if some of the 1950’s corn-ball sensibility rubbed off on me.  And yes, I’m completely obsessed with the clothes on this brilliant TV series!

By Katy

Almost every girl thinks their mama is the best, don’t they? Well, here at Recession Mama, we think our mothers are special, too. Carla and Heather are mamas, so I’m letting them take a little break today. Happy Mother’s Day to ya’ll! And I’m going to tell you what I’ve learned from my mama.

My mom is the best negotiator I know. She truly embodies the notion that yes, you too can negotiate anything. She’s also a great bargain hunter, when it comes to stuff she really wants. She’s not the coupon-clipping type, like my amazing friend Sarah. And you definitely won’t catch her making her own detergent, like Carla’s friend, Connie. She’s definitely a fashionista, so does that make her a recessionista in this economy? Perhaps. But before I put any labels on her, let me just tell you about her mad “priceline negotiator” skillz. Yes, I meant to spell it with a z. It’s that amazing.

My mom is one of those negotiators that can make you want to give her everything, and then throw in the kitchen sink! You also walk away LOVING her. After a day-long tough session of car buying, the sales guys will say to me… “Isn’t she adorable? Isn’t she cute?” CUTE?! You just practically gave this woman the car for FREE, and you still think she’s cute? Now, that’s talent. She’s also negotiated where no man or woman has, I believe, gone before…at high end stores on Rodeo Drive. And I’m NOT talking about buying $100K worth of stuff. If you’re spending that much cheddar, I do think Chanel, Louis, and Cavalli might be able to cut you a break. Well, maybe not Louis. Did you know they NEVER have sales?

So, how does my mama do it? She doesn’t think there are any secrets, and I do think it’s best to watch her art in action…here are a couple of my own observations:

  • My mama is fearless. Sales people can smell your fear from a mile away, and it’s easier to say no to someone that’s hesitant about asking for what they want.

  • My mama kills them with kindness. She asks with a smile on her face, and if they, at first, say no…she doesn’t seem angry or irritated, in the least bit. (She just tries again a little later when the sales person’s guard is down.)

  • My mama is always prepared to walk away. Even if she really wants whatever she’s negotiating, you would never be able to tell. She acts like there’s nothing she needs or wants, and we’ve walked away many, many times. Now, this one takes a lot of maturity. Some of us (I won’t name names) still act like we’re two and we throw tantrums when we can’t get what we want or when my mama walks away in the middle of a deal going south.

  • My mama knows when to stop. She would be great at “The Price is Right”. She has a figure in her head, and when a sales person reaches it, she knows when to take out her nicely negotiated, never-pay-full- price-I’m-pretty-sure-it’s-designer wallet.

et cetera