October 31st, 2006


How much are you wearing?

In an idle moment in London a couple of weeks ago, Hisae and I were sitting in a café on the Finchley Road, leafing through a copy of Grazia magazine. We came across a feature called "So what's your street value?"

"According to a report last week," said the magazine, "the average Brit leaves the house wearing £851 worth of stuff -- and that's before you've even hit the shops".

Now, sure, we were reading a bling magazine in a bling town, but that seemed a little steep. What's more, the photos showed street outfits whose dowdy unattractiveness was matched only by their staggering cost. Lisa Harvey, for instance, a 30 year-old fabric shop owner, was apparently sporting an outfit costing £35,967. Now, admittedly that included a diamond eternity ring worth £25,000, and wedding and engagement rings worth £10,000. But that still left £967 for a frankly underwhelming black garment with a little grey waistcoat on top.

The other evening Hisae showed me the ultimate Japanese clothes-otaku website. It's called Web Across, and it tells you everything you might want to know about what selected Japanese people are wearing -- where they bought their clothes, how much they paid, and what the temperature was when the photo was taken. What's striking is how much cheaper these outfits are than the British ones, and how much more pleasing. This lady, for instance, is wearing an outfit that cost just 85,000 yen -- that's £380 British bling-pounds. And this one manages to look hundreds of times nicer than Lisa Harvey despite having spent just 27,200 yen, or £120 bling-pounds.

I decided to calculate the cost price of the outfit I was wearing yesterday. As you see, the total came to €129, which, at today's exchange rate, is just £86.32 in bling-pounds, which leaves me almost £900 shy of Lisa Harvey and £764.68 more cheaply-dressed than the average Briton. Then again, my British mother told me earlier this month that she thought I dressed appallingly, and that she'd be embarrassed to walk down the street beside me.

That stung, so I'd like to point out, in my own defense, Mama -- and I do apologize if this sounds like boasting -- that there's a 12-page article about me (including a photo by Paul Mpagi in which I'm wearing an even cheaper outfit than the one you see here, featuring an apron purchased in the penny-stores of Manhattan's Chinatown and wristbands from the uniform shops of Osaka's Shinsekai) in the new edition of cutting-edge Dutch fashion magazine Currency.

It's an interesting word, when you think about it: "currency" can mean bling-money, or it can mean the quality of being current -- staying abreast, or forging ahead. And you really don't need much currency to be current.