What Can You Buy When You’re Broke?


Pretty sure your summer-vacation budget won’t get you much further than the roof? Not worried about the price of gas because you doubt you’ll ever own a car? Cheer up, and welcome to Lynnie’s Recession-Proof Guide to a Fun-Filled Summer, the primer that answers the question: What can I buy when I’m broke but dying to have something new?

And here’s more good news: With the economy tanking, haven’t you noticed how gross and ridiculous the outward displays of vulgar wealth are looking these days? Somehow, $3,000 handbags and $1,000 shoes don’t seem chic any more—they seem gross and dumb. (That’s only part of why the new Sex and the City movie is such a bomb.)

Anyway, if you don’t believe me, and you’re still obsessed with what that wildly disappointing film calls “love and labels,” then head for Express, where exact replicas of those lush flower prints that Prada launched in its resort line are available, made up as strapless dresses, faux-dowdy pleated skirts (a Prada specialty), and even elongated clutch purses and high-waisted T-shirts. The dresses top out at $128, but don’t be discouraged: The clutch is only $49.50, and the tees are a lovely $29.50. (I’d like to think that Miuccia Prada—who, like me, spent her youth handing out socialist leaflets and thinking shamefacedly about clothes—would approve of these cheerful reproductions.)

And speaking of knockoffs, Forever 21, so prodigious in this arena that it’s being named in lawsuits by Anna Sui and Diane von Furstenberg, has a cotton top decorated with fake jewels in a splotchy ethnic print highly reminiscent of Dries Van Noten for $19.80. It’s less easy to trace the “inspiration” behind an elongated pink cotton-knit undershirt trimmed with lace and a grosgrain ribbon that gives off an ineffable sexy-granny vibe and is $13.80.

Even if you think H&M stands for Hastily Made & Middlebrow, there are, as ever, some offerings that are hard to resist. A khaki bag sporting huge gold dots that I would personally consider carrying—which is saying a lot—is a happy $14.90. There’s also a healthy selection of flip-flops, including a pair in pink with jeweled straps for $7.90. (Question: Why do people spend a fortune on something like Jimmy Choo flip-flops when only the straps show anyway? Better to spend the money on a summer’s worth of pedicures, no?)

If, unlike the presumed customer at Old Navy, who spends the entire summer flopping around at the shore, you actually have to go to work in the hot weather, there are a couple of dresses at Uniqlo by the designer Juliana Jabour, who created these frocks as part of something Uniqlo calls its “Designer Invitation Project.” They’re $49.90—so, not the cheapest things in the world—but they’re made of a particular luscious jersey, they have a Lanvin-ish air, and most important, they’re black.

For five bucks more ($54.99), you can get a pair of those ubiquitous rubber rain boots at Ricky’s, here decorated with skulls and the legend “rock and roll forever.” (Everyone seems to love rubber boots, and I think they’re cute too, but what I’d like to know is: Are mine the only two feet on earth that can’t tolerate these malodorous sweatboxes?) A rhinestone-skull belly chain, to match the boots, is locked inside a Ricky’s showcase, and I was too embarrassed to ask how much it was, but, really, how much can it be? In any case, Ricky’s also has lime-green cat’s-eye sunglasses with rhinestone trim to bolster their ’50s vibe for $9.99.

Is the production of Hair scheduled for Central Park’s Delacorte Theatre this summer the reason for the explosion of tie-dye and peace signs at Strawberry on 14th Street? Or maybe legions of downtown girls are dying to plaster peace-themed goods on their backs to show their fierce determination to defeat McCain and seize the White House in November. Whatever the reason, a sleeveless undershirt embellished with the words “love” and “peace” and with a giant peace symbol made of gold smiley faces is $9.99. (Ding, ding! Time for a history lesson! Want to know how that peace symbol came about? It’s a combination of the semaphoric signals for the letters N and D, which stand for “nuclear disarmament,” and it’s been around for more than half a century.)

If you’d rather dangle your politics from your neck, So Good Jewelry on Broadway just north of Broome has a red peace symbol gunked up with fake jewels on a silvery chain for $12.99. There’s no disagreeing with the sentiment, but I myself am considering working a Marchesa Luisa Casati look this summer, in honor of that mad muse who was famous for parading around 1920s Venice clad in Fortuny velvet, walking a pair of cheetahs on leashes, and sporting live snakes around her neck. Instead of reptiles (come on, I’m even afraid of kittens), I’m planning on multiple strings of inanimate pearls, which So Good can supply in extra-long strands for $14.99 per. If you prefer tamer ruling-class indulgences and are willing to part with $34.99, the store has a spectacular take on Van Cleef & Arpels’ Alhambra necklace, giant-sized and made of a turquoise substance that in truth must be plastic.

For years, people said that you could chart the vagaries of the stock market by looking at skirt lengths (minis meant a bull market; maxis signified bears). Lately, we’ve been hearing about a lipstick theory of the economy, namely that when the going gets tough, makeup sales increase—women buy more cosmetics because they can’t afford anything else. If you crave a fancy name and it’s got to be real, Sephora has genuine Dior lipsticks for $25. The arguably even more chi-chi-sounding Napoleon Perdis brand is available at 50 percent off, which means that for $11, you can have a lipstick called DeVine Goddess, which promises to “empower you with sophisticated and chic colors” (though in truth, I could not discern anything particularly empowering about the selection of hues on display).

But there is one special item you can buy on practically any block of the city that is never, ever fake: a 100 percent genuine copy of an exotic foreign-fashion magazine like Purple or Citizen K. These international editions, though pricey, actually cost less than a bar drink in the Hamptons. With the latest Japanese Vogue peeking out of that H&M polka-dot bag as you bask in lone splendor on the Long Island Rail Road to Jones Beach, dressed in ersatz Prada, and with miles of pearls wrapped around your neck, you’ll make your fellow passengers believe they’re traveling with Luisa Casati incarnate.