It occurred to me the other day that it has been months since I bought even a single item of clothing here in Buenos Aires.  This is remarkable for someone who normally found herself on an mental high at least once a week in New York after a bout of retail therapy.  I certainly didn’t buy things every week but I was almost always looking and trying on in New York.

Despite my lack of actual shopping purchases, the fashionista in me hasn’t resisted familiarizing myself with some of the well-known brands here. Rapsodia, Wanama, Ayres, Akia Bara, Vitamina, Jazmin Chebar, Etiqueta Negra to name a few are now a part of my regular vocabulary.  These are the Banana, Club Monaco, JCrew, BCBG of back home.  The difference here is that most of the items in these stores are more expensive than in those back home and I have yet to see a significant sale. Considering the difference in income of people earning pesos and just how expensive that makes these clothes, shopping in them is reserved for the priveledged few.

What I also can’t get over is that here, if you take a step down to some of the smaller less-expensive stores, the H&M, Forever 21, Old Navy equivalent back home, the quality and styles are so terrible and the clothes also more expensive than in the U.S.  $20 doesn’t get you anything here.  Over the past few years I have tried my best to stop buying poor quality clothing, what my mom likes to call “disposable clothing,”  both for the environmental impact and the realization that buying five cheap shirts of poor quality that never quite look right and pill after one wash just doesn’t make them worth it.  I would rather spend that same money on one quality piece that I can wear for years. So here that means I am restricted to what locals would consider the higher-end brands.

Yesterday I had a big shopping day (for here at least) and actually bought a few things.  I felt like I had almost forgotten the thrill of buying new clothes so it felt good.  But it had been a nice hiatus for someone who had to leave about two-quarters of her wardrobe back home because of its shear size. For the first time I visited Paseo Alcorta, one of the many shopping centers here.  Similar to Patio Bullrich in terms of it being one of the most high-end shopping centers based on its stores, location, and clientele, everyone there was to be seen.  Like in all parts of the world, the wealthy people here have status symbols.  Gola sneakers are a must.  Moms prance around wearing far too tight clothing for their age, killer heels, and a deep tan.  I was searching for a few winter basics and went into sticker shock when I discovered that a nice sweater in any of these stores was going to cost me US$100, bare minimum.  I couldn’t remember when I had ever bought a sweater for $100.  Maybe once but it was cashmere and from Henri Bendel.  This one was plained colored, made out of an itchy wool, and not even very well-made.

When I first came to Buenos Aires as a tourist I thought the clothes were fairly inexpensive and there was a lot I wanted to buy.  All the locals around me explained that for them things were really expensive.  Since then, my opinion has changed quite a bit.  I hardly ever go shopping because every time I do I hardly ever find something I even feel is worth trying on.  I wouldn’t say that my opinion has changed because I’m earning pesos, more that I have had a chance to look more closely at the offering and I am partially outraged at what I see.  Argentines who have traveled neither to the U.S. nor Europe  I don’t think even know what they are missing or how expensive the clothes are in comparison.  I am now confined to buying any new clothes in this country and am faced with a total lack of variety and value, and nothing that is available for purchase online.  Sometimes a website doesn’t even exist.  There is a lot of repetition.  This past summer anyone could have guessed the shoe colors of the season (unfortunately, coral, light green, light brown, and red) because every single shoe store carried shoes in these colors and rarely anything else.  Last winter when I was here I spent days searching boot stores to try to find a nice pair of gray ones when finally a wise salesperson answered my frustration to tell me that gray just wasn’t a color that season.

My Argentine coworker put it right.  In Manhattan people are always consuming something and on to the next trend.  While drinking their starbucks and blackberry messaging their friend, they are browsing $800 shoes.  There is always something new to buy.  It feels nice to be removed from this a bit.  I think about when I came back home after two months in Buenos Aires.  I was instantly shocked by what a fashion plate everyone is in the streets.  People were dripping head to toe in couture or at a minimum the latest bag and shoes.  I used to walk the streets of Manhattan and remember feeling like even when I hadn’t intentially planned to go shopping I inevitably was.  I subconsciously was telling myself I needed a new bag or belt and there was always someone better dressed than me.  While I have been super happy in the new life I have created here, I can’t help but miss all the fashion options back home and the challenge of staying fashionable in a city with such competition.

Maria Cher store in Palermo Soho

The one thing that wins here?  Interior design.  I wish I had more photos to show, but I don’t think there is one store I can think of in New York (other than high-end designer stores) that can even compare to the exquisite design elements in some of the stores here.  I recently visited a men’s clothing store called Key Biscayne in Palermo and was awed by the spa-like entranceway. Bamboo trees and other plants lined an walkway with an all glass roof, a stream ran through the walkway with a small bridge that carried you over to the store.  Beautiful leather couches sat inside with hardwood floors and impecably framed photos.  Some of the stores are truly architectural works of art, like the Maria Cher store in Palermo.  The designer hired well-known Argentine architects to work on the project that took four months.  I just wish the clothing companies would spend more money designing and producing their clothes than the locale.  I don’t need to feel like I’m in a modern art museum.