Pretty in blue

I was pretty blue a couple of weeks ago when my trusty laptop gave out on me – leaving me without equipment at a very bad time, just as I am getting ready to teach my first seminar for Management Circle. So I’ve decided to invest in a MacBook. I’m so happy that I feel like the headless wonder. I hope can figure everything out quickly. My dad had the first Macintosh, and he would be so pleased.

Another thing I definitely could use is something to wear. I’m broke now, but I could afford this sweet blue thing, billed by the New York Times as “the world’s cheapest dress” and priced at $8.98. Wait a minute: the price is only $8.98?blue-dress The dress was designed by Sarah Jessica Parker (of “Sex in the City”) for Steve & Barry’s, an American chain store that sells absurdly inexpensive clothes, even cheaper than H&M. Their “cheap celebrity chic” range is all the rage, and it matches the downward economic cycle. But looking at the price tag, the first thing I think is “slave labor! sweatshops! a poor woman in Bangladesh is breaking her back so we can look pretty in blue!” No, Steve Shore and Barry Prevor, childhood friends from Long Island, insist they monitor ethical practices among their subcontractors. They say the key to keeping their prices low is sheer mass, plus razor-slim profit margins and exceedingly low overheads. That includes not advertising at all and relying on word-of-mouth. “To be great, you have to have these ridiculous, insane prices, and not sacrifice quality,” Mr. Shore says. I’m glad the Manolo-Blahnik-label-thing is out. But I’d still like to know what those seamstresses are getting.

When I was a little girl of six, my mother opened up a dress shop on 7th street, one of the nicest areas of Capitol Hill. It was very exciting to have such a chic mom. She had learned to use a sewing machine from my dad and had sewn clothes capitol hill housesfor herself and us children for years. She started off tailoring and added off-the-rack clothes that she would go to the showrooms in New York to buy. The shop was a great success. She was into quality, and so were her clients. After school, I used to go and sit on her sofa at Perelucci’s, luxuriating in the feminine atmosphere of women indulging themselves in beautiful clothes. I still love toffees, which she kept in a little silver dish for her customers. My mother was a typical small businesswoman, thinking small in every way – small loans, small investments, one step at a time – until she was able to buy the house her shop was located in. No small feat. On top of that, she paid my way through school and college, and I am so grateful to her. But there came a day at Perelucci’s – it was during the oil crisis of the 1970s – when my mother looked at the clothes and got fed up. The quality was going downhill, she complained, and the prices were going up. “You can’t sell a decently made dress for under $100,” I remember her saying. She was working really hard and it was starting to wear her out. So she decided it was no longer worth it.

Looking back on how she used to sew dresses for me, a labor of love which took many hours, from shopping for the fabric and the pattern to making the first cut to fitting and then finishing the garment – I realize that for me clothes have a culture. They’re more than just a commodity. And frankly, when we lose the feeling for the hands that create them, we lose a part of our cultural identity. So quality is big for me. Sure I want to and have to save money – doesn’t everyone? So I make compromises, get some things cheaply and spend a lot on others. When it comes down to it, quality has its price. When my dad bought his Macintosh in 1984, it cost $2500 – can you imagine! – that’s a lot more than mine, that’s for sure. And if you look at what the new ones can do, it just blows you away. Anyway, now that I’ve taken the plunge, I’m quite optimistic.

  • What made my dad switch to a computer that cost as much as the (used) family car: Steve Jobs presents the Macintosh. Among other things, my dad used his Mac to develop software to teach people Latin. But that’s another story.
  • You know the ads, of course. Mac vs. PC
  • Americans are spending less on women’s clothes and much less on computers (-12%) as fuel gets more and more expensive. In 2008, Americans are paying 26% more for fuel than in 2007. See the interactive consumer spending map.
  • headlessI adore the headless wonder and the magical nostalgic fairground world she comes from, recreated at Admission All Classes in Blackpool. Listen to the wonderful podcast that explains the charm of the live visual spectacle you will find at traditional fairgrounds … including the Wiesn.

Learning the Ropes – Vokabeln, die es wert sind

trusty – treu
give out on someone – jemandem den Dienst verweigern
headless wonder – Frau ohne Kopf
broke – pleite
afford – sich leisten können
billed – angepriesen, ausgegeben
chain store – Kettenladenrange – Produktpallette
all the rage – der letzte Schrei
downward economic cycle – wirtschaftlicher Abschwung
price tag – Preisschildsweatshop – Ausbeuterbetrieb
to break your back – sich den Rücken krumm arbeiten
to monitor – überwachen
razor-slim profit margin – rasierklingenschmale Profitmarge
low overheads – niedrige Unkosten
by word-of-mouth – durch Mund-zu-Mund Propaganda
insane – verrückt
to sacrifice – opfern
seamstress – Schneiderin
dress shop – Kleiderladen
NOTE:
dress – Kleid
clothes – Kleidung
clothing – Bekleidung
cloth – Stoff
sewing machine -Nähmaschine
to tailor – maßschneidern
off-the-rack – von der Stange
to luxuriate – sich aalen
to indulge yourself – sich verwöhnen
loan – Darlehen
investments – Investitionen
one step at a time – ein Schritt nach dem anderen
no small feat – keine geringe Leistung
pay someone’s way through college – das Studium bezahlen
to be fed up – genug haben
to go downhill – bergab gehen
decently made – ordentlich gemacht
to wear someone out – krank/fertig machen
a labor of love – Liebesdienst
fabric – Stoff
pattern – Muster
to fit – anpassen
garment (industry)- Bekleidung(sindustrie)
commodity – Handelsware
to take the plunge – es wagen

Learning English tip of the week

What to do with words you want to remember and include in your active vocabulary? The key to learning is repeating knowledge at increasing intervals. It’s very low-tech, but making physical flash cards for review is still one of the most effective ways of reviewing words:

  • Save money and weight by using your own 80 g paper & cutting it into cards.
  • Put the word by itself on one side, and in context and with a translation on the other.
  • Review them using the Leitner System.

You prefer something high-tech? SuperMemo by Piotr Wozniak is no. 1, but the Open Source alternative Mnemosyne (for Linux/Windows) is simpler to use. Software review.

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Anne

Teaching English for business communication skills, writing online for learners, translating, sailing whenever I can, from Washington, D.C.

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