Thursday, April 14, 2011

What's a "Need" and What's a "Want"?

What's a "need" and what's a "want"? Always a ponder-worthy question in our society, even more so when it comes to women and adornment. "Needs" have a dual face in this conversation. Needs will help us with our daily activities - protection from weather, cold, sun, the odd indecent exposure ticket. Needs have a pocket for our keys, debit card, and grocery list. Needs enable us to make more flexible use of the pieces in our small, well-honed wardrobe. Needs help us catch the eye of a future mate, even earn the respect of colleagues and clients. We may need a reward for a goal achieved, or a rotten work week endured.  Maybe we need to 'fit in' with our more affluent girlfriends, or look the way we think we deserve to at this time in our lives. Or we just need something to do, and shopping gets us out of the house, out of our head.

At some point in the paragraph above, most people will judge that the meaning of the word 'need' has changed, possibly to a definition closer to 'want'. That point will vary for different people, in different times and circumstances. Why do we use 'need' instead of 'want'?  'Needs' are much easier to justify, more practical and rational. We're not supposed to have 'wants', especially as more mature women. The old women we want to be(come) are wise, sophisticated, self-contained, elegant - not frowsy, loud, frumpy dumpy bats in need of glasses, hearing aids, medical attention. Not old biddies who craves visits from family, friends, who desperately need someone to see them. Will we be happier if we can distinguish our needs from our wants? Will we be happier if we try to fill our needs or if we try for our unspoken wants? Could it be there exists a golden mean between the two, some chalkboard-scrawled formula for satisfaction as well as bliss?

Musings about the purpose and practice of life, and it comes down to a little cotton jacket. It seemed every time i got dressed the last 3 months this Royal Robbins jacket fit my day. Comfy, warm without heaviness, practical also lent a casual-yet-pulled-together finish to so many looks. Seeing as it's over five years old (clothes don't last forever) and how i'd enjoy a bit more variety (especially come summer, when this jacket will get even MORE use), i decided a handful of similar jackets were in order.

I mulled it's features and watched how i wore and used this piece until i felt i had a good feel for what appealed to me - cropped, collar, in my color scheme, ligtweight but durable fabric, useable pockets for small items, flattering cut, details which echo my Amelia Earhardt/Isak Dinesen aesthetic. I could have looked strictly for another khaki jean jacket (and won't refuse one if it pops up somewhere). But developing a list of qualities allows me to acquire items which fulfill their practical purpose while at the same time allowing a much wider aesthetic field from which to choose. To illustrate, here are the two jackets i thrifted last weekend which fit my checklist:

So, dear reader, was it 'want' or 'need'?  Most likely a bit of both. Would i have pushed it more into the 'need' camp if i waited to replace this wardrobe staple until it was stained, ripped, or otherwise ruined? Very possibly.

But who needs the hassle.

Further reading: posts which inspired/influenced this post:

Allie's very frank, practical, helpful post on developing and sticking to a shopping budget. This post is part of an ongoing series - check back or subscribe to make sure you see them all! Part one here.

It seems that Ari Cohen's NOWness video has sparked quite the controversy around the appropriate way for 'the mature woman' to present herself.  Alarmingly, some people seem to feel that veering towards eccentricity is a danger to be avoided! (Heavens to murgatroyd!) I do feel that watching a person becoming a caricature of themselves can be painful. However if you are eccentric i don't see how getting older will do much besides......encourage your eccentricities. That said, if people take joy in their appearance, however that may be, it just makes me happy! (great post, Ms. Pesu!) I'm a 'variety is the spice of life' type of gal, and greatly admire many many styles, colors, silhouettes, and trends on others that i would never wear myself. Others do carry them off to perfection, and i am so very glad that they do.

Advanced Style on NOWness
more Advanced Style videos
Passage de Perles on "50+ style: the eccentric, the elegant, and the space in between"
Passage de Perles 'Is this outfit too Jung on me?' thoughts on invisibility and eccentrics
Deja Pesu on joyful dressing - what does it mean to you? "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution. --Emma Goldman"
 there are very lively discussions in the comments of all three posts - worth your time to take a look!


  1. Thanks for the link! I agree this was a very lively cross-blog discussion with a wide variety of viewpoints expressed!

    As far as need vs. want, I try to remind myself that pretty much everything beyond food, shelter and enough clothing to protect from the elements and be socially presentable is a "want." Doesn't stop me from wanting, though! :-)

  2. Such a convicting question, because if I get right down to it, I do not NEED very much. I would have to say that most of my clothing comes from WANT. I wish I was creative like you and could sew then I could feel better about having more. My clothing does fill a crative outlet and I NEED to do does that sound??

  3. Bonjour Ms. Pesu! i so enjoyed you article, esp because those advanced style ladies, well - they really seemed to get a lot of ladies' goat! i thot you hit a graceful balance between 'it's really not for me' & 'ya know, people gotta live a little! more power to 'em!' nicely done.

    it doesn't stop me from wanting either ;) !

    Hi Pam! i'm not trying to be super judgmental, altho to be honest of course i have opinions about other people's choices. i DO try to bear in mind that there's so much of their story that i don't know, tho, so said opinion is most likely ill-informed.

    & i'm all for clothing as creativity!i love taking pleasure in the everyday, and what's more everyday than getting dressed? i'm interested in how we can be honest with ourselves about our needs and wants, so we don't feel weird about or compelled by our choices, and wondering how various media in our environment play into how we determine wants/needs.

    it seems that subconscious/unthinking motivations can come back to bite us in our butts, and can take the pleasure out of items we procured from those dishonest motivations. which is a shame!

    heehee - you can always learn to sew in your 'spare time' (maybe after retirement?)

    take care you two!! steph

  4. After discovering that one really can kind of live on homemade bean soup and whole wheat bread for months at stretch without getting particularly bored (and it actually feels rather good) I am starting to think that "need" is a very small component of my existence and mostly I "want".

    Your need/want expedition seems to have been both sensible and successful, though. I like the new jackets. The sartorial equivalent of beans!

  5. If I reduced my wardrobe to just needs, I would have jeans and t-shirts. Everything I am called upon to do COULD be done in those items of clothing. According to that very strict definition, the jean jacket is a need. The jacket on the left, while useful, is a want.

  6. Hi Cynthia! it's interesting to hear your thots, as you've been very consciously wrassling with this the last year....and seeing how hard it is for us even to become aware of the 'want/need' difference goes to show how much our society/economy wants us to conflate the two.

    'the bean jackets'. i love!

    Hi Terri! do you need something for cold weather? and how much grief would you get if you taught in jeans & tees? (in person, not online :)

    actually the want/need of these two jackets is where it gets a little tricksy. i left out of my considerations that one of the things i love about the khaki jacket is that it's lite - in color and in weight, which is much better suited to our summers (when i still need sun protection). it also fits big enough for a little sweater underneath if i want more warmth. so for my particular criteria, the striped seersucker jacket is a better fit (the ruffle under my left hand is the top of a functioning pocket). huh - even the fit of the same garment makes such a difference in it's function.....

    i could've/should've put this in, but i wanted you all to finish reading my post in this century....(i always worry about getting too long).

    at any rate, jean was $5, striped was $5.50 so both were well within my budget.

    happy friday! steph

  7. Truthfully there aren't many things we actually need, but who cares when it can justify our shopping !

  8. Hee hee!! Welcome Ms. Westwood - that's an excellent 'cliff notes version' of my post!! happy monday (if that's not too much of an oxymorom ;) steph

  9. Fabulous post. I agree that perhaps the meaning of the word "need" has changed. Taking examples from your first paragraph, one doesn't need to keep up with stylish friends, but of course one would want to. I would say the same could be true about impressing a client or boss - you don't "need" to do it, but it'd probably better for you in the long run. So, does that benefit to your well being make it a "need" instead of a want? Maybe, I don't know.

    What I do know is that when it comes to shopping, I have no needs. My whole spring and summer list is wants. For example, I have "red skirt" on that list. I don't need a red skirt. I have a dozen skirts, just not a red one. But, it's on my list because I want it. Oh, dear God, I need to stop shopping. ;-)

  10. Thank you Gracey! yep, that's what interested me, how one word has so many different meanings, and what those different meanings mean.

    and you are hilarious!! it's hard not to 'need' a red skirt, after all....! happy day! steph

  11. Wonderful, well-written post. And fantastic links to great discussion.

    I definitely feel that sometimes that there is that "magical elusive formula" that might pop up and create happiness. And so I "need" to buy! I'm exercising restraint this month and keeping my thrifting visits to 2 times max (instead of the usual 4-6), and in those two visits kept a tight reign on "need" and "want". Need things that fit, want things that are flattering. Need versatility, want fun and funky!

  12. Hullo Megan Mae! thank you! and yes, lots of iteresting ideas and comments by a bunch of people in htese discussions - i'm happy you enjoyed it!

    ah yes, 'the formula'. that's the temptation in thinking about your wardrobe - that there really is 'perfection' someplace. that's why i try to stay focused on '80 -90' of pretty darn good'. you sound like you're approaching your wardrobe in a pretty sensible way. ilike how you decrease, not STOP! and how the needs come first but the wants are right in there. needs are more important, but many items that will satisfy needs can also take care of wants, so why not? wants can make us very happy, as long as we recognize them as such. thank you for stopping by! steph

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