Dressed For Success

A tax court case in New York is revealing about the vanity of our culture. The young lady in question spent $63,169 on designer clothes and shoes in the year 2002. She then donated these clothes to charity and took a tax deduction for the value of the clothes. No dice, said the tax court.

Is it really possible to spend that kind of money on a year's worth of clothes? No problem at all, actually, as Bloomberg News found out when they went shopping with an expert. While "looking for value" at Bergdorf's they blew through $63,148 in less than three hours. As is often the case (or so I'm told), the men's shopping expedition ended much faster: $63,170 in just one hour.

Of course, this did take place in New York, land of the Thousand Dollar Pizza. But it's still a lot of money to spend on clothes. I am trying hard to imagine a scenario where it is really necessary to spend that kind of money on a wardrobe and I can't think of one. Apparently some people do, though.

If you have that kind of spare change and want to spend it on clothes, be my guest. I would suggest, however, that there are better things you could do with your money. Maybe, since we're talking about New York, you could help these guys find better living arrangements. Just a thought.

Some people will reply that buying expensive clothes actually benefits the poor by providing jobs and stimulating the economy. This is true but I don't think it lets us off the hook. Generosity requires sacrifice. We have to give up something we would otherwise like to keep for ourselves.

For example, if instead of buying that $3,290 Giorgio Armani pantsuit you really really want, you gave the same amount of money to the Salvation Army, you would be doing something generous. Simply buying the pantsuit and then feeling pleased that some third-world worker got a few extra pennies is not generosity. It's rationalization.

Here's a handy rule of thumb: if your annual wardrobe budget is greater than your annual gifts to charity, you are probably overdressed. Tax time is coming soon, so add up the numbers and see where you stand.

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